Kurkjian and Stark weigh in on MLB, Yankees

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Sport Management Club at Syracuse University hosted two of ESPN's Senior Baseball writers, Tim Kurkjian and Jayson Stark, for a discussion on Major League Baseball. There were a lot of people in the auditorium, but I was able to get one question in. Most of the questions were about the league in general, but people obviously asked some questions about the teams they follow. Being Syracuse, NY, there were plenty of Yankees fans, and there was some very good information on them, including the Joba and Hughes bullpen/starter debate. But I'm not going to tell you here, I'm going to make you read the post. Devious of me, I know. There's a lot of material here, and as I commented to a few people at the meeting, I think I took more notes in that hour and a half than I did in class all last week, so I won't get into every single question that was asked. The easiest way to do this is in Q&A format. I'll put the question, and then TK for Tim Kurkjian and JS for Jayson Stark.

Q: How will history look back on the steroid era in baseball?
TK: Right now there's an imaginary asterisk next to this era. And that should be it. Taking away records would ruin the credibility of the record book and the actual asterisk did not work in 1961 with Roger Maris. We need to take this era and give it to the best baseball fans and say, this is what the stats were, take what it what you will. Instead of attaching asterisks, we should attach stories to these statistics.
The thing about this topic, is that when we talk about it, we talk almost exclusively about 10-15 players. We talk about Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and now Roger Clemens has gotten dragged into this, but the fact is hundreds of players took performance enhancers. Yes, there were people who were taking them to break records and to make more money, but there were also guys taking them to just hang on, or to make it to the big leagues. Then some guys thought that HGH had magical healing powers, and that's why they took them. And when it comes to the Hall of Fame, there is no way to keep everyone who did steroids out. We may have already elected a player into the Hall that used steroids. When there was no testing, it's impossible to think that you can just stop those people from getting in. I agree with Bob Costas when he says that when we get to that era of player, we should just put a sign that denotes these players as part of the steroid era. We know that the statistics in this era were different, and you can look at them any way you want to.

Follow up comment: Despite the dark cloud, it seems that, at least attendance-wise, the game has not been affected.
JS: I am amazed at baseball's success as a business. More people are watching baseball on TV or live in person than ever before. It seems that people compartmentalize, and they have this filing cabinet in their head, and they put the information on the steroid era in there and enjoy the game. To say that you aren't going to watch baseball or go to a game because of something that happened in the steroid era, if you like baseball, you are denying yourself pleasure.
TK: I think it is because baseball is bigger and better than any of the issues it faces. There are people who care more about baseball than almost anything else. We have a researcher at ESPN who can tell you who made the last out in every World Series since 1948 and how they did it. There is another guy who can tell you what every Topps Baseball card over a seven year period looks like. You'll say a player's name and he'll tell you, "There were two. One was him standing at the plate looking down at the third base coach, and the other one was him running out of the batters box." We also work with a huge Phillies fan who we once asked about a game on May 4th, 2004, which, at the time, was over 4 years prior. He was able to tell us they lost to the Cardinals 6-5, the Cardinals scored 2 in the first inning, and Kerwin Daley was the home plate umpire. It was just amazing.

Q: With the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) set to expire in 2011, how will MLB avoid the 9th work stoppage in its history?
TK: When they prevented a work stoppage during the last negotiations, the players stood up to their representatives and told them that they couldn't have another strike because last time they almost lost the game. Now, they know that, in the middle of an economic recession, they won't be able to walk out and say they aren't getting paid enough and they don't have good enough benefits when the average salary is close to $3 million. This is good for us because covering labor negotiations is horrible.
JS: Well, who just won the World Series? The Yankees, and when the Yankees win, people clamber that the system is broken. That's a bunch of garbage, because the system has never been better. Do you know how much revenue the Kansas City Royals take in before they sell a single ticket? $100 million. Some small market teams just aren't spending the money they are getting from luxury taxes and revenue sharing. It's been proven by the Rays, the Twins, and the A's that a small market team can win if you evaluate players correctly and spend money wisely. In the end, there won't be any major changes to the CBA and no work stoppage.

