Rob Neyer walks in to the
coffee shop on a drizzly off-season day in Portland's Westmoreland
neighborhood. Clad in an Indianapolis Clowns jacket, Louisville Slugger
T-shirt, jeans and open toed sandals, he blends in with his surroundings.
Coffee and food are added to the mix and the recorder is turned on. Its
when the discussion starts that the baseball in the man comes out, and it
becomes clear why hes one of the most popular columnists on ESPN.com, and
why his books are in demand.
image of the baseball writer has changed. The days of the beat writer living
and working with one team, teeth clenching the stogie with a pad and pencil are
Since the inception of the Internet, there has been an evolution in
the writer as the dynamic of on-demand has permeated the collective
sports world. Now, the baseball writer may cover all games by having a dish and
computer at the ready. Stats have become common place, and the writing style
has become a synergy of that beat-writer style with stat speak to
back up the gut feelings that have ruled the grand game for more than a
Against that background,
Neyer has become one of the faces most associated
with the change. Hes in a constant state of absorbing information, and
while he does not answer to the label 100% Sabermetrician, he does
associate himself closely with Bill James, and sees the merits of backing up
his opinions with the numbers.
His latest book, Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups : A Complete Guide to the
Best, Worst, and Most Memorable Players to Ever Grace the Major
Leagues, has been selling well, and proves that just because
stats are a part of your lexicon, doesnt mean you cant write
entertainingly about baseball. The book is great for the casual fan or the SABR
member, and above all a blast to read.
interviewed Rob in August of 2002 when the MLB to Portland effort
was just starting to pick up, and he was just settling into his home in
Portland. Recently, Rob and I sat down again over lunch and coffee, and out of
that came the following interview.
discusses the relocation process, what makes a rookie of the year a
true rookie in the eyes of the voters, what will happen to Bud Selig once he
ends this possible last agreement with baseball, the off-season comings and
goings, and above all, how Portland fits in the process of acquiring a Major
League Baseball franchise. - Maury Brown
Portland and relocation
OSC:Last time we interviewed you, you had pretty much just
gotten settled in here in Portland. After spending some extra time here is the
City a good fit for you?
Neyer: My wife and I are thrilled to
be here. Ive spent time in a number of great cities Chicago,
Boston, Seattle but for me at least, Portland is the most livable city
in which Ive lived. The only thing thats missing for me
is Major League Baseball, but frankly thats not really so important. I
travel enough to see plenty of baseball games, and otherwise I can watch all
the baseball I want on TV.
OSC: In some of our past conversations
youve made mention that the Expos is the story that seems to never
end. Is the capacity for the Expos to exist in this baseball purgatory
limited to just the next year, or do you think that this will continue on and
Well, I dont think
its going to go on and on. But I think that a person would
have to be very naïve and/or optimistic to think that theyre only
going to be there one more year.
I remember when Selig said that baseball
was definitely going to contract, and when that sort of died out then everyone
was saying that the Expos were going to be in Montreal for only one more
season, for sure. But when these things happen enough, if you have half a brain
you stop taking what you hear at face value, and you look at history
OSC: Well, I think
that if you look back on the situation, at the time, no one foresaw the League
sticking so closely to no conditional award, and the
No, I think thats
absolutely right. Nobody did. But I think the point is that nothings
changed since then. Nobodys been able to fund a ballpark, and
theyre not going to move until somebody does, I dont
I suppose its possible that
theyll eventually give up and say, OK, take the team, well
just trust you to build a ballpark. Or, Well pay more than we
said we would. But, Im not going to believe it until I see
Will it shock me to see them in Montreal in
2005, or 2006? Absolutely not. Its one of those things that, as you know,
could literally change overnight. But, until it does, we have to assume
theyre going to be in Montreal.
I think the reason its lasted as long
as it has, is that the downside for the teams the losses are
spread around to every team. So, its costing every team, what? A million
bucks, or two million a season to keep the Expos. Thats a lot of money,
granted. But for a billionaire, a couple million isnt that much money. I
think a lot of them are thinking to themselves, If we do give in it may
cost us a million dollars now, but down the line it might, theoretically, cost
me $100 million when I want a new ballpark. So, I dont know if
theyre thinking about that rationally, but I think thats one
OSC: Also since we
spoke last, Portlands filled in some of the stadium funding and is
directly in the running for the relocation of the Expos. You made mention in
one of your columns on ESPN.com, that if Portland were given the opportunity,
and did a stadium that fit the attitude of the City, that there was a good
chance that MLB would work here.
What kind of stadium would be a
Portland Stadium? Is it a matter of moving beyond the Camden
Yards model of brick façade, and retro nuovo and moving into
something a bit different?
