Monday, August 28, 2006

Elitism

Pirates management's exploitation of the poor downtrodden Pirates fan is shameful, immoral. The evil capitalist owners enrich themselves on the disposable incomes of the fans.

Yet the poor slobs are too dimwitted to know that they are being exploited. Instead, they wander around PNC Park trancelike, hypnotized by its seductive beauty. They cheer, if at all, for their favorite pierogies, while the team on the field bungles its way toward another loss. They patiently wait in line, missing three innings of the "game," for the privilege of eating overpriced soft ice cream or Dippin' Dots ("The Ice Cream of the Future"). The owners give them false hope, bobbleheads, and fireworks, and they think they are happy. Their docile acceptance of their lot is nearly as contemptible as the cynicism of their masters.

To summarize the argument:
  1. Those in power are evil and exploitative.
  2. Those whom they exploit are stupid, gullible, and brutish.
  3. If I, or some other wise blogger like me, could seize the means of production in the society of baseball and allocate them in a wiser and more equitable manner, the great unwashed would be better off (even though they don't know it).
This kind of elitism poisons the soul of the man who expresses it and accomplishes nothing; if this is what I really believe about baseball in Pittsburgh, it would be better for my mental health and that of those around me if I were to find another way to spend my disposable time, which is what I have mostly been doing during the past two weeks.

We used to say, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." There is a small, largely symbolic action that is available to deeply disgruntled Pirates fans like me. My son, the estimable ezekiel2517, has been urging me to show some integrity, to live my principles by giving up my season tickets next year. I have 1/6 of a plan, and I tell myself that I hold on for the day when Littlefield, McClatchy, and Nutting are gone. The seats are great, and I'd hate to lose them.

But any compromise that includes sending a check to the current incarnation of the Pittsburgh Pirates, says my son, feeds the ravenous beast and perpetuates the outrage. Spewing the kind of venom that I've been spewing online all year and then mailing that check a few months later represents exactly the kind of hypocrisy that I despised and railed against when I was 17 years old. Unlike impotent rage, and unlike wearing a fan-protest t-shirt while munching on an overpriced sandwich in the $25 seats, refraining from writing the check is a tangible action that has some tangible result.

Is he wrong?

10 Comments:

Anonymous Bern1 said...

"stupid, gullible, and brutish"

Uh, that'd be me.

Hey, Karl, lighten up. You're taking this way too seriously.

9:28 AM  
Anonymous bucdaddy said...

Might depend on how you feel about John Steigerwald, who has been wearing out that rant for some time: If you just like going to the games to enjoy the scenery and feel the warm sun and smell the hot dogs and all that stuff, he says, that's fine. He can't tell you how to spend your money. (And it truly is depressing how many people settle for that -- watch the Subway Sports Call sometime).

But that's their right, of course, and God bless America.

HOWEVER, Steigerwald says, if you care about the baseball and spend your money going to games, then you lose the right to complain that your team sucks when you help line the pockets of people who don't seem to care that your team sucks. It's like going to a restaurant where the food is bad and the service is terrible. If you keep going back, you can't complain about the food and the service. Vote with your feet, he says.

It may depend how you feel about John, I say, because I raised this point with a usually laconic and good-humored mutual acquaintance of ours, who immediately made it loud and clear he loathes Steigerwald (without really addressing the issue). I suspect he'd re-up his seats just because John suggested he shouldn't.

So if your disgust with John exceeds your disgust with the McNuttings, you might re-up in a fit of pique. :-)

Me, I'm not nearly as invested; because of the travel distance involved I make it to just a handful of games a year, and I usually mooch tickets when I do. So I'm hardly in a position where I have to make the decision you do, and maybe it's easy for me to offer this particular opinion; take it FWIW.

But while I think John way overplays the curmudgeonly contrarian angle (or maybe he just IS an evil miserable SOB), he does have a point there: You can't have it both ways. Probably the only way to get through to the McNuttings is to hit 'em where it hurts, and that means in the wallet. Whether emptying the ballpark would actually work is another matter; baseball would have to really enforce revenue-sharing equalization rules. In other words, if the McNuttings' reaction to an empty ballpark is to cut payroll to sub-Marlins levels so they still make a bundle and MLB does nothing to force them to use their media etc. windfall to actually make an attempt to field a competitive team, then the effort will have been for naught.

Plus you have all those people who will still go for bobbleheads and fireworks, and there are way more of them than there are hardcores like us. So we'll never succeed in emptying the ballpark anyway. You can make a moral stand but it will be in a vacuum. If the McNuttings cared what you thought or whether you showed up, you wouldn't have to make this decision in the first place ... You're truly between a rock and a hard place.

