Thursday, October 30, 2003


Nobody anywhere will argue that Manny Ramirez is not a great baseball player. Clearly, he is one of the best hitters of his generation, a slugger that can add substantial pop to any lineup in the game. There is only one reason why any team would choose not to have Manny, and that reason is money.

Most Radio Bostonians are thrilled to have the possibility of unloading Manny's contract, with the idea of using it all to sign a couple of lesser 10 mil a year guys, or a different superstar, like Vladimir Guerrero, who excels in all facets of the game. Of course, it's not going to be that easy. No team is expected to pick up Manny, and to most people, it's incredibly obvious why. Manny's the second highest paid player in baseball, but not the second best player. He also appears to be disinterested at times, therefore, he's not worth 20 mil a year. But what is he worth? Isn't 15 mil a year also ridiculous? What about 10 mil? We're left with one giant question:

At what price does it become profitable to have Manny Ramirez on your baseball team?

The Red Sox do not make a penny off of Manny. Fenway Park sells out all of the time. TV ratings are always high. As long as the Red Sox are competitive, there's really no need to have that kind of financial commitment to any one player. But what if you're someone else? Isn't there a single team that could use a Manny pickup as a sign that they want to compete? Isn't there a place where adding Manny to the middle of the lineup would cause excitement, and sell tickets?

I'm thinking there should be lots of places. Let's pretend we own the Detroit Tigers. We are a disgrace to our fans and our town. We won only 43 games. We sold just over 17,000 tickets a game, only 43 percent of capacity (I see the coincidence: 100 wins = 100% capacity?). Say we take Manny and his contract. It would boost our payroll to 69 million dollars, or right smack in the middle of all major league payrolls, and we would still be terrible. We would be adding all of that money without becoming a contender, and maybe even hurting our long-term chances of contending, so what's the point?

The point is this. Tiger fans would be interested. Some would even buy tickets. Even without Manny, it's almost historically impossible for the 2004 Tigers to be as bad as the 2003 Tigers. So say, with a few more thousand fans in the seats, the Tigers start off with a record of 8-10. Then, we struggle along to 30-40. At the end of the year, the team finishes at 63-99. But as bad as we are, we're not historically bad, and in fact are far more entertaining than the year before.

With some goodwill created, the Tigers average 21,000 fans a game, only 25th in all of baseball, but 4,000 more a game than the previous year. At an average of, say, thirty-five bucks a ticket, for 81 home games, plus an average of five dollars a person for concessions (I'm guessing a very low estimate) that would come to...

$12,960,000. About seven million short of Manny's contract. If you take slightly higher estimates - five dollars more each per ticket and concessions - you've got $16,200,000, or 3.8 million less than what Manny makes. So you probably have to come up with from 4 to 7 million somewhere else. But, add in the higher TV ratings, which brings in higher advertising rates for the following year, and maybe a very small increase in ticket prices, and maybe, maybe, signing Manny sets off a chain reaction that pays for itself.

A lot of work and high risk just for breaking even? Possibly. But you've created something else. Optimism. Hope. The idea that with the maturation of a few young players, you're only a couple of steps away from .500. An environment where maybe you can now attract other players to sign with you. A future.

And this is only one team. While the media examines which high-payroll teams might take a chance on Manny, my guess is that it is any team with attendance problems, not just Detroit, that could find him most affordable.

Doubt it would happen of course. Some organizations just don't want to compete, and consider low payrolls and poor teams a safer investment. Nice to think about though, the idea that every team is trying to succeed. What a wonderful world it would be.

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