The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Friday, January 20, 2006

 

Clearing the Bases -- Torn and Frayed Edition

It wasn't quite a clean bill of health, but it counted as good news. My orthopedic surgeon, who repaired my right labrum in November 2003, reviewed my recent MRIs on Thursday and declared, "You've got a slight tear of the rotator cuff, and some fraying of the biceps tendon. But that might have been there before. The bottom line is that kind of wear and tear is normal in someone your age. You don't need surgery." Deep sigh of relief, even if that means I'm probably not fit to toss 200 innings. All I need is some physical therapy with the guy who helped me rehab my shoulder before. Whew!

Anyway, onto a few other notes...

• On Wednesday I had to pinch-hit for my pal Nick, the "commissioner" of our Yankees ticket group, which has been buying the 26-game pick-a-plan since 1998. This year the Yanks demolished that 26-game package, which came with the right to seats to a guaranteed playoff game for each round, in favor of a 20-game plan with no playoff guarantee except for grandfathered licensees (we transferred ours within the group and are currently hoping to qualify). But, oh joy, now we get to buy them online, picking each game and seats.

What happens when you get thousands of Yankee ticketholders trying to bum rush TicketRapist at the same time? Clusterfuck. Technical difficulty after technical difficulty. Nick, who was trying to TCB, had to hand the reins -- credit card number and all -- over to me because he had to meet with a client. Two hours and several hundred words that would shame even a Tourette's-addled sailor later, I finally succeeded and came out pretty well, with most of our tickets in sections 601 (lower part of the upper deck, Tier Box MVP, behind home plate) and 625 (between third and home).

I was one of the lucky ones. Reading Cecilia Tan's similar tale, I think I beat her friend by a good 45 minutes, but other than that, her blow-by-blow account of the saga is virtually the same as ours:
Well, at 10 AM, everyone began trying to buy the Flex plan and get the good seats before they were gone. But no one could get through because the server could not handle the volume. Neither could the Yankees' ticket office which was fielding complaints. By 10:45 in the morning, fans who did reach the ticket office were told to "just keep trying. It's slow, but it is working." That turned out to be blatantly wrong. Fans who finally did get past the login screen were greeted with a checklist of games to choose that showed neither the dates of the games nor the opponents. Just a list of 81 check boxes and every one labeled "Wed. //" except for the very LAST one, which bore the date of the SECOND game of the year, April 12th. With no way to guess which box stood for which game, many fans who were sneaking around at their day jobs to try to accomplish this fruitless task were forced to give up.

At 11:30 AM, callers to the ticket office who managed to get past the "all circuits are busy" messages heard a new story. "It's simply not working," a representative said. "So don't worry, nobody is buying tickets ahead of anybody. No one can use the system." When it was suggested that perhaps the sale should be rescheduled for another day, the representative said it was a Ticketmaster problem and would be fixed soon. "Maybe five minutes, maybe ten, maybe an hour. Just keep hitting refresh until the 'technical difficulties' message goes away. Then try to log in again."

The earliest successful ticket buyer we were able to find got through the gauntlet of a user interface at 2:40 in the afternoon, after trying all day. Among the additional failures of the Yankees on this day, the promised "flex"-ibility of the plan was scuttled; buyers had to choose a set number of seats that would be identical for all games. (All the ticket office would say about this was "Yeah, that's gone. Forget it.") Upon choosing the 20 games for purchase, the buyer then had to use 20 separate drop-down menus to choose what section to sit in for each game separately. Wouldn't it have made much more sense to let people choose their section and apply it to all games if they wanted? Others had problems with the drop-down menus and had to choose "best available" (the default option) and so spent more than they would have. Was this the real reason for the change?
The bottom line is that Yankee ticket buyers were treated like shit, which isn't really anything new. But it's crystal clear now, with a new ballpark on the horizon, that the middle-class ticketholder who pays out of his own pocket is a dying breed who's in the process of being screwed out of existence by the Yanks. Prices for our Tier Box MVP seats, even with the plan's discount off of the face value, have skyrocketed. Digging into my old Quicken files, here's what I get since 2000:
Year   Price $  Pct increase
2000 25 --
2001 29 16.0
2002 29 0.0
2003 30 3.4
2004 35 16.7
2005 42 20.0
2006 47 11.9
The Yanks did an admirable job of holding the line for awhile, even in the face of ever-increasing attendance; from 2000 to 2003 our tickets only went up a total of 20 percent. Since then they've risen 57 percent, and they've essentially doubled over the course of the past six years. Suffice it to say that both the money and the emotional capital I'll be forking over to the Yanks in the future is a finite amount, one that George Steinbrenner and company have decided is best spent sooner rather than later. When it's gone, I'm gone.

Surprised about Theo? You shouldn't be. Epstein's eventual return to the Red Sox has been the worst-kept secret in baseball since the day he snuck out of Fenway in a gorilla suit. He's been in the front-office loop all along, according to numerous sources, though few of my Red Sox-devoted pals (yes, I do have them) were willing to believe it. For awhile even the mainstream Boston sports media seemed to be downplaying that possibility.

Why all this? My pet theory, one that I've shared with a few readers, is that after letting Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez go last year -- the former in a midseason trade and the latter as a free agent following their World Series win -- Epstein didn't want to be in the firing line for the departures of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez (though the latter, of course, remains a Red Sock). The emotional toll of dealing with the media and the fan base over such deals was too much to face in the aftermath of an exhausting season. Shedding a superstar is much easier when done from behind the curtain, with somebody else answering the same. damn. questions. over. and. over. Rest assured that Epstein was on board with those decisions -- even the abortive Manny one -- and has probably had a say in everything else the team has done this winter, including the trades for Josh Beckett and Andy Marte.

The bottom line is that while the front-office power struggle between Epstein and Leaky Larry Lucchino isn't over, somebody, likely principal owner John Henry, has found a way to bridge the gap. Epstein's official title hasn't been announced, but bet on something weighty like President of Baseball Operations, Grand Emperor of Beantown, Colossus of the Citgo Sign or the Archduke of Landsdowne Street. What will be most interesting to see is whether the good cop/bad cop roles for Epstein and Lucchino continue or whether Epstein's return is based on reining in Lucchino's blabbermouth tendencies, which appear to prevent the team from operating with the stealth that the Yankees have mustered in the cases of Damon and Alex Rodriguez.

And speaking of A-Rod, any Sox fans piping up about his ridiculous deliberations over the World Baseball Classic can remind themselves that they've got their own Hamlet saga to live down, one which has killed far more trees and pushed more pixels.

• Like my pal Alex Belth, I have to mourn the passing of the wicked Wilson Pickett, one of the finest soul/R& B singers ever. Even his most widely exposed tracks such as "Mustang Sally," "Land of 1000 Dances" and "In the Midnight Hour" retain their freshness some 40 years and millions of spins later. Pickett didn't have the depth of catalog of Otis Redding, but at his peak he was every bit as good and gritty. If you've never heard his screams on his cover of "Hey Jude," then you've never listened to soul music. Educate yourself, kids, and then raise a glass when the midnight hour strikes.

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