Bill “Moose” Skowron, a mainstay of the great Yankee dynasty of the 1950s and long-time fan favorite at Old Timers’ Day, has passed away at the age of 81. Moose was a first baseman during the years of Mickey Mantle and was a five-time All Star with the Yankees and White Sox. He also won five World Series win the Yanks and Dodgers and is the only player to baseball history to homer for one team in the World Series and then homer against that team in the following year’s Fall Classic. He completed that feat in 1963 while with Los Angeles.
In 1087 games with the Yankees, Skowron hit .294/.346/.496 with 165 home runs. He always drew a rousing ovation during his myriad Old Timers’ Day games, and his baseball card from the mid-1950s that my dad had when I was a child remain one of my earliest memories of card collecting. He will be missed in the Bronx this year.
On Monday morning, New York City’s long-running R&B station Kiss FM will lose its music. Shortly after midnight, the station will flip from music to sports talk radio as ESPN is moving its operations from 1050 on the AM dial to 98.7 FM. It’s a big move for New York City radio as sports now invade FM, and it’s a move that could impact the future of the New York Yankees’ radio broadcasts as well.
Currently, the Yanks are wrapping up an extended radio stay on WCBS AM 880. Their long-term deal expired after the 2011 season, but with an ESPN move rumored since early last year, the club opted to re-up for one more season with CBS before setting off a radio bidding war. In doing so, the club allowed ESPN to find a radio home that would boost its signal and provide a more inviting home for the Yanks’ radio broadcasts.
With this weekend’s looming format change, then, the pieces are in place for a fight over the rights to the Yanks’ broadcasts, but it’s currently unclear what that deal will resemble. Currently, according to Phil Mushnick, CBS pays $14 million to broadcast the Yanks and $7 million for the rights to the Mets on WFAN. Supposedly, the media company loses money on the Yanks’ broadcasts, but that doesn’t mean WCBS isn’t interested. In fact, with the Mets’ deal expiring after 2013, CBS could retain the Yanks but move them to 660 AM a year later.
Of course, ESPN may have something to say about that as well. According to numerous reports, ESPN is spending big bucks on the move to FM in order to attract some baseball. With a better signal, they’re in a position to make an enticing offer for a New York team. While these behind-the-scene machinations are all well and good for clubs looking to line their pockets with broadcast dollars, what does it mean for those of us listening at home?
For starters, if the Yanks were to move to FM, their extended radio network becomes a lot more important locally. Take a look at the vast WCBS signal coverage map and compare that with 98.7 FM’s map. While the FM signal will be crisper — the better to hear John Sterling — its reach is not nearly as expansive as WCBS’. (For what its worth, night-time coverage for AM 1050, ESPN Radio’s current home, is limited.) So while New York City residents and those who live nearby will be able to better hear Yankee games, the folks a little farther away will have to find a local affiliate. As an AM landing home, WFAN, with its vast signal coverage area, would be ideal.
The bigger question though concerns two of the most controversial members of the Yankee family. Would the club retain John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, not-so-affectionately dubbed Ma and Pa Pinstripe by the New York City tabloids? If it were up to those same tabloid writers, the two broadcasters would be replaced tomorrow. Phil Mushnick of The Post has held a vendetta against the liberties Sterling takes with his play-by-play duties. Recently, Mushnick slammed Sterling for botching a call in the bottom of the 9th of a one-run game. Yesterday, he claimed a new radio deal could spell the end of Sterling and Waldman. “It’s highly unlikely,” he wrote, “that ESPN, if it lands the Yankees — especially attached to a big price tag — would be bound to retain the team’s current longtime broadcast duo of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman.”
In The Daily News, Bob Raissman has pushed a similar argument, but I don’t agree. For better or worse, Sterling is a part of the Yankees’ image right now. He’s been with the club since 1989 and serves as an M.C. on TV and at Yankee-related events. The club will likely require its next rights partner to retain Sterling. Waldman’s job is less secure, and last year, Moshe ran down a list of possible replacements. Still, I’d be more surprised if the duo weren’t together next year on a new station than if they are.