I think either of those
would work. I think that something totally different, something that nobody has
ever seen before, would work here. But I dont think [something totally
different] is a realistic option. I think the architects and whoever is running
the show are probably too conservative to try something out there.
The architects are going to be very good at convincing whoever is in charge
that, Look, we have this model. It has worked in these other cities. You
probably dont want to mess with it. So while [something totally
different] would work, I dont think it would actually
|Using Camden Yards is good model
in that, when you look at it, you see something thats organic, or at
least it seems organic. It belongs in the place where its at. And
thats not true of some of the other new ballparks. They have the retro
look, but do they make any connection to the surrounding city, the cityscape?
No, not much.
The buildings that always come to mind [in
Portland] are all these old warehouses that have been turned into microbrews. I
think that is pretty neat and they are fun places to go. So, I suspect whatever
is built in Portland will have a lot of brick and it will look like a Portland
building, which is what you want. You want it to look like a Portland building.
And if it fits into the surrounding neighborhood, all the better.
You want something that says
Youre in Portland now. Thats the
OSC: A lot of baseball
insiders feel that the Expos in DC makes a lot of sense, but lately conditional
award of the team has been added to the mix, Bobby Goldwater has resigned from
the DC Sports Commission amidst cost overruns and Northern Virginia bid is in
serious problems due to the political will and the fact that the key sites
selected for stadium development are now off limits.
If a jurisdiction, such as Portland, comes
up with what the East Coast markets cannot, is it time to consider other
markets over a DC area bid?
Yeah, I think so. I have
said this before; I think that baseball wants to be [in DC] A) because
its a huge market and B) to make a lot of politicians happy. At the same
time I really think, as I said earlier, that if somebody can dangle a new
stadium in front of MLB it would be too tempting. You know theyll say,
We have this stadium here and we have these guys over here who have had
five years and havent been able to do it. How much longer are we going to
And it isnt like if you put a team in
Portland or somewhere else that youre locked out of Washington. If they
ever get their act together you can still find a team [to go to DC].
You can expand, which I think is somewhere
down the road, even though Baseball says it is not going to expand. I think
its down the road at some point. Or you can move a
Granted, if you are going to move the
As, for example, it makes more sense to move them to Portland since they
are already sort of over here on this side of the country. It seems kind of
crazy to move the Expos to Portland and the As to Washington, but you
know, why not?
I dont think moving the Expos to
Portland precludes having a team in D.C. It just puts it off a little longer.
On the other hand, maybe that would
cause D.C. to get their act together. If the Expos actually moved somewhere
else they would say, You know what, theyre not going to wait for
us. We need to go ahead and build a ballpark.
OSC: If Portland comes
up with 100% of the stadium funding, and the Expos go somewhere else, how much
of a chance does Portland have, realistically, of having a franchise move here,
or an expansion team for that matter? Will we get a team or will we just be
kind of like Tampa Bay was in the 90's (but without the stadium being
completed), a pawn for other franchises to use in order to squeeze a new
stadium out of their cities?
I really think that, if
Portland had ballpark funding, a team would take it. I really do. Probably the
As, or some other team. I think that the lure of a new ballpark will be
I think it was a little different when St.
Pete built the dome. Because that really wasnt a very attractive place to
go. And at that point, teams were actively discouraged from
I dont think thats the case any
more. I think MLB would like to have the upper hand they need to realistically
threaten [other markets], and they dont really have that unless a team
Lets say Portland had a new ballpark,
and thats a hammer that teams could use to get a new ballpark. But it
would be at least as big a hammer to say Look, if you dont build us
a new ballpark, well move just like [they did to] Portland
eventually well go too. I think a new ballpark in Portland
could be a hammer in both those ways.
I think someone would move here. I
dont think expansion is going to happen in the next five or six years,
but I do think someone would move.
OSC: Did the extended
travel imposed on the Expos last season by playing 22 games in San Juan wear
them down to the point of missing the playoffs, or was it something related to
the injuries that hit the team? Maybe a combination
You could find eight or ten
other teams that had similar records to the Expos on July 1st or August 1st and
they faded just as badly as [the Expos] did. Did it help? No. Having those
flights to Seattle from San Juan probably wasnt a good thing, but I
dont think it was the deciding factor.
I just dont think it was a good
enough team. They had some good players, no question. It was a good team. It
wasnt a team that was going to win 90 games. I dont think the
pitching rotation was deep enough; the bullpen wasnt that good and they
didnt have a good center fielder.
It was a good team, it wasnt a great
team, and I dont think you can blame that on
OSC: Vlad Guerreo is a
free agent this season, and anyone that follows the game closely knows that
hes one heck of a player waiting to be picked up if given the chance.
Whats your take on where he seems to be heading?
