The Washington Nationals Rubber Chicken Man

First, some background. At NatsFest last Saturday, a Nationals fan caught my attention by asking Gio Gonzalez, during a Q&A with several players on the event’s main stage, to sacrifice a rubber chicken for good luck in the 2014 season. The request caught me a little off-guard and–in jest–I labeled it a “lowlight” of days festivities in my review of NatsFest.

Afterward, I didn’t think too much more about it until my blog post caught the attention of none other than the Chicken Man himself, more likely known to his family and friends by his actual name, Hugh Kaufman.

It turns out Mr Kaufman has quite a history with the Chicken sacrificing and Gio Gonzalez himself. He even has a history of providing injured and sick Nationals players homemade chicken soup to heal their various ailments.

(These and other exploits by Hugh have been well-documented in the area’s most esteemed repository for local sports silliness, the DC Sports Bog).

Now, to be clear, I do not believe in jinxes, lucky charms, voodoos, or any other supernatural aids to success on a baseball field. But Mr. Kaufman feels very strongly that his sacrificing of a rubber chicken last August helped turn around the 2013 Nationals. Whatever side of the argument you fall, I think we can all agree his passion and dedication to the Nationals entitles him to a forum and opportunity to be heard.

Without further commentary, here is a conversation without the Washington Nationals Rubber Chicken Man.

Hugh, here you go:

In August of last year, you “sacrificed” a rubber chicken with Gio Gonzalez. At NatsFest last weekend, you claimed this was responsible for the Nats’ late-season turnaround. Do you really believe that?

Absolutely!

It had nothing to do with the team playing “relaxed,” like they did in 2012. It had nothing to do with Jayson Werth putting the team “on his back,” and going on a tear. It had nothing to do with Ryan Zimmerman’s shoulder finally healing. It had nothing to do with….It was SOLELY Gio’s sacrificing the Rubber Chicken on August 8, 2013. ūüėČ

From what I’ve read, it sounds like you have quite a history with Gio Gonzalez. Please tell us about that. How and when did that start?

If you remember, in 2012 Michael Morse had his “Beast Mode,” which we all loved. Gio then realized that, unlike husky Michael Morse, he was more of a “Chicken Noodle Soup” kind of guy, so he became the symbol for “ChickenMode,” and the rest became history in the making. ūüėČ

Your rubber chicken schtick is way out of left field (to use a baseball-themed cliche), but it’s also kind of funny. Has the team ever approached you for publicity purposes?

No. The team hasn’t approached me for publicity purposes. However, Mark and Judy Lerner do love my Chicken Soup. And the whole Lerner Family breaks out into laughter with the latest chicken schtick. The best part is that kids, at the ball park, enjoy waving the rubber chicken when the Nats score. It seems to be a fan favorite behind the dugout.

Silly traditions sometimes become a rallying point for a baseball team, for example the Rally Monkey in Anaheim or the Rally Squirrel in St. Louis. Do you ever imagine a “Rally Chicken” leading the Nats to the World Series?

Absolutely. Just like the NY Knights wearing a lightning patch on their uniforms, I envision a Rubber Chicken patch on the sleeve of a future Nats uniform.

You are also semi-famous for your chicken soup that allegedly healed Jose Guillen back in 2005, and later made a reappearance during the 2012 Nats season. Several Nats have health concerns right now, including Bryce Harper. Do you plan on bringing your soup back for the 2014 season?

Absolutely. I’ve already started warming up the Chicken Soup Pot in preparation for pitchers and catchers arrival at Spring Training in a few weeks.

The DC Sports Bog described you as a “lifelong DC baseball fan”. How long have you been a fan and what did you do during the dark years?

I used to go to Griffith Stadium to see the old Senators play in the 40’s and 50’s when I was a kid. Sadly they were always in last place then.
I like these Nats better. ūüėČ
During the dark years I was a baseball fan without a hometown team. I could never wrap my head around being a St. Louis Browns (Baltimore Orioles) fan, as many DC folks became.

Please give us a prediction for 2014 season.