So the wheels are turning indeed. It doesn’t sound as though the Yanks are inclined to start their own radio network, but their rights will be in play. I’ve heard the games on FM up in New England, and the sound is certainly clearer than that traditional AM broadcast. To win the games though with a more limited signal, ESPN Radio will have to pay heavily. With the Yanks, though, money talks, and they won’t say no if the dollars are right.
While watching the Twins and Yankees play on Wednesday night, I took stock of the field and shook my head at the Twins’ uniforms. Minnesota sometimes sports these alternate road jerseys with grey pants, and the team looked as though they were more prepared for a Spring Training game than a regular season affair.
The Twins though aren’t the only team with solid color tops. All across baseball, either as part of a marketing effort or to vary up the styles, clubs have added alternate uniforms. The Angels were sporting solid red tops over the weekend; the Blue Jays wear something that’s, well, very blue; and the Red Sox too have solid red or blue tops for home or away games, respectively. Call me old fashioned — or a Yankee fan — but I much prefer the solid look.
The Yankees, meanwhile, have not broken with tradition. Except for one game during which MLB honored the Negro Leagues, the Bombers have steadfastly refused to discard their now-famous home pinstripes or road greys. The uniform may have looked a little different in the earlier decades of the 20th Century but for over 50 years, since the Yanks ditched the alternate road jersey in 1943, the club has adhered to tradition through thick, thin and whatever MLB marketing gimmick crossed its path.
That is, they’ve adhered to this tradition until today. When the Yankees and Red Sox take the field in a few hours at Fenway Park, they will be dressed in modern garb updated to resemble the 1912 team. It’s Throwback Day for the Yanks for the first time in franchise history. It’s finally okay to tinker with obdurate tradition as long as the club is honoring that tradition, and I like it.
For the game today, the Yanks will sport the cap atop this post. It’s an updated look on the 1912 original. This one, from New Era, is a bit different from the 1910-1911 Cooperstown Cap. The interlocking NY is the modern version and not the compressed version from the past. The colors though — a grey cap with a navy blue bill — are sleek.
The jersey, above, are similar yet different. Gone is the New York in block letters across the front, and the interlocking logo looks a bit more historic. The serifs on the letters are more pronounced and wider, and there will be no names or numbers on the back. It’s a look straight of the time when the AL ball club had yet to settle on an identity. They weren’t quite the Highlanders as many believe today, but they weren’t yet fully embraced as the Yankees yet. (The club will also be sporting appropriate stir-ups with the high-sock look.)
I enjoy this nod toward tradition. It’s not garish; it’s not ruining the Yankee brand or the Yankee legacy. It’s a glimpse of history in 2012. And at least the Yankees of 1912 had that identifiable logo and branding. The Red Sox throwback hat is, on the other hand, such a hilarious beauty that you’ll just have to see it for yourself.
For a few minutes in the top of third, things started getting dicey in the Bronx. The Twins had a 3-1 lead against CC Sabathia, but then the Yanks’ ace bore down. You could see the determination on his face as he blanked the Twins, and the Yanks’ bats carried the Bombers to an easy 8-3 win over the Twins. Order was restored to the Bronx.
CC’s Big Game
Coming into tonight’s game, CC Sabathia hadn’t pitched much like an ace. An ill-timed intentional walk on Opening Day led to a four-run first inning, and he struggled against the Orioles last week. Sporting an 0-0 record, he carried a 6.75 ERA into the game, and through the first 2.1 innings, it looked like more of the same. He couldn’t locate his pitches, and his breaking balls were tailing out over the plate.
After allowing back-to-back run-scoring hits to Clete Thomas and Jamey Carroll, CC seemed to discover his pitches. To my eye, he appeared annoyed with himself, and he responded by striking out Joe Mauer. Josh Willingham flied out to a sliding Brett Gardner — who said after the game that he felt a sting in his wrist on the play — to end the threat. From there, it was smooth sailing.
Sabathia retired 13 Twins in a row before Trevor Plouffe walked, and he pitched into the 8th inning. With seven strike outs in 7.1 innings, CC upped his total to 22 on the year and walked away a winner for the first time in 2012. Order had seemingly been restored to the top of the Yankee rotation.