And, bottom line, I can't tell you what to do with your money either. I can only suggest that if you do decide to divert some elsewhere, you can relieve some of the depression by diverting it to worthy organizations. Look around. Pittsburgh has, for instance, a world-class symphony that struggles with a budget seemingly every year. They would almost certainly appreciate your money more and treat you better than the Pirates do.

Just a suggestion there. Doesn't have anything to do with the fact I have a daughter who may be looking for a symphony job in a few years :-)

10:07 AM  
Blogger Billy said...

Steigerwald has been wearing out a rant, but it's not exactly the same rant. Steigerwald's rant is against the economic structure of baseball in general. He rejects the entire idea that the Pirates could ever be competitive no matter who their GM is; if that's what you believe, then it doesn't matter who your GM is. That's not at all a position that I could agree with. Buying Steigerwald's argument opens you to excusing all of the bad decisions that management has made over the past 14 years.

One of the reasons I made this post is that, frankly, I am growing weary of choosing which person or which entity disgusts me the most. Such distinctions are, let's say...not edifying. I would prefer to write about the things I love. I mean, really, who am I to deny someone else the right to love bobbleheads, pierogie races, and fireworks?

Craig Wilson is gone now, but I still love Freddy, and I loved Gonzo before he hurt his arm.

Although I wish nothing but the best for your daughter, I don't think the symphony is going to work for me as a substitute for whatever it is that baseball does for me.

Littlefield and McClatchy have made clear, and stated unambiguously, that the player payroll is causally linked to attendance. This makes those of us who attend games stakeholders of the payroll. Do we stakeholders approve of the way our money has been spent? If the answer is no, then it seems to me that the only meaningful response available is to vote by withholding our dollars.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous billscat said...

"...the only meaningful response available is to vote by withholding our dollars."

and drive to Cleveland to see major league baseball? There's so much to the game we love that transcends wins and losses. All that beauty and symmetry gone? Of course, you could attend on a game-to-game basis, and let the McNuttjobs sweat out their income.

7:08 PM  
Blogger Rory said...

I would prefer to write about the things I love.

I think this is the way of many Pirates blogs. I can't stand to write about management, but I tried because that's the story. But I'd much rather write about a game that means something to me, which is why as a blogger and a fan, I fizzle to nothing this time of the year... er well before actually.

However, back to your point Billy... If there is such a large majority of casual fans, then I'm not sure what kind of financial impact your 1/6th of a package would grip the franchise. And I would reckon the symbolic gesture would go completely unnoticed.

I would also surmize that the belief that we are somehow better fans then these people is dangerous. Who are any of us to make that presumption of ourselves or others.

I'm off the point though. I tend to reject the notion of avoid games as having a positive effect, as that's lose for the fan. I reject the notion for bigger payroll because the breeds to gross misappropriations of finances we saw today. What I am a proponent of is caring about the game you are going to.

I think you can do much more good by sitting in your seat and engaging those around you in pertinent baseball discussion. As long as people are praising the trade of Craig Wilson and not crying about it I feel this is necessary. Don't talk down to them, speak as their peer. Point out to them the similarities in age and numbers of Xavier Nady to Brant Brown when they started their career as Pirates. Remind them that even with a hotshot rotation with Jon Leiber, Jason Schmidt, and Estoban Loiza the Pirates couldn't even win or hold onto those players once they become decent. The may have forgotten that Warren Morris had an outstanding rookie season and that Chad Hermansen was once a can't miss prospect. They need to know how this relates to the current Pirates, how history can and mostly will repeat itself, how their optimism has been repeatedly taken advantage of.

I don't think ownership is immune to criticism. I think that because the demonstrations and the movements are select groups of few people that management can ignore it. But when the tide legitametely turns and the majority opinion becomes one of contempt, they'll take notice. Enlighten Billy, because when others start threatening with these same symbolic gestures, and the numbers of others accumulate, management will take notice.

That's my take.

9:15 PM  
Anonymous bucdaddy said...

I'll agree with you about the economic structure rant, which JS oftens runs together with the incompetent management rant but which are, in fact, separate issues, and to agree with him on one is not necessarily to agree with the other. Like you, I don't buy that the Pirates have no chance under the MLB system -- they easily could have lucked ;-) into a division or wild card race this year. I DO believe they have no chance under the McNutting/Littlefield "system" if there is such a thing.