I predict that the 2014 Nats will be tremendously fun to watch and, if they relax and laugh and have as much fun playing hard as they did in 2012, we will definitely be playing in October. Kaynahorah. No Malocchio.

Anything else you want Nats Nation to know about you and your chickens?

I loved watching Connie Marrero pitch over 60 years ago. He was very fan friendly, although his English wasn’t so good. The former Washington pitcher is the oldest living MLB player today at 102. He’s living with his grandchildren in Havana. I would love for all Nationals fans to pray for his good health and continued longevity.

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Highlights (or lowlights) of NatsFest 2014

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NatsFest 2014 was a total blur. The entire event flew by so fast I barely had time to recognize that Jayson Werth officially now looks like a homeless guy (I handed him dollar outside the Gaylord National before I realized who it was).

The biggest problem with NatsFest is you cannot be more than one place at one time. There is so much going on, it’s inevitable to miss something. Here are the highlights–and lowlights–of my NatsFest 2014.

My first event was a panel discussion on the main stage with Anthony Rendon, Scott Hairston, Gio Gonzalez, and Ross Detwiler.

Highlights:

– Ross Detwiler is hilarious. Just outstanding comedic timing. We need more Detwiler in 2014.

– Gio really embracing his role as the Go Through the Crowd with the Microphone Guy. Guys like Gio are born for events like NatsFest.

Lowlights:

– Rendon calling Texas the “best state” in the US before Detwiler quickly reminded him to know his audience. Then Rendon followed a joke about Texan secession by saying “We’d be fine on our own.”

Texas Pride. Or something.

– The first question from the audience was a Nats fan holding up a rubber chicken asking that Gio sacrifice it on the stage to guarantee good luck this season. Not kidding.

***Update: Gio Gonzalez and the Rubber Chicken Man actually have a history together, with Gio even helping him “sacrifice” a rubber chicken last August (which was the basis of the rubber chicken question). The rubber chicken idea originated back in 2012 due to a joke by Davey Johnson during a losing streak.

My second event was a Q&A with three members of the Nationals analytics staff, easily the best event of the day.

Highlights:

– The organized Q&A was underwhelming, largely because of the poor quality of questions from the audience. There were a few decent questions, however, leading to interesting answers from the trio. Also, the staff was relatively forthcoming and educational in a private discussion we had with them after the official discussion.

Lowlights:

– A…um…spirited woman who lectured the staff that signing Rafael Soriano last season “ruined” Drew Storens confidence after his 2012 collapse.

– The Drew Storen question being immediately followed by a question about Steve Lombardozzi. It was almost scripted.

The staff handled the questions well and moved on.

The next event was a Q&A with new manager Matt Williams. Williams has already conquered the political side of being a MLB manager. He is at ease in front of a crowd and microphone. No doubt being a star player has helped prepare him for this role.

Highlights:

– Williams’ confidence.

– The zinger from Williams that he wants his players to respect him enough to “run through a wall for him…except Harper”

Lowlights:

– Using the words “bunt” and “Bryce Harper” in the same sentence. Williams responded to a question about small ball by saying he’s committed to it and gave a hypothetical scenario where Harper might bunt.

WRONG ANSWER.

– Williams dodging a question about the Braves “shenanigans” last season (i.e. Beanballs) by saying the best response is to play well and win.

Perhaps Williams is just playing it cool. It’s dangerous for a manager to say in a public setting that his team will retaliate after a beaning.

Either way, I do not want to see a repeat of last season, where Braves pitchers declare open season on Bryce Harper while the Nats do nothing.

– The one woman in the audience who let out an awkward scream of approval when Williams said he asked Ryan Zimmerman to get a first baseman’s glove.

Not a fan of LaRoche, lady?

Other highlights from the day:

Continue reading “Highlights (or lowlights) of NatsFest 2014”

Will we ever see Major League Baseball expansion again?

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The Washington area tried–and failed–to get a Major League Baseball expansion team in 1993 and 1998. Instead, franchises were awarded Denver, Miami, Tampa, and Phoenix.

