As Stephanie mentioned earlier today, I attended the Town Hall Luncheon for Indians social suite “alumni” at Progressive Field today with Indians President Mark Shapiro. Stephanie opted out, so I put on my little rose-colored glasses (I really only need them for reading) and went all by my lonesome.
Stephenie predicted the following questions:
Left field/improving the team in general
– The struggles of Ubaldo Jimenez
– What I would’ve asked about – Beau Mills
She got two and a half out of four (attendance, Beau Mills, and the Jimenez trade (asked in the larger context of trades not the struggles of Jimenez specifically, so she gets half a point)) correct in predicting what might be asked. The questions were fairly wide ranging, although very few were particularly challenging.
Attendance: The question centered on the low attendance this year and how much impact that will have over the next six weeks (i.e., leading up to the trade deadline). Shapiro answered that they had already projected to lose money this year and that there are certain points in the win curve where you need to push. The team is in a push cycle. I interpreted this as saying that the team would spend what it needs in order to continue competing. He did not give the excuse of the weather being a factor in low attendance.
There were actually two or three questions around attendance, with several people complaining about the cost of attending a game, especially the cost of concessions. My take: just as you don’t go to the grocery store hungry because you’ll spend too much, you don’t go to the ballgame hungry because, duh, you’ll spend too much. Shapiro did mention that you can buy a $10 seat for any game, you can bring bottled water into the stadium, you can bring in a picnic lunch–it doesn’t have to cost much. Perhaps the Indians can start offering home economics and budgeting courses during the off-season.
Beau Mills: Shapiro disagreed with the questioner that the draft record is poor–he felt that it was poor prior to 2008 but that it has improved and that the team has drafted well in recent years. He didn’t speak specifically about Mills.
The Ubaldo trade: He wasn’t asked specifically about the struggles of Jimenez but was asked about that trade. Shapiro’s response focused on the nature of trades, saying that you can’t evaluate the value of a trade at one specific moment in time. In a related question about trades and the perception that the team won’t spend money, he said that more often than not they don’t make a trade because they don’t feel the value of a player or feel that a player is too valuable to the team to give up as opposed to not having the money to make the deal. Several times he noted the complexity of making a trade and all of the factors that go into it. And noted that he can’t give all the reasons why we might trade a particular player because “We are dealing with human beings here.” Curtis Flood would be proud.
I asked two questions. My first touched upon issues of continuity that came up in other questions. I noted that while Cabrera and Santana had been signed to long-term contracts (and thanked him for that), all of the other players who were arbitration eligible last year were signed to one-year contracts and that the team seemed to have a plethora of one-year contracts. I asked if that was a sign that they were unsure of those players or whether they just wanted to avoid arbritration or were they preparing for an overhaul? Shapiro said that they aren’t preparing for an overhaul. He believes that flexibility is very important to the team’s ability to be successful. He essentially said that it wasn’t a conscious decision to sign a bunch of players to one-year contracts. He noted that long-term contracts have an element of risk involved for both parties. The team is risking injury or a player not producing as he has in the past while the player is risking potential income. He noted that negotiations are frequently about finding the right number with a level of risk that is acceptable to both sides. (And yes, he did mention Hafner and Sizemore, briefly as part of the answer.)
My other question was about women in baseball. I thanked him and the Indians for being the first team in major league history to have a woman pitch batting practice (my old friend Justine Siegal, who is thebomb.com) and asked if he thought we’d see a woman in in the major leagues in a coaching or other role. He said, “I don’t see why not.” He also mentioned that the more women who try to play at the high school level, the better the chance, but that there shouldn’t be limits. Earlier he had mentioned that the Indians support all of the baseball and softball programs in the Cleveland public schools. I didn’t have the chance to point out that softball programs divert girls into softball when they might want to actually stay in baseball, but that’s a discussion for another day. Shapiro only chuckled when I asked if they’d be drafting Chelsea Baker out of high school in a few years.
Overall, I was impressed by and grateful for Shapiro’s candor. Yes, much of what he had to say was, of necessity, spin. But he also strikes me as essentially an honest guy who understands that a team isn’t a team without fans. It was a good event, and I’m grateful to the Indians for holding it and letting me be a part of it. Truly, the only genuinely annoying aspect was the idea on the part of one questioner (and followed up by several other questioners) that “We should all introduce ourselves and give our Twitter handles.” No, we should not.
Other questions/comments of interest:
The first question came from a guy wearing an Indians jersey, a point which Shapiro noted. The guy said, “But I can’t play left field.” Shapiro replied “It wouldn’t take much to improve on that.”
Someone mentioned that one of the biggest difficulties he encountered in going to games was getting tickets and asked if the Indians would be moving to flash seats. Shapiro said that none of the MLB teams have the capacity to accommodate 10,000 walk ups and encouraged people to buy their tickets even a few hours in advance.
Will the Astros coming to the American League change the way the Indians do business?
Shapiro said, no, not really. If they were coming into our division, yes, but he said he hadn’t given it much thought as far as his plans for the team.
“Were you accurately portrayed in Moneyball?”
No. It may be based on true story but not historically accurate.And nobody does trades in two and a half minutes. But: “They found a guy with a receding hairline who wears white golf shirts and khakis…” You know, Plato said a man would be happy if he knew all things but that the next best thing was that he should know himself. Shapiro must be a happy guy.
Are the Indians going to sign Manny Ramirez?
No. However, he and Chris Antonetti joke that, “If we rolled out the entire ’95 team in walkers and wheelchairs, we’d be the most popular guys around.”