I think Baltimore is a real
possibility. I think its pretty clear from the noises coming out of
Baltimore that they are going to go out there and get somebody big, whether
thats Tejada and/or Guerrero, those are the two big ones this winter.
Im still not convinced he wont end up in New York. Because they
might just say, You know what, well just pay $20 million a year. We
dont care. I dont think its going to happen, but I
wouldnt be shocked if it did. I think Baltimore is the most likely
you look at the ten biggest contracts out there right now, I would be willing
to bet that half of them the teams would rather not have. Giambi? Maybe. Jeter?
Yes. If you lock Brian Cashman in a room and you
get him to tell the truth, I think he would rather not pay Derek Jeter $18/$19
million bucks last year.
OSC: Who else? Rodriguez,
you know the Rangers want out from under that one.
Manny Ramirez, you know the Red Sox want
out from under that one as well. I dont know who the other biggest ones
are, but the problem is those big contracts, they leave you without
flexibility. Another thing the teams are figuring out, aside from the fact that
you shouldnt pay good players great money, is that in this environment
one of the best things you can have in an organization is payroll flexibility.
And if youre paying one of your players $16 million bucks a year, you
dont have that flexibility. Also you have this guy that you have to pay,
and if anything happens to him, if his performance goes down or if he gets
hurt, nobody else will take his contract. Im not sure if having Guerrero
adds as much value to the Expos as a lot of people think. In the short term it
certainly does. But who knows when they get sold. Maybe they dont get
sold until three years from now. Then maybe not.
OSC: The Expos also
have a gifted GM in Omar Minaya. Whats your take on him as a GM, and was
it surprising that he didnt take the GM position with the Mets given the
fact that he has roots in NY?
I think he has done a good
job. You cant argue with the success of that club. I think if he made a
mistake, and you never know what the orders were from up high, if there were
any, he really went out on a limb in 2002 when he traded all his prospects to
the Indians for Bartolo Colon. Basically, the Indians restocked their farm
system with Expos prospects. But you can argue that at the time they were in a
pennant race and everyone assumed that was their last year there and they
should go for it. I didnt disagree with it then because I figured it
might be their last year in Montreal. So why not give it a shot? It just
didnt work out.
I think that most people believe he is very
good talent evaluator. I think it is pretty hard to argue with his success.
Would I hire him for my team? Probably not. I have my own biases. But he is
going to be a pretty good GM. I think that one way or another he will end up on
his feet. If the Expos move and he doesnt get the Expos job, wherever
they go hell get a job somewhere else. You have a guy who is, basically,
working for the commissioner for two years now, and who falls under the heading
Minority, and who has been successful. So theres almost no
chance he wont end up getting a job that he wants. I am sure he knows
what he is doing.
Marlins, the Rookie of the Year,
CBA and Bud Selig
Marlins Experiment in using single season contracts seemed to have paid off.
Now comes the fallout.
How much of this team can be retained for
I just read that if they
were to keep the team together for next year it would cost them $90 million.
Which is a lot. They would like to have a $60 million payroll, which frankly,
is pretty reasonable given the ballpark and how many fans they draw. I think
$60 million is a lot; it is in the top half. It is going to be more than a lot
of teams in similar situations in terms of a ballpark and revenues.
The Marlins said they wanted to do
everything they could to keep Rodriguez, but he laughed at their offer.
Theyve traded Derrek Lee. But who else has to go to stay at $60 million?
I dont really know. The pitchers should all be okay, at least the
One problem, for some reason, after they
traded for Conine they signed him to a two-year extension. Which was nuts. That
wasnt for a huge amount of money, but that just not the kind of guy you
can afford if you are trying to keep your payroll
I think if they were going to keep
everybody, they would have a pretty good shot next year. But if you lose Lee
and Urbina and one or two other pretty good players they are going to be in
trouble. I dont think they have the depth of
OSC: Angel Berrora
beat Hideki Matsui to win the Rookie of the Year award in the AL.
Some will say the closest vote ever was due
to two extremely good players having skills that matched. But, some will say
that Matsui technically isnt a rookie.
Do you feel that import players are being
looked at differently now in this post Nomo/Ichiro
Well, I think that looking
at it from a performance perspective, and not anything else, I thought that
Matsui was going to win.
And I thought he should have won. I would
have voted for him. Mainly because his hitting stats were a little better than
Berrora not a lot better but to me, the real deciding factor was
that Berroa plays in a great hitters park. I mean, Kauffman Stadium has been
like Coors Field over the last two years.
But, getting back to the original question,
I think its likely that out of the 28 voters, I suspect a few of them
down-graded Matsui because of where he came from. And in this case, all it
would have taken was a few votes flip-flopping, then, Matsui would win. I think
that it was the deciding factor.
