Better chance to see an alien than MLB's books

Hostess Cathy Coenen braves last night's heat prior to the rain delay.
Hostess Cathy Coenen braves last night's heat prior to the rain delay. (YONG KIM / Staff photographer)
Posted: June 10, 2011

Observations, ruminations, insinuations and downright opinions.

 

MLB's Area 51

You'd have a better chance of walking through the main gate of the planet's most secret and heavily guarded "military" base than getting to pore over a full set of a major league ballclub's books.

When President Reagan was shot by John Hinckley Jr., 2 months after he took office, it was chaos as usual in the ER. Reagan came close to bleeding out. His personal belongings were removed and placed, one presumes, in a zip-lock bag. The usual, wallet. watch, change, keys, nuclear launch codes . . . nuclear launch codes? Oh, you don't carry the nuclear launch codes? While the ER staff worked frantically to save Dutch, the Secret Service worked even more frantically to secure the nuke codes only the president is authorized to activate.

This would never happen in Major League Baseball. I figure the actual books of each club are kept in impregnable, lead-shielded vaults deep within their ballparks. Or in an underground cave protected by security resembling something SPECTRE would throw around the death ray hanger in a James Bond film.

I figure the last time a ballclub actually had to show a full set, the National League had taken over the bankrupt 1943 Phillies. But there were less books than a series of cigar boxes laying around broke lumberman William Cox' office containing IOUs for bets on his last-place club. (Fired manager Freddy Fitzsimmons blew the whistle on him.) Maybe about $200 in cash from the most recent game. A coupon book for free haircuts in exchange for tickets, a few trolley tokens and slugs good at the Automat down Broad Street.

I don't think even Bernie Madoff got to see Fred Wilpon's books. Why worry about books when all you had to do was cash the securities and send Fred a bogus statement? "Looks like another 20 percent return this year, Fred. Lookin' good . . . "

Congress has gotten a peek at the books from time to time, but only abridged versions the owners wanted them to see when their antitrust exemption was being threatened by Marvin Miller or other events of deep pith and moment.

Where I'm going with this is from time to time, fans want to know how a Phillies team that can sell out 156 consecutive games is not able to spend as much as it wants to get whoever it wants?

I'd like to be able to flip on a green eye shade, fire up Steve Job's nifty iPad abacus and say, "OK, here it is: The Phillies generate X millions a game in ticket sales, parking, concession income, merchandise sales, restaurant sales, whatever else."

Against that, they employ Y number of stadium and organizational staff, including 25 extremely expensive players who account for about $165 million of outgo themselves. They employ Z number of stadium full-time and part-time help and a large, full-time maintenance staff to service a state-of-the-art physical plant.

In addition, there is a Florida operation that maintains Bright House Field, the Carpenter minor league complex and Paul Owens training facility. It is now almost a year-around operation. There are full- and part-time scouts, cross checkers, major league level scouts and international scouts roving the Caribbean rim with a lesser presence in the Far East. And they pay utilities and taxes just like you and me. Know what it cost to fly a traveling party about 50 strong to 81 road games? For 6 weeks of spring training?

And then there is the debt service. That's where a really big devil keeps guard of the details. With all the money that flows into what I called "The Money Pit" - and that was before nightly sellouts and the emergence of Phillies Nation.

MLB says the Phillies are currently failing to take in enough cash to keep their debt service at a mandated 15-times-income ratio. Because the Phillies contributed a third of the cost of building Citizens Bank Park, they are permitted to exceed the MLB normal ratio of 10 times debt service.

But, just a thought . . . If they are not cutting the nut despite this unprecedented avalanche of cash, that must be one helluva debt service.

Remember, the Manhattan Project that ended World War II with a couple of bangs was only history's second-most secret project. MLB's books are No. 1.

The Draftermath

It's always fun to see who missed most on the least scientific of all sports drafts, Baseball America's staff, or the guys in MLB's war rooms. BA ranked Phillies top pick, No. 39 overall, outfielder Larry Greene, No. 75 in their top 200 position player evaluation. Another draft tracker ranked the large lad as the No. 11 high school outfielder and No. 19 overall in a fairly lean year for outfielders. Interestingly, BA didn't even have the Phils' No. 15 pick, USC-signed Ryan Garvey, son of Steve Garvey, in its top 200. Strong bloodlines, though, if they can buy out his USC ride.

The Big Tuna

More than 250 responses to last week's unusual Phillies offseason jobs trivia question. Most got gravedigger Richie Hebner. About half identified the late Woodie Fryman as a tobacco farmer. Just two remembered that Deron Johnson owned and skippered a tuna trawler that sailed out of Mission Bay in San Diego. About a hundred folks picked up a dead wrong - pun intended - answer a commenter posted on the website that all three were gravediggers. Hey, don't parrot what some yo-yo tosses out there. Due to the huge response, this week's answer will be revealed in next week's Sunstrokes.

Here goes: Who has hit at least 440 homers with 2,490 hits but struck out less than 1,000 times? Only four players have accomplished those numbers, but just one has done it since Stan Musial retired in 1963. Who is he?

1. Ted Williams

2. Mel Ott

3. Lou Gehrig

4. Stan Musial

5. ????????

Send email to bill1chair@aol.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/BillConlin.

|
|
|
|
|