December 2009

Rule 5 Rules


The Angels selected Derrick Turnbow in the December 1999 Rule 5 draft, then used him out of the bullpen in 2000 before sending him to Double-A Arkansas in 2001.

 

One of the more arcane events of the baseball calendar arrives tomorrow when Major League Baseball holds the annual Rule 5 Draft. It’s an event only a true baseball wonk could love.

The basic idea is to liberate players who’ve been buried in one organization’s minor league system, so they have a chance to play elsewhere. It’s called “Rule 5″ because in the Professional Baseball Agreement — the document governing relations between the thirty major league organizations — it’s the fifth section or “rule” after Rule 4, which details the June draft, and before Rule 6, which governs selected players.

You’ve probably heard of the 40-man roster. With the exception of September, major league clubs can only carry 25 players (not counting those who are on the disabled list). The 40-man roster includes up to 15 players who are not on the major league roster, but are protected from claims by another club. Any player not on the 40-man roster as of November 20 may be claimed in the Rule 5 draft, if he’s eligible under certain criteria.

To quote from Baseball America:

The criteria centers on the player’s age on the June 5 preceding the date of his contract. If a player is 19 or older on that date immediately preceding the player’s signing, the player is subject to selection at the fourth selection meeting that follows. It’s five selection meetings for those that are 18 or older that sign on that date.

Clear as mud?

The claimant team must pay the other organization $50,000 and carry the player on its 25-man roster all of the next season. (One way around the rule is to place the player on the disabled list if he’s legitimately injured.) If the claimant doesn’t want him, then he must be offered back to his old team for $25,000; if the old team declines, then the claimant may keep him.

Clear as mud?

You may remember Derrick Turnbow, who pitched for the Angels from 2000 through 2004. He was selected from the Philadelphia Phillies in the December 1999 Rule 5 draft. The Angels used him in the back of the bullpen during the 2000 season, then sent him to Double-A Arkansas for 2001.

Few people know about the Rule 5 Draft, but even fewer know there are minor league phases too. To quote again from Baseball America:

There are Triple-A and Double-A segments of the Rule 5 draft, with price tags of $12,000 and $4,000 respectively. Minor league players not protected on the reserve lists at the Double-A and Class A levels are subject to selection, but almost no future big leaguers emerge from this process. It’s basically a tool for major league teams to fill out affiliates rather than obtain talent.

Clear as mud?

Most players selected in the major league phase don’t amount to much, and several wind up back with their old teams. But a few players are glorious exceptions.

The classic example is Roberto Clemente. Originally signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in November 1954. The rest is history.

Pitcher Johan Santana was originally signed by the Houston Astros. The Florida Marlins drafted him in December 1999, then immediately traded him to Minnesota for Jared Camp, who’d just been selected by the Twins with the preceding pick. The Marlins sent Santana and cash to the Twins for Camp. Johan spent all of 2000 in the big leagues with Minnesota, posting a 6.49 ERA working mostly out of the bullpen, but four years later he was a 20-game winner.

Outfielder Josh Hamilton was selected #1 overall by Tampa Bay in the June 1999 draft. After multiple suspensions due to his well-chronicled drug problems, the Devil Rays left him off the 40-man roster and he was claimed by the Chicago Cubs in the 2006 Rule 5 draft. The Cubs immediately sold him to the Cincinnati Reds, and in 2007 he re-established his career. The Reds then traded him to the Texas Rangers in December 2007 for pitcher Danny Herrera. Hamilton hit 32 homers for Texas in 2008, but tailed off in 2009 due to injuries.

Perhaps the most bizarre claim was in 1988, when the Braves drafted a player from themselves. They neglected to protect pitcher Ben Rivera, but they had the first pick in the draft so they claimed him.

The most recent quirk came on December 7, when the Yankees sent reliever Brian Bruney to the Nationals for their upcoming first round Rule 5 pick. June amateur draft picks can’t be traded, but apparently that’s not the case with Rule 5.

The two best places on the Internet to follow the Rule 5 draft are MiLB.com and BaseballAmerica.com. Be sure to stick around for the minor league phases, as some familiar Angels minor league names may go bye-bye. Or not.

Clear as mud?


