The Rundown: A Brief History of Broadcast Rights, Kazmir to Dodgers, and the Relief Pitcher Revolution

Top Of The First

Another Top 25 free agent came off the board yesterday when the Los Angeles Dodgers inked LHP Scott Kazmir to a three-year, $48M contract. The oddly structured contract will be paid out over six years and gives Kazmir an opt-out after this season. Kazmir is said to have received a $5M signing bonus and a $3M salary in 2016, with annual payments of $8M in each of the next five seasons (or, in the case of an opt out, a second payment of $8M next year).

A New Year’s Eve History Lesson In Broadcast Rights

Television broadcast rights seem to be at the heart of the increase in spending by major league baseball teams each offseason and a source of irritation for fans who want to leverage technology to stream in-market games. But did you know that broadcast rights have been a part of baseball since 1897?

Radio hadn’t even been invented yet, but baseball and mass media have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship since the mid-1860’s, when newspapers began to regularly cover the games. In-progress broadcasts of games began in the early 1890’s, when live updates were fed via telegraph to saloons as a way to keep patrons in their establishments and drinking.

The first sale of broadcast rights occurred in 1897, when each team in professional baseball received $300 in free telegram service as part of a league-wide contract to transmit the games. Starting in 1913 Western Union paid each team $17,000 per year on a five-year deal for rights to wirelessly telegraph the games.

The Motion Picture Industry of America purchased the rights to show filmed highlights from the 1910 World Series in local theaters as part of news reel broadcasts. That contract was worth $500 to Major League Baseball. The highlights were such a rousing success that the league’s owners pushed the price up to $3500 for the 1911 World Series.

Radio broadcasting scared baseball owners a great deal and was generally avoided at the start of the 1920’s. They feared live radio broadcasts would dissuade fans from attending home games at a time when baseball needed attendance after the 1919 Black Sox scandal nearly destroyed the game. After a few years, radio was considered more of a means of free publicity than a revenue stream and teams charged little or no money for the games they would allow to actually be broadcast. The Chicago Cubs, in fact, were the first team to regularly broadcast their games to local radio, giving them away for free starting in 1925.

It wasn’t until 1939 that every team in baseball had regular radio broadcasts of in-market games along with nationally broadcast games of the week. Coincidentally, that was the year of the first live television broadcast of a major league baseball game. On August 26, 1939, Red Barber called a game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers live from Ebbets Field on station W2XBS. Only 400 homes in the New York area had television sets that could view the broadcast at the time. Two cameras were used and there was no tape delay or commercial interruptions, just marked silence between innings.

In 1946, the New York Yankees became the first team with a local television contract when they sold the rights to their games for $75,000. By the end of the century, they sold those same rights for $52 million per season. By 1951 the World Series was a television staple, and by 1955 all teams sold at least some of their games to local television.

In 1966 MLB followed the lead of the NFL and sold its first national television package, with each of 20 MLB franchises receiving $300,000.00 per year. In contrast, the latest MLB national television contract — signed in 2012 — runs through 2021, spans FOX, TBS and ESPN networks, and has delivered a combined $12.4 billion to all 30 teams.

Incidentally, the broadcast rights bubble has yet to burst over the course of nearly 120 seasons of broadcast rights.

Further, broadcast revenues provide positive valuation for franchise owners. In 1871 Major League Baseball charged a $10 franchise fee for teams to participate. Arizona and Tampa Bay paid $130 million for that privilege in 1998. What would an expansion fee be in today’s market? Easily $400 million dollars or more I’d say.

Scott Kazmir Gives the Dodgers Rotation A Straight Flush

When Scott Kazmir signed a three-year, $48M deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he gave the team a projected starting rotation that goes 1 through 5 with all left-handed starters. Kazmir is a potential No. 2 starter in a rotation full of No. 2 candidates behind arguably the best ace in baseball, Clayton Kershaw. But still, five lefties. Is that a bad thing?

The 1980 New York Yankees won 103 games with a rotation that posted starting assignments by southpaws in 100 of 162 games. They lost the AL Championship Series 3-0 to Kansas City.

In 1982 the Kansas City Royals won 90 games with lefties starting 113 of 162 games. They finished in second place behind the California Angels in the AL West Division.

There is historical precedent in Chavez Ravine, however, and it worked out pretty well. The 1965 Los Angeles Dodgers started left-handed pitchers in 151 of 162 games, led by Don Drysdale, who took the bump for 42 games that season. That sinister rotation also featured Sandy Koufax, who started 41 games. Claude Osteen started 40 games that season and Johnny Podres started 22 games. They held righty and lefty hitters to an almost identical OPS (.625 right, .626 left) and won the World Series that year. Koufax was a unanimous Cy Young Award winner. Drysdale and every other pitcher in baseball (there was only one award in 1965) finished tied for second.

Fact, Fiction, Truth, Or Rumor

Alex Speier of the Boston Globe says MLB is experiencing a reliever revolution. 32 pitchers faced 200+ batters in relief last year & allowed a sub-.580 OPS. In 2016, 3 will be Yankees, 3 will be Astros, and 4 will be Cubs.

The Cubs ZiPS Projections analysis (courtesy of Dan Szymbroski) is the feel-good hit of the winter.

Arizona Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart says the team has been in contact with free-agent second baseman Howie Kendrick.

Dan Plesac’s son Zach was named a Louisville Slugger Pre-Season All-American by Collegiate Baseball.

Hall Of Fame Voting Shenanigans: In 1960 Lefty Grove received 2.2% (6 votes) in the Hall of Fame voting. Unfortunately, Grove had already been elected in 1947. I can’t make this stuff up.

Mike Bates of the MLB Daily Dish looks at active players that he considers worthy of Baseball Hall Of Fame induction.

Bottom Of The Ninth

I don’t really have a Best of 2015 moment because the Cubs entire season was one long “best of” moment for me personally. Starting with Spring Training when Kris Bryant was hitting a home run in what seemed like every other at bat and all the way up until the last out of the 2015 NLCS, this Cubs team was as much fun to watch as any in my lifetime.

From a personal standpoint I am proud to see the growth of Cubs Insider over the past twelve months and I am thankful that Evan Altman lets me post a column regularly. I’m new at this and I am sure it shows.

And though I thought I would be more like Jack Klugman in the Odd Couple TV series — with press box passes, free MLB franchised attire, players having beers with me and such — I suppose just keeping notes and paying attention to my peers on social media in order to construct each article from my home office isn’t really a bad gig.

Thanks for reading. Happy New Year everybody.

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