Stewart’s Big Day
At the plate, the Yanks were making Twins’ starter Francisco Liriano work. He had reached 76 pitches when the Twins went to their bullpen, and the Yanks continued to feast. Tonight’s stars were the bottom half of the order as Eduardo Nunez, Brett Gardner and Chris Stewart went 6 for 10 with 5 runs batted in. Derek Jeter added a hit and a pair of RBIs, his 8th and 9th on the season. It took him until the Yanks’ 32nd game to reach that mark last year.
Stewart though should earn some recognition. The Yanks acquired him to boost their Minor League depth and give them a solid defensive back-up. Any hitting he does is gravy, and tonight, he helped with the bat. With one out and the bases loaded in the 3rd, Stewart lined Liriano’s 76th pitch into left field for a two-run single. The Yanks grabbed the lead, and they would never relinquish it.
In the 7th, with the Yanks holding to a 7-3 lead, Stewart found himself at bat again with Brett Gardner in scoring position. He again lifted a pitch into left field for his third RBI of the night, a new career high. Stewart won’t hit much; that’s not his role anyway. But for a night, he came through when he had to and helped cement the game for the Yanks.
Odds & Ends
After Monday night’s disappointing loss, the Yanks bounced back with a stress-free game over the Twins. We could use a few more of those this year — although three of the last five games have been stress-free wins.
While Derek Jeter picked up another hit, the middle of the Yanks’ order continued to do nothing. Robinson Cano and A-Rod went 1 for 9, and three of Cano’s outs came with runners on base. It’s been a rough beginning for those two, but they should break out in a big way soon enough.
Brett Gardner had a great night and saw his early-season triple slash line take a big jump. He’s now 9 for 28 with 5 walks and 5 runs scored on the season. His defense, as he showed with that diving play, has been spectacular in left. Andruw Jones‘ home run was a monster shot into the night.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
The third of this four-game series kicks off at 7:05 p.m. on Wednesday. Jason Marquis will make his Twins debut, and he’ll face Hiroki Kuroda, coming off a stellar outing on Friday afternoon. RAB Tickets has all the good deals.
When the Yankees return home on Friday to open the Bronx-based part of the 2012 season, they’ll bring with them a familiar face. The newly-retired Jorge Posada will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game. Posada, you may recall, was a part of five World Series teams, played in five All Star Games and has a strong case for a spot on a wall in Cooperstown. Depending upon how generous the Yanks are with uniform numbers, his could earn a spot in Monument Park as well.
The club also announced today that a star of the Broadway musical Newsies will sing the national anthem while a star of Jesus Christ Superstar will perform “God Bless America” in the seventh inning. I guess those Nederlander ties still run deep. The pre-game festivities will start at 12:40 so plan accordingly if you’re one of the lucky ones who gets to attend Opening Day in the House that George Built.
Magic Johnson and a group of investors sent shockwaves through baseball on Monday when Frank McCourt revealed the group’s $2 billion bid for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Coupled with a $150 million deal for the parking lots that surround Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine, it was a monstrous deal that not only dwarfed the next highest bid but set a new mark in professional sports. Of course, it left many in New York wondering for just how much the Yanks could be sold.
The Yankees brass, of course, noticed the sale. How could they not, after all, considering they control the most valuable franchise in baseball right now? “It is an incredible price. If they are worth $2 billion, one can only imagine how high the Yankees’ value is,” Randy Levine said to ESPN New York.
Hal Steinbrenner seemingly spoke in awe of the big figures as well. “It’s certainly a big price. It’s interesting,” he said. “No, I haven’t thought about how this would impact it. We’ll have to see what happens with that sale. It’s a big number.”
It’s a big number indeed, and the Steinbrenners insist they aren’t looking to sell the Yankees. They’re quite content to hold onto their inheritance and allow the team to continue to thrive. Between the YES Network and the team itself, the owners are sitting pretty. We can still play that “what if” game though. What if the Yankees were put up for sale?
As a starting point, we have the recent Forbes valuations. With little explanation, the business mag pegged the Yanks’ value at $1.85 billion, tops in the game. The Dodgers were second at $1.4 billion. A back-of-the-napkin calculation would lead one to believe the Yanks could sell then for $2.775 billion.