UPDATE 2:00 PM PSTHere’s a November 21 article by Jonathan Mayo of MilB.com which provides the draft order. Jonathan notes that only teams with less than 40 players currently on their roster may draft, because as discussed above a drafted player must be protected for a year, therefore he must be on the claimant’s 40-man roster.

Coast to Coast: Delta IV Launch

United Launch Alliance sent a Delta IV into space tonight carrying a SATCOM communications satellite for the U.S. Air Force. Click Here to read the news report on the Florida Today web site.

I went out in front of our house in north Merritt Island to videotape the launch at 8:47 PM EST. Click Here to watch the home video. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

It was about 50 degrees and windy outside. There’s some early lens flare in the video from dust on the lens. At about two minutes, you’ll see four red spots separate from the rocket. Those are expendable solid rocket motors being jettisoned. I’m also told many launch watchers saw a shooting star, but I’m not sure if I caught that in the video.

I’ve filmed quite a few Shuttle and rocket launches since we moved here in early June. Click Here to see all my Florida blog entries. Not all have launch videos but you’ll find those easily enough.

Night launches are far and away the most impressive, because they look like a sunrise from darkest night. In this video, the rocket becomes one star against other stars, which you can see a little at the end of the clip.

I also want to put in a plug for Florida Today‘s live chat coverage of launches. Click Here to read tonight’s live chat with veteran space correspondent Todd Halverson, who is the Kennedy Space Center Bureau Chief for Florida Today and USA Today.

If you didn’t know, USA Today was founded by the publisher of Florida Today. Both are headquartered in the same building on U.S. 1 in Melbourne.

Anyway, Florida Today has a great space blog called The Flame Trench which is mandatory reading if you’re a space geek. Click Here to go to The Flame Trench. Be sure to bookmark the page in your browser.

Marks

Mark. (n) 1. A person who believes wrestling matches to be real. Dates back to wrestling’s roots in carnivals where the targets of carnival scams were referred to as “marks.” Some sources say in the carnival days, when an operator of a scam spotted a real sucker, he would mark his back with a piece of chalk, thus literally “marking” the “mark.” Other sources say the term comes from the idea of “hitting the mark” successfully, with the idea being the scam was aimed at the vulnerable sucker, and when it worked, it hit the “mark.” 2. A fan of or participant in the wrestling industry who believes in whole or in part that any aspect of the wrestling industry is more important than making money (i.e. a wrestler could be referred to as a mark by a promoter or other wrestlers for being preoccupied with fan-perception (such as holding a title belt) more than being concerned with being paid what he is worth.); (n, slang) A person who believes they are an expert on the wrestling business based on limited knowledge of the inner-workings of the sport; derogatory.

From PWTorch.com


This may come as a shock to some of you, so brace yourself for a cold hard truth.

Professional baseball is a business.

After media reports that the Mariners are about to sign Chone Figgins to a four-year deal, one fan site is attempting to brand Figgins a traitor.

Two weeks ago, after the Angels dismissed longtime broadcasters Steve Physioc and Rex Hudler, someone started an online petition to save their jobs.

The Angels also dumped three other longtime employees — 17-year equipment manager Ken Higdon, Communications Director Nancy Mazmanian and Community Relations Manager Matt Bennett.

The comings and goings of employees are everyday events for a business of any size, but for some reason most fans don’t seem to realize that professional baseball is a business.

The primary purpose of business is to make a profit by separating customers from their money, while keeping expenses as low as possible.

Major League Baseball paints itself as a pastime, a means of amusement, certainly not a business, therefore its monopolistic ways should be exempt from anti-trust law.

We are supposed to believe that by investing our hard-earned money in the nearest geographically located franchise, we are somehow bringing honor and glory to our community — and, by extension, to ourselves. When that team doesn’t win, a lot of customers act as if they’ve been betrayed, taking to the Internet to demand that heads roll, as if discovering that a spouse has been unfaithful.

The owners of these franchises are merely acting as good stewards of our community honor. They’re benefactors, philanthropists. Arte Moreno was instantly branded a regular guy because he slightly lowered the price of ridiculously overpriced beer down to somewhat-less-than-ridiculously overpriced.

The key word there is “branding,” because that’s exactly what a businessman would do.

According to marketing consultant Laura Lake, “branding is not about getting your target market to choose you over the competition, but it is about getting your prospects to see you as the only one that provides a solution to their problem.”