Fortunately for us, the Montreal Expos folded and died in the early 2000’s, leading Bud Selig and the 29 other MLB owners to purchase the team and move it to D.C in 2004.

D.C. baseball fans should send a thank you note to Jeffrey Loria and every other incompetent executive that allowed the Expos to die, because if the Expos franchise were still in Montreal, we’d still be waiting for that expansion team.

Since 1998, baseball has shown zero willingness to expand.

MLB has had two great eras of expansion in its history. 14 of the 30 current MLB franchises are expansion teams. The league expanded 10 times from 1961-1977. They expanded 4 more times from 1993-1998.

The reasons for expansion are obvious–tapping new markets that emerge due to population shifts.¬† The United States changed dramatically from 1900-1960. Prior to the first era of expansion, every MLB team was located in the Northeast or Midwest (the Dodgers and Giants both moved from New York City to California in 1957).

In baseball’s first era of expansion (1961-1977), 5 of the 10 new franchises were located in the West or South (Houston, San Diego, Anaheim, and Seattle-twice), 2 were in Canada (Toronto and Montreal) and 2 were replacement franchises for teams that moved South or West (Mets to replace the Dodgers/Giants, and a new Washington Senators to replace the team that moved to Minnesota).

As the United States changed again from 1977-1993, MLB finally tapped into growing markets in Florida and Colorado.

To sustain a major league team, a city likely needs a metropolitan area population of at least 2 million people. Only one MLB city has a metropolitan population below 2 million–Milwaukee. Cleveland and Kansas City are the next two smallest markets in the league, both barely above the 2 million threshold. Of the 9 MLB teams with a metro market size under 3 million, 6¬† are in the bottom half of the league in attendance. Cincinnati is 15th, Colorado 10th, and St. Louis 2nd (which they’ve been able to achieve through freakish recent on-field success).

If baseball does expand again, who are the likely candidates? Charlotte, at 2.3 million, is the biggest market currently without a baseball team. San Antonio and Portland are right behind Charlotte in market size.  Most importantly, all three markets are growing above the national average.

Continue reading “Will we ever see Major League Baseball expansion again?”

Orioles and Nationals: a financial breakdown

(photo credit: Nats Enquirer) Note: We do not endorse the term "Battle of the Beltways", which is both misleading and a poorly conceived marketing gimmick
(photo credit: Nats Enquirer) Note: We do not endorse the term “Battle of the Beltways”, which is both misleading and a poorly conceived marketing gimmick

No two Major League Baseball teams are tied closer together than the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals.¬† Yes, there are teams geographically closer to each other (Mets/Yankees, Cubs/ChiSox, Dodgers/Angels, A’s/Giants), but no two teams are as financially linked as the Nats and the O’s.¬† Thanks to the creation of MASN in 2004, the Nationals are financially dependent on the Orioles, and to a lesser extent, vice versa.

Accordingly, it’s worth taking a financial snapshot of the two franchises from time to time.¬† A lot of these numbers speak for themselves, and they’re pretty damning for the Nats’ unfriendly neighbors to the North.

2013 Payroll

Orioles: $100.8 million

Nationals: $112 million

Projected 2014 Payroll (source: Baseball Reference)

Orioles: $82.8 million

Nationals: $130.3 million

Franchise Value (Team value + MASN value) (source: Bloomberg)

Orioles: $1.12 billion ($514 mil + $492 mil)

Nationals: $850 million ($637 mil + $108 mil)

Annual Revenue (source: Bloomberg)

Orioles: $210 million

Nationals: $230 million

Conclusion: the two teams’ baseball revenues are, as designed, relatively equal.¬† But the Orioles are sitting on a gold mine–the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, in which they own a majority share.¬† As seen above, the O’s have yet to invest their financial windfall in the team.

 

 

 

 

Who Gets More TV Viewers The Redskins or the Nats? The Surprising Answer And Why It Matters

How popular is football compared to baseball?  People make a huge mistake when they compare the average television rating for a baseball game and the average rating for a football game.  There is no question that a single football game has significantly higher ratings than any baseball game.  The Super Bowl has viewership of over 100 million people, where the World Series might get one game for 20 million.  The two sports are very different and their popularity needs to be viewed differently, because it matters to the overall health of the two sports.