Q: What about a salary cap? Is that in the cards?
TK: Well, the Yankees provide the perfect foil for Major League Baseball. Every good story needs a hero and a villain, and they are, depending whether you love or hate the Yankees. But the fact is, when the Yankees and these other big market teams are good, it's good for the baseball. They make money for the entire league through merchandise sales, TV ratings, and luxury tax. There is no way the Player's Association (PA) will allow a salary cap within at least the next 10 years because there are obviously team's out there willing to pay.
JS: Also, it doesn't appear that there will be a salary floor either because the PA is opposed to that as well. The argument against a floor is that the only way a small market team like the Rays can compete is if, every few years, they blow the team up and start over. I think the way to do it is to set a floor of say $65 million for the payroll. And if a team, like the Rays decides to go under that number, just as the Yankees decide to go over the luxury tax threshold, they should be taxed. It would start out as a small tax at first and increase the longer the team stays under. The biggest flaw in the Basic Agreement right now is that there is no accountability on how teams spend the luxury tax money. They could be spending it on the Christmas party for all we know.

Q: What do you see the Yankees doing when it comes to free agents and other off-season moves?
TK: Of their big three free agents, Pettitte, Damon, and Matsui, I think Pettitte will come back and the other two will be gone. They are trying to get younger and more athletic. They saw how much Mark Teixeira helped them not only on offense, but with their infield defense, and want to do that in the outfield. In regards to the rotation, from talking with people in the know, my guess would be that Phil Hughes returns to the rotation and Joba Chamberlain stays in the rotation.
JS: I agree with most of what Tim said, but I can see Damon returning to the Yankees if the deal is right for the team. If there is a small one year deal with an option, they will probably jump on that. There are three words that are probably going to prevent that from happening, however, "Scott Boras client."

(My question) Q: With Derek Jeter's contract up after next year, and despite him still performing, he is an aging superstar. How do see the Yankees handling their iconic figure?
JS: Well the simple fact is: he's Derek Jeter. He is the heart of the Yankees. The Yankees know they need to take care of him. They have already gone to Jeter and his agent and said, "You're going to be a Yankee forever." The traditional rules don't apply to him. I thought the most interesting thing about them winning this World Series was the "Core Four," and how they all played in the clinching game. They have all been there through the minor leagues and from that first playoff appearance in 1995 and it isn't like they are there hanging on trading stories about the past. They are still four of the most important players on the team. The Yankees know this is a special situation with all of them and are going to deal with it accordingly.
TK: A quick story, last week I'm in the Yankees clubhouse after the game, soaked in champagne, and I need to interview Jeter. I see him and I'm following him through all these people. He dodges what seems like 100 people and over in the corner, he meets his Mom and Dad and gives them a big hug. It's just the type of person he is, and why he's been so successful. I asked Tino Martinez once to tell me something about Derek Jeter that I wouldn't know. Tino told me that if Derek had even just one beer, he will not get behind the wheel of a car and drive. It's why he remains so successful on and off the field, because he is smart enough to not get in trouble by getting arrested for a DUI.

Q: Do you think that Jeter will make a run at Pete Rose's hits record?
TK: I don't think he will, but he'll end up with around 3,500 hits. If he gets to that, he will have 800 more hits than any shortstop in history and anyone in Yankee history. He always plays hard. In 12 years, I have never, ever seen him not run hard to first base. And people still tell me he is an overrated player.

That basically covers it in regards to Yankee-specific material, and since this post is already over 1,800 words, I'm going to wrap it up...for now. I still have plenty of material on what they think of the off-season trade and free agent markets, as well as some stories on the nature of covering Major League Baseball, so I'll save that for a rainy day later this month (except that I live in Syracuse, so make that a snowy day).

*Image via Wikipedia*


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