According to Lake, “The objectives that a good brand will achieve” are:

  • Delivers the message clearly
  • Confirms your credibility
  • Connects your target prospects emotionally
  • Motivates the buyer
  • Concretes User Loyalty

Note that branding is supposed to get you to react emotionally — not logically — to a product, and “concrete” your loyalty to the brand regardless of actual product provided.

Make no mistake, Moreno understands all about branding.

According to his Wikipedia entry, Moreno graduated from college with a marketing degree, and built a billboard business called Outdoor Systems.

In September, Forbes ranked Moreno as #395 on its list of 400 richest Americans, with an estimated wealth of $970 million.

Branding was a large part of MLB’s successful effort over the decades to deny their employees the right to seek employment elsewhere. The reserve clause was used to keep baseball wages low by enslaving a player to one team for life; he could only escape if released from the contract, which probably meant he no longer had value. Baseball fans bought into this nonsense because we were peddled the notion that professional baseball wasn’t a sport, it was a pastime, and the owners were motivated only to bring glory to our community.

Curt Flood, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally helped bring down the reserve clause. Player salaries soared, which only meant they were now being paid what they were worth. No one squawks when Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt is paid $20 million to make a movie, so why should people be upset if Chone Figgins takes a more lucrative deal with the Mariners for $36 million over four years?

Yes, Virginia, baseball is a business. It’s the entertainment business.

This starry-eyed fan had his eyes opened back in 1985 when I was doing a one-year internship with the City of Anaheim as part of my Masters Degree in Public Administration. I was assigned to the City Manager’s office, working for an assistant city manager who really knew nothing about baseball yet was assigned as the office’s liaison with the Angels. I quickly volunteered to help her with Angels-related projects.

The stars fell from my eyes once I saw how the Angels truly operated behind the scenes.

You may recall that in those days the Angels were owned by former singing cowboy Gene Autry. Literally one of the silver screen’s “white hat” (good guy) cowboys, Autry parlayed that image — brand, if you will — into a lucrative entertainment empire. According to Wikipedia, Autry for many years was on the Forbes list of 400 richest Americans, as is Moreno today.

The City of Anaheim lured Autry’s Angels to Orange County by building a stadium that opened in April 1966. Make no mistake, this was a business deal on both sides. Anaheim was the landlord, the Angels the tenant, and as in any landlord-tenant relationship disputes arise over time.

The Angels had no contractual right to sole occupancy, but then the taxpayers of Anaheim had put their good faith and credit at risk to build a ballpark for Autry. Anaheim issued bonds to pay for the stadium that would take 35 years to pay off. The lease paid part of that, a percentage of ticket sales another part, but also leasing the facility for other events. That revenue also had to pay for routine maintenance and eventual rehabilitation of infrastructure.

When Anaheim lured the Rams from Los Angeles, part of the deal was to enclose the stadium for football to increase capacity. As an incentive, the Rams were also offered the option to develop part of the stadium parking lot into an office complex.

Shortly after the deal was announced, the Angels filed suit. Autry claimed he was blindsided by the deal, and was aghast that his fans might have to park in a concrete structure instead of a flat open surface.

Working inside the City Manager’s Office, I saw documents which proved Autry was a liar.

Autry’s Angels executives were regularly briefed on Rams negotiations. They had shown no interest whatsoever. In fact, they seemed to like the idea because the stadium capacity would increase from about 42,000 to 65,000, meaning more tickets to sell. And if truth be told, the Angels rarely drew enough spectactors to use those parking spaces that would be in the structure.

Some speculated that the executives had failed to keep Autry informed, which seems rather implausible.

What convinced me Autry was lying was that, while publicly saying he didn’t want his customers to park in a supposedly dangerous structure, privately his lawyers were offering to drop the lawsuit if Anaheim would give Autry ten acres of the parking lot to build a museum. So it was clear he didn’t give a damn about fan safety and convenience. He wanted a piece of the pie after the fact.*

Autry also entered Anaheim politics, contributing to City Council candidates who would direct the City Manager to capitulate in the lawsuit.

So more than 20 years later, when Moreno changed the team’s name from Anaheim Angels to “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” to technically comply with a provision in his lease, it all sounded very familiar.