11:47 PM  
Anonymous rogerodisio said...

Your son is right.

The McNutters are classic, short sighted capitalists. They care only about short run profits. When the trading deadline came, as nearly as we can tell, DL spent *all* of his time dumping salary to stuff their pockets, and none trying to trade for impact prospects (e.g., Shealy) that could make the team better.

By running the Pirates this way, the McNutters establish the context for baseball in Pittsburgh, over which they have a stranglehold. The fans are expected to pay to watch a team that has no chance to win. The only logical response, then, for a fan who understands the situation is to deny the McNutters the only thing they want--his or her money. Far from being symbolic or empty, this is a concrete step. It's the only useful thing an individual fan can do.

You don't have to give up following the team. Watch the Pirates on TV, listen to them on the radio, follow them on the net, read about them in the papers and on blogs. Don't pay to see them.

Baseball will still be played all around you--at your local kids' leagues, the Wild Things, etc.

There will be sacrifice. PNC is an uncommonly beautiful ball park. But it's necessary. The park will truly come alive when there is a competitive team playing there with thousands of fans cheering them on.

The good news is that at this point striking the McNutters where they live can be effective. They already know next year's profits are in jeopardy. Ticket sales will decline without your help. Money from the league is also likely to drop, depending on how much the CBA is changed. With all the attention being paid to payroll (DK is now cataloguing the projected end of year number based on the salary dumping and even Smizik had a terrific, for him, column laying out the payroll details for next year), it will be hard to cut it much. It's even possible that those profits will turn into operating losses, at least in a book sense.

Now that's something the McNutters can't afford at a time when newspapers are becoming less and less profitable and they want to be pouring money into their new ski resort.

So this is precisely the time to ramp up the pressure on the bastards. The McNutters know the solution: sell the team to reap the asset appreciation. It's important for us to help them see it.

In that context, I'd go one step further, Billy. You should use your blog and whatever other fora you have to advocate that others also refuse to pay money to the McNutters. It's not a question of telling people what to do with their money, but of persuasion. Laying out the logical links of the argument. What beter use of your blog?

RO

11:53 AM  
Blogger Billy said...

I'm no Mario Savio, RO.

I also have nothing against capitalists, Actually, I think these guys are lousy capitalists. With that ballpark and the great fans in Pittsburgh who have filled it all summer, they are squandering an opportunity to create an enterprise that could be much more profitable, for a much longer time, than the one that they do have. It's not the greed that bothers me as much as it is the cowardice, aversion to risk, and absence of imagination.

One real pennant race in that place could build equity that would last for a long, long time. Just ask the Rooneys down the street about the relationship between success on the field and profit.

9:36 PM  
Anonymous rogerodisio said...

Economist Andrew Zimbalist, who writes often on baseball, reached the same conclusion as you a while back when the story broke about them pocketing league revenue while stifling payroll and other investments in the team on the field. These clowns fail to see the possibilities open to them if they would only put some money into the team, he said.

But I don't think this means they are lousy capitalists, at least on their own terms. They are a particular kind of capitalist--short term profit vultures.

The good news is I think this means they are likely to be short term owners as well. I don't think they ever intended to be in for the long haul (their hiding from public view is one indication--the personal pleasures of owning a ball club entirely elude them).

Originally McClatchey asked them to put up some money to help him get the Pirates. The deal was that any of the parties contributing could cash in soon after the deal was approved (in other words McC fooled MLB into thinking he had more assets than he really did). Others left, but the McNutters stayed, often buying up the shares that became available. They saw profit opportunites. When they took control they immediately began slashing costs. The A. Ramirez salary dump in 2003 was the first public salvo as I recall. They have been wringing profits out of the team since then, but have shown no interest in investing in the future of the team on the field. That cycle is running out. Not only for the reasons I gave above, but because there isn't the kind of talent in the minor league system capable of resuscitating the team on the field in the forseeable future.

The McNutters aren't worried. They know they now have control of a very valuable asset for which they paid only a few million. They would prefer, of course, that it continue to be a cash cow as it has been the last few years. But they are unwilling to invest their money to try to accomplish that. They have other, probably better and likely less risky, uses for that money.

2007 is likely to be a watershed year. New CBA. Shrinking reveune. And another lousy team on the field. But, as I say, they're not worried. The pot of gold is waiting for them any time they decide to cash in.

How's that for a rosy scenario?

RO

12:17 PM  
Blogger Billy said...

Great contribution, RO. What you write makes all kinds of sense.

12:29 PM  

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