Yet, as Richard Sandomir writes in The Times today, not all things are equal. The Dodgers’ deal is a creature of good circumstance and geography that came in $650 million above the next highest bidder. Essentially Magic Johnson and his co-investors — who are going to pay in cash — were bidding against themselves. Sandomir summarizes:
Johnson and Walter are betting on reviving the Dodgers’ fortunes now that the Frank McCourt era is over. More important, the sale price is enormous because the buyers anticipate a huge windfall from a new cable TV deal that would go into effect after the 2013 season. [Investor Mark] Walter said: “It will be substantial.”
It will have to be. To get the most money, the Dodgers will probably be the centerpiece of a regional sports channel that will funnel enormous annual rights fees to the team and amass monthly subscriber fees from the cable, satellite and telephone companies that will carry its games.
A bevy of media companies are likely to line up to give the Dodgers the most lucrative deal, which could couple ownership of a channel with huge yearly rights payments. Time Warner Cable, for instance, is creating two networks, one in English, one in Spanish, with Johnson’s old team, the Los Angeles Lakers, at their core. The Lakers are expected to ultimately realize huge profits from the deal.
It’s worth noting as well that the Dodgers’ deal involved a significant chunk of change for the rights to revenue from the vast acres of parking lots that surround Chavez Ravine. The Yankees would enjoy no such luxury. The city controls the parking lots around Yankee Stadium, and in fact, the city controls the land underneath the stadium as well. No one wants to park in the transit-rich South Bronx, and the city would raise hell if it tried to sell the former park land. Ultimately, then, TV is king.
In contrast to the recently-acquired Cubs, who carried a purchase price of $845 million, the Dodgers’ next owners will benefit tremendously from a brand new TV deal, and that’s a luxury the Yankees also do not have right now. Their rights lie with the YES Network, in which, according to reports, the Yanks have a 30 percent share. Now, that alone could be worth around $1-$1.5 billion, but how to structure such a sale? To maximize their take, the Steinbrenners would have to sell the entire club and their YES share. Even without the fortuitous circumstances in Los Angeles, a Yankee sale involving the team and the TV network could reach $3 or even $4 billion.
At that point, questions begin to shift from “how much” to “who.” Who would spend $3 billion for a baseball franchise and a broadcast TV station that has no chance of controlling much of its Internet broadcast rights? (Those rights belong to MLB Advanced Media and will for the foreseeable future.) It may be a moot point as the Steinbrenners continue to say the club is not for sale, but one thing is certain: Baseball franchise values are on the rise.
On paper, the rich are getting richer, and so too are the smaller market teams. The Dodgers’ sale is a tide that can lift all boats. Frank McCourt, who invested just over $400 million in the Dodgers, walks away a very wealthy man. The Boss, on the other hand, spent just $10 million on the Yanks 40 years ago, and even as his children vow to keep the team, that allure of the cash must be strong indeed.
By now, as he enters his 18th season, Mariano Rivera has had nearly every sports accolade showered upon him. Considered the greatest reliever of all time, Rivera has been a constant for the Yanks in the ninth inning since 1997, and he was a force the season before. Now, five World Series and five Presidential elections later, Rivera is just as good as ever. He just allowed his first Spring Training hit on Sunday.
Rivera’s career has been, by any stretch, an odd one for baseball analysts to comprehend. For years, they’ve predicted a decline. He threw 80 innings as a 31-year-old in 2001 and appeared in only 45 games the next season. Joe Girardi has limited Rivera’s innings over the last few years, but even while throwing around only 60 innings, Rivera is still at the top of his game.
Last year, at age 41, Rivera with his cutter managed to strike out nearly a batter an inning while issuing just eight walks all season — two of those intentionally. He gave up just three home runs all season and made his fourth straight All-Star team en route to a season with 44 saves and a 1.91 ERA.
So what can we expect from Rivera? Over the past few years, his velocity has dipped to the low-90s, but his pinpoint control and the movement he gets out of his pitches has allowed him to excel. As analysts see his pitches grow less fine and slow down, the end is always near for Rivera, but the end has never arrived.