Anaheim had agreed to tear out the Rams seats and renovate the stadium in exchange for Disney, which bought the Angels from the Autrys, promising to keep “Anaheim” in the team name. According to media reports, Moreno made no more than a cursory attempt to get city officials to agree to let him change the name to “Los Angeles Angels,” a new brand for his product. When city officials said no, he simply faxed them a notice announcing the name change on a Sunday night when no one was in the office.

Moreno ultimately won in court, the judges ruling that he had complied with the literal wording of the contract, even if the city had a different understanding with the prior owners.

Autry and Disney were not kindly benefactors. They looked out for their own interests. It is no different with Moreno.

So fans shouldn’t be shocked or disappointed when Moreno changes the brand, when he fires two loyal and fan-friendly broadcasters, when he lets go three dedicated longtime employees because it benefits his bottom line.

Unlike them, Chone Figgins has a talent that will bring him millions of dollars on the open market. That reflects more our culture’s skewed priorities; we pay grade school teachers about $40,000 a year while we pay an athlete $9 million a year to steal bases or an actor $20 million to appear in a film. Entertainment is more important to our culture than education.

The Angels have raised ticket prices again for 2010, with seats behind home plate going for up to $85 per game. When I attended my first Angels game on a hot Sunday afternoon in 1966, our tickets were $5.00 each to sit behind home plate on the field level. Upper-deck seats were $2.50. The Angels often played Sunday doubleheaders back then, so $2.50 for eighteen innings of baseball was a pretty good deal.

Prices have gone up, simply, because we are willing to pay those prices.

If we didn’t, teams wouldn’t have the money to pay a free agent $20 million a year over five years. But we do, because for some reason we have this need to connect a team’s success to our egos.

Branding will do that.

I long ago stopped paying to attend major league ball games. I’ll pay for minor league games, where tickets in most parks are under $10. I’d rather support the young players making $1,200/month because it’s a tough life and they need all the support they can get.

Professional wrestling calls a “mark” a paying customer who falls for the illusion that the entertainment is real, that loyalty to a particular brand or wrestler is more important than realizing he’s just a performer playing a role, and has the same imperfections as everyone else.

“Mark” applies just as well to professional baseball. To MLB owners, you’re a mark. They want you to wear your team’s logo, spend $42 for a cap that probably cost something like $2 to make in an Asian sweatshop, pay $85 for that seat behind home plate so you can scream profanity at Derek Jeter while waving madly at the center field camera and bragging to your buddy on the cell phone that you’re on TV.

If you want to be a mark, they’ll gladly take your money.


UPDATE December 13, 2009 — I ran across a comment posted on a fan board basically claiming I’ve made up the above passage about Autry wanting a piece of the parking lot while publicly claiming he was protecting the fans.

It’s been almost 25 years, but I distinctly remember when and how it happened.

The City of Anaheim, the Angels and the Rams had been in negotations to reach a settlement. City officials thought they had a tentative agreement. I remember coming to work and being told “We were burning the midnight oil” to craft the settlement.

Then Autry’s lawyers showed up and demanded a part of the parking lot for Autry to develop. They said if the City did not immediately capitulate, they would hold a press conference and accuse City Manager Bill Talley of fraud.

Talley stood his ground on principle, so the Angels went ahead and held their press conference to accuse him of fraud.

I just did some Google research to see what, if any, of this might be available online. The Register archives only go back to 1987, and you have to pay to see those articles, but I did find some articles online from the Times.

Click here to read an article from the November 24, 1986 edition of the Times. Here are some excerpts that pretty much vindicate what I said:

According to [Rams lawyer] Augustini, Autry has “boxed” himself in with his repeated public statements that the Angels are fighting the City of Anaheim, the Rams and the developer, only because the ballclub cares about not inconveniencing fans with high-rise parking garages on the stadium lot.

Augustini, who has argued along with city officials that Autry filed the lawsuit because he was not cut in on the development deal, called the notion that fan inconvenience is the only real issue “a tough one to swallow.” Nonetheless, he said, now “we all sort of have to pretend that it’s probably true. (Because) his principal interest now is what his public statements have been.

“Now, I think they just have a mess. I think they started wanting to have a position like the Rams. As a result of litigation, he was forced to say he didn’t want that. He wants the parking lot. Now, they’re stuck. We are doomed to litigate this forever unless Autry backs off a little.”

… Talley said he did not deal with Autry when the deal with the Rams was negotiated. He said he spoke with Red Patterson and Buzzie Bavasi, who were then the ballclub’s top officials.