Baseball is played virtually every day for a six month regular season. Football is played weekly for about four months.  Already you can see the picture starting to emerge.  A Fall and Winter football game is significantly more scarce and certainly more rare than a  Summer and Fall baseball game. By its very nature a single football game has more at stake than any baseball game.

Lets look at the Super Bowl and the World Series for example.

The Super Bowl last year had a viewership of 108 million people, it was the most watched TV event last year.  The World Series took place over 6 games and had a cumulative viewership of 105 million.  Two years ago when the Cards and Rangers played, the Series had a cumulative rating of 132 million.

Now lets look at regular season games. Recently the NFL published the local ratings for all its teams. ¬†The Redskins averaged a 26.6 rating on broadcast TV this year, which was only slightly down from last year. ¬†The Nationals on the other hand averaged a 2.86 on MASN this year. ¬†Now, please allow me to adjust the Nats ratings to take into account the frequency of the team’s games. ¬†The Redskins play 16 games a year, the Continue reading “Who Gets More TV Viewers The Redskins or the Nats? The Surprising Answer And Why It Matters”

Two Simple Reasons Why Baseball Player Contracts are So Much Bigger than Football Player Contracts

The announcement of the Clayton Kershaw contract for 7 years and 215 million coinciding with the end of the NFL season has a caused a little bit of a ripple from people confused about athlete pay structures in the different leagues.

Pete Prisco from CBS sports fanned the flame a little by posting a pretty startling fact:

This might be a little shocking considering how Payton Manning is a name even your grandma knows.  There are various forces here that dictate player salary, but two of the biggest are the Salary Cap in the NFL and the free agent eligibility.

Salary Cap

The NFL has a hard salary cap that regulates how much a team is allowed to spend.  Last year the NFL cap was set at 123 million dollars to be split 55 ways (the size of the NFL roster), which amounts to  a 2.23 million an average per player.  The average MLB payroll last year was  99 million, with the median being 90 million (The Yankees and Dodgers are very high 200M +, but the Astros and Marlins do a pretty good job of canceling them out).  With the 25 man roster on a baseball team this works out to about 4 million per player average.  So already you see that baseball teams pay about twice as much on average due to roster size.

Free Agency

The NFL allows restricted free agency after three years and complete free agency after four and there is no minor leagues. ¬†Without a minor league, a player just drafted starts accruing league time immediately. ¬†In baseball, a player must accrue six years of playing time and many Continue reading “Two Simple Reasons Why Baseball Player Contracts are So Much Bigger than Football Player Contracts”

More Rules of Franchise History: Walter Johnson Didn’t Play for the Twins

Recently I posted my rule of baseball franchise history which stated:

The Rule of Baseball Franchise History:  If a team moves and retains its name it retains its history.  If the franchise moves and re-brands then it starts a new history.

Immediately I was challenged by brother about how this rule would impact the future Montreal franchise, but the more pressing issue, is how this does impact the National’s franchise.

This brings me to part of B of my rule:

If a team does not retain the team’s history, it is returned to the vacant city until assumed by another franchise.

In the case of the Expos, the team records held by Gary Carter and Tim Raines belong to Montreal and the player and team history is assumed by the next MLB team to call that city home.

This also directly impacts the Nationals because both the Twins and Rangers still claim linage with the previous Washington based franchises.¬† This doesn’t pass ¬†the common sense test, nobody in Minnesota or anywhere else considers Walter Johnson a former Twin (because he wasn’t)¬† and no one considers¬† Frank Howard a former Texas Ranger (again he wasn‚Äôt).¬† The current state of things leaves a certain set of players left in the baseball history equivalent of purgatory.

The NFL got this right when the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens.¬† The Browns records and history were not allowed to travel Continue reading “More Rules of Franchise History: Walter Johnson Didn’t Play for the Twins”