Thursday, April 26, 2007

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In honor of David Halberstam...

Despite baseball's long literary tradition, reading about the sport never interested me... until I read David Halberstam's Summer of 49. Despite Halberstam's admitted pro-Yankee sympathies, the book was a gripping read.

In honor of his passing -- and his unique ability to move from engaging books about serious geopolitics to serious books about engaging sports -- this blog post will discuss both baseball and geopolitics.

First, the New York Times' Michael Shmidt reports that Major League Baseball might take the lead in normalizing relations with Cuba:

Fidel Castro, 80, has experienced serious health problems in recent years, and his brother Raúl is Cuba’s interim president, a situation that has prompted speculation about the country’s future. Baseball officials began discussions a year and a half ago about how to approach the possibility of normalizing relations with Cuba.

Baseball is contemplating a strategy for teams to sign Cuban players in an effort to create an orderly system for acquiring talent from the island, according to three baseball officials and a scholar who was briefed on the plans.

“There may not be any significant changes with our relationship with Cuba in the near term, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about these things,” Joe Garagiola Jr., the senior vice president for baseball operations, said in a telephone interview. “We are thinking about them, and that is probably the extent of what we can say at this point.”

Garagiola, a former general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, is coordinating baseball’s discussions on Cuba.

Baseball is also considering moving a minor league team to Cuba and building training academies similar to those that nearly all teams have in the Dominican Republic, according to a report earlier this month by Fortune magazine.

Major League Baseball has stepped up its efforts to expand internationally in the past year. In March 2005, baseball and the players union organized the first World Baseball Classic, a 16-team international tournament designed to broaden interest in the sport. Baseball began expansion initiatives in Asia and Africa this past off-season.

If you ask me, MLB should be even more aggressive in establishing cooperative baseball relations with Cuba. If ping-pong can thaw Sino-American relations, why not baseball for Cuba?

Meanwhile, it appears that the import of Daisuke Matsuzaka has increased demand for advertising for a lot of major league teams. The Boston Globe's Keith Reed explains:

If you watched the Red Sox play the Texas Rangers earlier this month and couldn't read the Japanese-language ads behind home plate, don't worry. Those were meant for fans watching overseas, not you.

The Rangers are among several Major League Baseball teams capitalizing on the Sox's $103 million investment in Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka by selling ballpark advertising to Japanese companies. Those firms, which include a chain of men's day spas, are trying to get their message across to fans watching broadcasts of Major League Baseball games back in Japan. The Rangers and Kansas City Royals have already sold ad space worth hundreds of thousands of dollars inside their own stadiums, though neither team has a Japanese baseball star. Several other teams have also gotten inquiries from Japanese firms about advertising when the Red Sox are playing.

"Teams like the Kansas City Royals are benefiting from the Red Sox," said Sam Kennedy , Sox vice president of sales and marketing.

The Sox, though, won't see much new revenue from Japanese sponsors at Fenway Park because most of the advertising space was sold long ago to American companies. It's also far more expensive to advertise at Fenway compared to other baseball venues.

Kennedy said the Sox have talked with an advertising agency in Japan that represented several companies with ads at other American stadiums, "but they weren't willing to pay our rates to be here."

(hat tip to David Pinto for the link).

Finally, check out Baseball Prospectus' Jim Baker on why, in almost every way possible, baseball today is better than when you were a kid. It's pretty convincing.

posted by Dan on 04.26.07 at 12:42 PM


MLB could always think about moving the Florida Marlins to Havana. They would instantly become the national team, and hardly anyone in Miami would notice.

posted by: Zathras on 04.26.07 at 12:42 PM [permalink]

Not to mention the humongous Dunkin Donuts billboard in the right field bleachers that says "Welcome to Fenway" in Japanese. I find that pretty amazing considering that there isn't a single Dunkin Donuts store in Japan. Basically that billboard is aimed at people who can read Japanese, watch the Sox, have a hankering for donuts and coffee, and are within range of a DD location. That's got to be a tiny, tiny number. You could make the case that its more of a play for mindshare among Japanese people in Japan who watch the Sox and will be in the US at some point in the next few years. However, that's still a relatively small number (particularly since DD has essentially no presence on the West Coast and in Hawaii), and in any case Starbucks probably has its hooks pretty deeply embedded in them already.

posted by: Incompetence Dodger on 04.26.07 at 12:42 PM [permalink]

Baker's piece isn't bad, but he left out the most important issue.

The Red Sox never won the World Series when I was a kid !


posted by: Rofe on 04.26.07 at 12:42 PM [permalink]

I don't know about baseball being better now. I watched Denny McClain pitch his 30th victory in '68 and I think that was more fun than watching some hopped up muscle-man swat homer after homer out of the stands. But, that's just me. And yes, I am aware that Denny turned out to be a criminal in the end.

posted by: Useless Sam Grant on 04.26.07 at 12:42 PM [permalink]

As as a 50 year old Phillies fan, I find Baker's article unreadable, but probably correct, damn it!

posted by: Bob Rogers on 04.26.07 at 12:42 PM [permalink]

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