THIS ONE BIT THE BIG ONE. WILLIAM YALE GILES, who had finally quit smoking for sure, for good, forever at 10:05 PM on Thursday, February 6, was sitting on the second row of the box next to the radio booth, the box where the owners sit in the dark through the chill of April and the light in August, chomping on an unlit stogie, a tightly-wrapped replica of a Lenny Dykstra chaw. Soon, the butchered bites were bouncing off his blue buttondown, down to the bare boards below.
Outside, over there on the green sponge carpet that poorly of for grass, his team is having a time of it. Looking very new in their bright red uniforms, they are up to the same old stuff. Tommy Greene, a pitcher of some promise, is having trouble doing what he does get paid a measly $255,000 a summer to do for a living. He is putting Cubs on base. If this doesn’t stop soon, the Phillies will have to bring in some help. Eventually, that means Mitch Williams, who earns $3,200,000 for pitching about an inning every other night.
But first, Ryne Sandberg, who used to be a Phillie, Ryne Sandberg, who will make over $7 million a year starting next year, is parking a Tommy Greene fastball over the left field fence for a three-run homer. As Sandberg rounds third, Bill Giles pounds his fist and mutters to no one in particular: “I traded him, you know. All our reports said he couldn’t hit well enough to play third and couldn’t field well enough for second or short. So I traded him.”
He bites down very hard on his cigar, which splinters all over his still-hot dinner of fried mozzarella sticks and shells with marinara sauce. It is not a pretty sight.
“I just get so ticked off,” he says, “I have to bite on something. I went to sunflower seeds after I stopped smoking, but the salt just made my blood pressure go sky high.” He brushes the stogie off his shirt and tries to smile.
THIS ISN’T A GAME ANYMORE, THIS SUMMER sport owned by men and played by boys. This is an industry. This is a business.
“It’s a game, it’s a business, it’s a religion,” Bill Giles says. “But it’s certainly becoming more of a business as time goes on. So many dollars are at stake now, compared to what it used to be. It’s kind of scary sometimes.
“The challenge used to be just trying to put the best team on the field you could. Now the challenge is trying to put the best team on the field and not go broke in the process.”
But are Giles and his management team really running this business like a business? Are they putting out a quality product while keeping their fixed costs down?
“Baseball,” he says, “is more of a people business than it is like other companies that are making nuts and bolts and computers and automobiles. Almost 80 percent of our expense is on people, which makes it more unpredictable. Who could have predicted that Lenny Dykstra would break a bone on the first day of the season? Or that Jose DeJesus would be out for the season? Read the rest of this entry »