The biggest threat to Moneyball
With all of the debate over the business logic underlying Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, there was a simple underlying assumption behind the book — baseball teams that are successful on the field are also successful at the gate. Erik Ahlberg had a front-pager in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal suggesting that this assumption doesn’t necessarily hold for ...
With all of the debate over the business logic underlying Michael Lewis' Moneyball, there was a simple underlying assumption behind the book -- baseball teams that are successful on the field are also successful at the gate. Erik Ahlberg had a front-pager in yesterday's Wall Street Journal suggesting that this assumption doesn't necessarily hold for the Chicago White Sox:
With all of the debate over the business logic underlying Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, there was a simple underlying assumption behind the book — baseball teams that are successful on the field are also successful at the gate. Erik Ahlberg had a front-pager in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal suggesting that this assumption doesn’t necessarily hold for the Chicago White Sox:
The Chicago White Sox have the best record in baseball, and their best chance in years of ending an 88-year drought of World Series championships. But here in one of America’s great sports towns, hardly anyone seems to care. The team has tried almost everything to lure fans, including half-price tickets on Mondays, $1 hot dogs, and roving bands of cheerleaders who give free tickets to anyone who happens to be wearing a White Sox hat or jersey. Still, the Sox are averaging only 23,000 fans a game — a tad more than half the capacity of their South Side home, U.S. Cellular Field. When the Sox recently faced another first-place team, the Los Angeles Angels, only about 20,000 showed up, despite delightful weather and a 2-for-1 ticket special. “I’ve always said that the PR department should just hand out tickets to the upper deck — they’d at least get the money for parking,” Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle says. Despite his 7-1 won-loss record, the 6-foot-2-inch lefthander says he rarely gets recognized around town…. At the heart of the Sox’s troubled wooing of Chicago lies a conundrum worthy of Yogi Berra: They haven’t been good enough to win, and they haven’t been bad enough to tap into baseball’s romance with hapless losers…. as of yesterday afternoon, the Sox led the American League’s Central Division by five games. They’ve built their 42-21 record on strong pitching, speedy base-running and late-inning comebacks. Mirroring the South Side’s rough-and-tumble image, the team consists mostly of scrappy, low-priced, no-name players. Some blame attendance problems on owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who threatened to move the team to Florida in the 1980s and was a leading hard-liner in the 1994 baseball strike, which began when the Sox happened to be in first place in their division. Some fans say Tribune Co., which owns the Cubs and two of Chicago’s biggest media outlets — the Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV — slights the Sox in its coverage. Mike North, a local sports-radio host, says the Sox get the most ink when there’s a crime near their ballpark. Tribune sports editor Dan McGrath says, “We try to be as fair and balanced as we can.” Many people fault Comiskey Park, which one local columnist has described as having the feel of West Berlin during the Cold War. The park, which replaced the old Comiskey in 1991 and was renamed U.S. Cellular Field in 2003, is bordered by a rust-stained concrete wall, train tracks and an interstate highway. Some of Chicago’s toughest housing projects loom beyond the outfield fence. There are only a few bars within walking distance…. The Cell, as the team’s ballpark is often called here, was one of the last efficient but unappealing fields built before stadiums in Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and San Francisco showed how to design a park that’s equal parts ballfield and tourist attraction. In response to fan complaints, the White Sox have spent $80 million over the past five years to make their stadium cozier, adding shapely awnings, tearing off the uppermost rows and, for opening day next year, switching seats from blue to forest green. There are advantages to attending a Sox game. Bathroom lines are short and foul balls are easier to nab. But many Chicagoans prefer the cozy confines of historic Wrigley Field, with its ivy-covered outfield walls, hand-operated scoreboard and neighborhood teeming with saloons. Despite a mediocre performance most of the year, the second-place Cubs have played to 98% capacity, and nearly had a sellout April 23 when they lost to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates in near-freezing temperatures with 25-mile-an-hour winds blasting off Lake Michigan. “Even if we win the World Series this year, Wrigley will still sell out next year,” Sox first baseman Paul Konerko says. “But I can’t guarantee we’d be sold out here.”
As it turns out, last night I took my father to a pretty exciting game at the Cell — and would have to concur that the West Berlin answer makes the most sense. The park itself is actually quite nice — it’s not Wrigley, mind you, but it’s fan-friendly. However, there is simply nothing (in the way of shops, restaurants, bars, etc.) surrounding the ballpark. UPDATE: As has been pointed out in the comments, there is a double irony in all of this — most sabermetric analysts predicted that this year’s White Sox team — built on speed and pitching — would crash and burn.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the author of The Ideas Industry. Twitter: @dandrezner
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