OSC: Care to cover
some of the off-season moves that have transpired, or those that you think will
Clearly, its been a
good winter for the Red Sox and the Yankees. I think its been slightly
better for the Yankees, because they added two excellent starters and one of
the best hitters in the game. And you know, theyre probably not done.
Theres a real good Cuban player who hasnt signed yet, and of course
the Yankees will have first dibs on him.
The big story, of course, has been the
on-again, off-again deal that would have sent Alex Rodriguez to the Red Sox.
But enoughs already been said about that one.
OSC: Whats your
take on Bavasi getting the GM position in Seattle?
I have a natural aversion to
people that may have jobs because of who they are and not what they have done.
You wonder if he would be where he is if his name wasnt Bavasi. His
father was a major league executive for many, many years.
I have never heard people say great things
about Bavasi but maybe thats just because I havent been listening
to the right people. In all honesty, Im not all that impressed so far.
The Raul Ibanez contract is going to be a problem, and the Ms were
apparently more than willing to spend way too much money on a season of Omar
OSC: Whats your take
on the overall well-being of MLB, a full season after the last CBA was agreed
to that pretty much saved the game in a lot of peoples minds? Have the small to
mid markets are fairing better or is it pure luck?
The small- and mid-market
teams never struggled to the extent ownership wanted us to believe. That notion
that you couldnt compete unless you had a massive payroll was never the
case. The As showed that. The Twins did well. Other teams were
competitive before the new CBA. Did it make a difference?
I have seen some people suggest, pretty
convincingly, that the revenue-sharing system setup actually hurts some of the
small-market teams, because they end up giving a significant percent of their
revenues into the plan, and this hurts them more than it hurts the big ones.
The system, the way its set up, really helps the teams in the middle, not
the teams on the bottom.
OSC: Bud Selig is
stepping down from the Commissioners position after his contract runs
out. Who do you think would be a good replacement, and do you see any chance of
moving away from the old-guard system that is in place now?
First of all, I think Selig has about three years left on
his term. Thats a long ways off. I think theres a 50/50 chance that
when his term expires, if hes still ambulatory and not completely senile,
he will keep the job. In his mind, I think, being Commissioner is like being a
Supreme Court Justice.
OSC: Even though
hes said that he clearly wishes to end his tenure at the end of this
Look, this is a guy who said
10 years ago that he would only be interim commissioner. The guy loves the job.
It is very easy to say, Im retiring in three years. Because
three years seems like forever, even when youre an old man. But when that
three years actually runs, out hes going to think What the hell do
I do now? Heres my choice: I can either retire, and wrestle around on the
floor with the grandkids all day, or I can go run the Brewers again. What
a bargain thats going to be. I mean, the worst franchise in baseball.
You never know. He might age a lot over the
next three years and decide hes isnt up to it any more. But I think
hell keep the job. I believe that his term ends right about when they
would be starting negotiations for the next CBA. You cant tell me there
wont be a lot of owners who wont try to convince him to stay, at
least until this new CBA is done. Because who else is going to do all that
OSC: Who comes
I think it will be another owner or
somebody like that. Everybody always talks about a return to an
independent commissioner. Well, the fact is that there really
hasnt been anyone like that, for an extended period of time, since
Kennesaw Mountain Landis.
I mean you had Happy Chandler, and
certainly Bowie Kuhn did some things, he pissed off some of the owners. But he
was basically an employee. And many a time when he pissed off one or more of
the owners, he made more owners than that happy. For example, in the
mid-70s when he told Charlie Finley that he couldnt sell three of
four superstars for $8 million, or whatever it was, that is sort of seen as
evidence that Kuhn is acting independently because he made an owner mad. Well,
the owners hated Finley and they were probably thrilled that Kuhn vetoed that
deal. Everybody was probably happy except Finley and the Red
We havent had a truly independent
commissioner for a long, long time. A couple of them have tried. Giamatti tried
and then Fay Vincent tried, and they fired him. So its just not going to
You hear two
Costas, which is certainly not going to happen because hes too
independent and he doesnt want it. I think if they really asked him he
would really consider it. But I dont think they will ask him so
theres no point in talking about it.
The other name you hear sometimes is Sandy
I dont think he wants the job.
Its too public a job and he is a private guy. I also think hes too
strong willed and independent to be asked to take the job. So I dont know
who would be.
OSC: Finally, your
latest book seems to be doing very well. Care to let readers know what your
next book will be about, and when its scheduled to be
co-wrote the next book with Bill James, and its called The
Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers. I think the title is fairly descriptive,
but basically its all the specific information we could find, over the
last dozen years, about how thousands of pitchers did their jobs. Should be out
in April or May, if there arent any snags in the production