We could then worry about what a 42-year-old closer may bring to the Yanks, but that’s not the storyline that will surround Rivera this year. Earlier this spring, with rumors of an impending final season and subsequent retirement swirling, Rivera announced, well, nothing. He knows what he’s going to do, but he’s keeping it to himself. We’ll just have to wait it out until Rivera is good and ready to announce his plans for 2013.
Of course, by saying nothing, Rivera seemingly speaks volumes about his future. Observers in Tampa feel he is savoring Spring Training more so this year than ever before. He has his family in tow, and he’s treating it like a year to remember. These are signs that scream “the end is near.”
If it’s the end, Rivera will earn his toasts. He’ll take his farewell tour through the league, and the calm professionalism with which he does his job will be long remembered. The Yanks will try to find another closer, something they haven’t had to do since the mid-1990s, but as life moves forward, so too will baseball. Rivera will become part of the Yanks’ rich history.
Maybe Rivera will surprise us all. Maybe he’ll announce that he’s never going to quit. But with Andy Pettitte set to return, the Yanks could be set up for a literal storybook ending. No closer has saved more games for a starter in baseball history than Rivera has for Pettitte. So the season — and Rivera’s career — could very well end with Number 42 nailing down a save for Number 46 one more time. What Yankee fan would have it any other way?
With Opening Day just a few weeks away, Forbes released its annual MLB valuations today, and once again, the Yankees are the game’s top dogs. According to the business mag, the Yanks are worth a cool $1.85 billion, up nine percent over 2011. Interestingly enough, Forbes guesses that the club itself turns a profit of only around $10 million a year with the money generated through live TV programming. In other words, the dollars are in the TV rights.
“The Rolls-Royce of the RSN model is the New York Yankees, who own 34% of the YES Network,” Mike Ozanian wrote. “The Bronx Bombers are the most valuable team in baseball, worth $1.85 billion, tying them with the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys for the top spot among American sports teams and placing them second in the world to Manchester United, the English soccer team worth $1.9 billion. YES generated a staggering $224 million in operating income and paid the Yankees a $90 million rights fee in 2011.”
For what it’s worth, only two teams — the Mets and Rays — saw their values decline from 2011 as legal woes for the former and attendance woes for the latter were the main drivers there. Meanwhile, it’s somewhat incongruous to hear how the Yanks are eying “austerity” budgets of only $189 million for 2014 and 2015, but that’s how baseball economics work these days. The Dodgers, currently undergoing a sale and with their TV rights up for renewal, will set the market, but if the Steinbrenner family ever wanted to sell, they could command a pretty penny for the crown jewel of Major League Baseball.
As the Yanks’ off-season unfolded and their DH platoon needs came into view, Johnny Damon‘s name surfaced amongst the Yankee rumors. Damon, a free agent whose numbers likely suffered in the Trop last year, is shy of 3000 hits and still unemployed. I wasn’t too keen on his return to the Bronx and made a rather flimsy case for him. By the time I warmed to the thought of a Damon reunion, the Yanks had locked up Raul Ibañez.
On Tuesday, Damon, still unemployed and hoping for any job offer, took to the airwaves. On SiriusXM, he spoke with Casey Stern and Jim Bowden, and of course, the conversation came around to the Yanks. What happened with the Bombers, Stern asked.
“The only conversation was me reaching out to them because obviously at this point in my career, I would like to have some say on who I can and can’t play for it,” Damon said. “I just wanted to make sure Cashman knew it wasn’t about the money. Pay me whatever, and I’ll try to help you win a championship.”
According to Damon, Cashman basically said thanks, but no thanks. The Yanks’ GM told the free agent that he and his scouts believed Ibañez would be a better option in the outfield because Raul had the chance to play the field for a few years. Damon defended his defense, saying he didn’t have a spot patrolling the Tampa Bay turf because the rest of the Rays’ outfielders were among the best in the league. “I like to think that my legs are a bit fresher,” he said. His arm, of course, is another matter.
Furthermore, Damon claimed that since he hits left-handed pitching so well and the Yanks already have Andruw Jones, he wasn’t a great fit. Cashman, he says, didn’t want to take at-bats away from Jones. “They brought in Andruw Jones to hit left-handed pitching and I actually do that more than right-handed pitching,” he said. Last year, Damon hit southpaws better than he did righties, but historically, he has been a better offensive threat against right-handers.