“If it offended Mr. Autry, we offer an apology,” Talley said. “But we did what they asked us to do.” Talley said no one from the Angels organization ever said Autry was the only one to be contacted about projects affecting the stadium. 

This confirms my recollection. City staff dealt with Red Patterson on the matter. I did not mention Patterson earlier because I was not aware it had been released publicly who was to blame for allegedly failing to pass along information to Autry. But as I indicated above, I find that rather hard to believe, because if that was the Angels’ argument then they were basically saying that Patterson failed to do his job.

A March 21, 1986 Times article reporting Autry’s court testimony illustrates this point:

In an effort to show that Autry had delegated most of the responsibility for running the stadium to other Angels officials, Michael Rubin, attorney for Anaheim, catalogued a list of projects that been proposed for the parking lot and asked if Autry recalled them: a drag strip, a railroad station, an airplane runway and a park-and-ride facility.

“I don’t know if I do remember, Mr. Rubin,” was Autry’s usual reply. “But if you’d like to refresh my memory, I’d be happy to try.”

With each negative answer, Rubin presented documents and blueprints that, he contended, showed that the plans existed and that Autry’s staff was involved with the city’s proposal.

“We have already established that Red Patterson and Buzzie Buvasi (two former Angels administrators) knew all about this development proposal in 1978, before it was agreed to,” Rubin said in an interview after Autry’s testimony. “Mr. Autry’s repeated point is that ‘They should have come to me, and the city should have known that what my staff did didn’t make any difference.’

“Having chosen to have the staff run the business from Day One, it’s only to be expected that the people the city would go to in discussing this development would be the people they went to from Day One,” Rubin said.

So either (1) Patterson withheld information from Autry, (2) Autry ran an inept business, or (3) Autry lied about his knowledge of the project.

As for the fraud allegation, a judge threw that out in August 1991. I found a January 1994 interview with Talley in which it states he had a lawsuit pending against the Angels alleging “the Angels conspired to put pressure on the city council and oust him” which, again, is my recollection of events.

As for my claim that Autry attempted to influence candidates with campaign contributions, this October 1992 Times article documents Autry’s political donations in Anaheim.

The same article notes the conclusion of the original lawsuit. Superior Court Judge Frank Domenichini ruled that “the city must keep 12,422 ground-level parking spaces at the stadium for the Angels, but could build on the remaining land.” The judge concluded that all Anaheim had to do was provide the number of ground-level spaces available in the original lease, but otherwise Anaheim and the Rams could move ahead with development.

If you’ve been to Angel Stadium, you know there’s no such development on Orangewood. That’s because the economics of the proposed project changed over the years. Rams owner Carroll Rosenbloom drowned shortly after reaching the deal with Anaheim to move his football there from Los Angeles. His wife, Georgia Frontiere, inherited the team. The Rams were one of several investors in the project, and over time I think it just didn’t make sense economically for them any more, especially after the years of lawsuits. The Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995.


UPDATE December 16, 2009 — I posted a sequel today to the “Marks” article. Click here to read.

Statesville Owls in the News

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know one project of mine has been to locate and reunite players from the Angels’ minor leagues in 1961, their inaugural season.

The Angels had two minor league teams that first year, the Triple-A Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers and the Class D Statesville (NC) Owls.

After years of research, we finally reunited the Owls last September at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe, Arizona. We weren’t strict about who attended, as many of the players went on to more advanced levels in the system and wanted to see friends who didn’t play in Statesville but did play in San Jose or Hawaii.

The Statesville Record & Landmark ran an article on November 15 about the reunion. It’s not on their web site, but former Owls outfielder Jerry Fox, who lives in Statesville, sent me a copy. Click here to look at the newspaper article. You need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the article.

I filmed much of the reunion, which included a visit to Tempe Diablo for fall instructional league, a reunion dinner, and a game at Chase Field between the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres. Roland Hemond, the Angels’ original farm and scouting director, is now a Diamondbacks executive. You’ll see him at the dinner and leading the Chase Field tour. He brought us into the Padres’ broadcasting booth to meet Jerry Coleman.

Click here to watch the video. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

This is an abridged version of the full video I compiled for the alumni. A lot of it, obviously, was intended for private consumption. The abridged version will let you see everyone and sample what it was like.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.