I’m not sure if we should make much of this at all. It sounds to me as though the Yanks’ reasons for pursuing Ibañez over Damon were a bit flimsy. The club isn’t really expecting Ibañez to be more than fifth outfielder on the depth charts. Maybe he’ll hit; maybe, playing his age 40 season, he won’t. He’s 2 for 21 during Spring Training, but no one on the Yanks is doing much hitting so far.
In an ideal world, perhaps the Yanks would have Ibañez and Damon in camp together competing for one job. If Damon’s words are true, he may have been willing to do that. For now, though, that ship has sailed. Damon appears to be lobbying Detroit for a job, and the Yanks will cobble together a few hundred left-handed plate appearances from Ibañez and others. Damon’s was the reunion never meant to be.
The concept of “face value” for a ticket to a baseball game is often an amorphous one. In our case, the Yankees price out their seats and sell tickets as part of a variety of packages at different place levels. Face value for one seat could be different for the face value of a seat in the same row or section by virtue of the associated season ticket package. By and large, though, face value as set by the Yanks is fairly constant.
Of course, as many fans recognize, face value isn’t the true value of the ticket. Baseball tickets are a finite resource, and only so many exist per game. If the tickets are priced at the right level and the team is good enough, the game will effectively sell out, and then the secondary market takes over. On the secondary market, people who buy tickets with an eye toward making a profit or those who can’t make it to the game are trying to find the true value of their seats.
Over the past few years, it’s been possible to buy many Yankee tickets at or even below face value on the secondary market. Demand isn’t high enough for all but the most sought-after games to warrant a high price, and discerning shoppers know that market value for a mid-week game against, say, the Royals or Orioles isn’t the same as a weekend affair against the Red Sox or Mets. Essentially, those of us who rely on the secondary market to feed our baseball needs have lived with dynamic pricing for years.
Despite innovation on the field, baseball teams have been slow to pick up on this dynamic pricing model. Some teams sell so-called premium games against good teams while others are content to price everything at the same level. That’s beginning to change though. As Kyle Stock wrote in The Daily this weekend, some baseball teams are set to embrace dynamic ticketing. The Brewers, for instance, will change prices on seats if it looks like Zack Greinke will face the Royals while the games in which he doesn’t pitch will see lower prices.
Stock reports on the way dynamic pricing came into being for baseball clubs:
In this case, the guy bucking the system was not a washed-up pro, but rather a 26-year-old fan finishing a Ph.D in economics at the University of Texas. In early 2009, Barry Kahn sneaked into a sports ticketing conference in Las Vegas. Armed with chutzpah and hand-cut business cards, he persuaded the San Francisco Giants to try dynamic pricing in about 2,000 of its worst bleacher seats.
“Basically, we saw that there was a huge price inefficiency here,” Kahn said. “Everyone was saying ‘StubHub is making all this money. How do I get a piece of that?’ My message was: ‘It’s your inventory. You have the ability to get the whole thing.’ ”
By the end of the 2009 season, San Francisco had a 20 percent attendance increase in its test seats and an extra $500,000 in ticket revenue. Three seasons later, Kahn is CEO of Qcue Inc., a profitable Texas-based company that will help 15 baseball teams set their prices this year.
As Stock notes, teams were hesitant to embrace this idea over fears of turning off fans. Some view it as institutional price gouging without realizing that it’s a lesson in Economics 101. Others are more willing to embrace it as it offers up a cheaper way to see more games at the expense of higher prices for the more generally desirable contests.
Here in New York, the Yankees haven’t yet embraced dynamic pricing. It may be slow in coming as the club would have to admit that their pricing models at the expensive new stadium haven’t been as rousing a success as they should have been. But they’ll get here. It’s unavoidable, and it’s a way for the team to tap into more revenue streams. After all, a cheaper ticket could lead to more people would should lead to more concession stands. The money somehow trickles up and into the Yanks’ pocket. For now, though, it’s the next great innovation in the business of baseball and one that should have made its debut years ago.