Puerto Rico’s Imbalance of Power: Stadium Lights Glow, Homes Do Not


“I guess I can’t watch,” she said.

In the stands, an ardent baseball fan, Leo Del Valle, 54, a warehouse supervisor from Caguas, said it felt unfair that the game went on while many like him did not have power at home.

“At least if there’s no light, it’s better here watching a game and getting my mind off things,” he said. “I love baseball.”

Photo

Tourists strolled in Old San Juan as a major failure knocked out the electricity in Puerto Rico, still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria.

Credit
Jose Jimenez/Getty Images

When power first went out in the late morning, Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz of San Juan, who worked with Major League Baseball to bring the games here, wrote on Twitter that emergency systems at the stadium were operating and “the game will GO ON. Nothing will stop us.” Generators would power the stadium, and extra security and lights would illuminate the parking lot.

By around 5:30 p.m., the electric company said power had returned to parts of the island, including major hospitals, the airport in San Juan and the stadium. By 8:15 p.m. on Wednesday, service had been restored to 334,000 customers.

Inside and immediately outside the stadium, there was a veneer of normalcy. A band played in the first floor concourse. Fans stood in line to buy food and drinks. They cheered, used noisemakers and danced in the aisles. Television and stadium personnel scurried about as they had the night before as well.

But Major League Baseball and the broadcasters for the games, Fox and ESPN, had made a contingency plan to have generators in case the power went out. And another emergency generator arrived an hour before first pitch.

“Our ability to produce and televise the game wasn’t impacted,” an ESPN spokesman said.

The push to ensure the game went off reflected a determination to not let a crisis interfere with the notion the island was recovering. It also reflected a strong desire to showcase the resurgence of Puerto Ricans in professional and international baseball.

The success of the Puerto Rican national team in the World Baseball Classic and the popularity of young players such as Carlos Correa, Javier Báez, José Berríos and Lindor suggest a return to the heyday of the 1990s. This season, 19 Puerto Rican-born players filled opening day rosters — the most since 2011.

These M.L.B. games were the first hosted on the island since 2010. The stadium, which suffered moderate damage from Hurricane Maria, was repaired. And the cancellation of the 2016 regular season series between the Miami Marlins and the Pittsburgh Pirates because of concerns about the Zika virus was a sore spot for some.

Photo

The Minnesota Twins mascot, TC Bear, carries the Puerto Rican flag before the start of a game against the Cleveland Indians at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan.

Credit
Ricardo Arduengo/Getty Images

Before Tuesday’s game, Carlos Beltrán, who retired after winning a World Series with the Houston Astros last season, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. He was flanked by former and current Puerto Rican baseball players, including Carlos Delgado, a former star for the Mets and Toronto Blue Jays; José Vidro, who played primarily for the Montreal Expos, which played 43 games at Hiram Bithorn from 2003 to 2004; Juan González, who won the 1996 and 1998 American League Most Valuable Player Awards for the Texas Rangers. Bernie Williams, the former Yankees great, performed the national anthem on his guitar.

“Hopefully we can be an inspiration for those young kids and give people something to be happy about,” said the Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario, a Puerto Rican native.

Four hours before the first pitch on Wednesday, Rubén Jiménez was setting up displays of Puerto Rican baseball caps to sell a block away from the stadium. He was at home in Bayamón loading his truck up in the morning when the power went out. He proceeded anyway.

“We’re used to this,” said Jiménez, who went two and half months without power at him home after Maria hit. “This power system is really old. It needs to change, if not, it’ll continue to like this.”

Jiménez admitted that it might be odd to play a game while many do not have power, but he knew he benefited from the decision to play as scheduled.

“This is how I make a living,” he said.

Sitting in the top row of the stands, Salvador Berrocales, 67, and his wife, Maribel Bahamundi, 50, came to the game because the tickets were a gift, and no power failure was going to stop them. With the power restored to the stadium, Bahamundi said she understood how canceling the game could have further undermined confidence in the government.

For her, the game was a needed distraction. “This helps me forget about the light outages,” Bahamundi said.

But after the game, she and her husband faced a long, dark drive home: it is a two-hour trip to their home in Sabana Grande, in the southwestern region of the island. It was back to the real world for many of Puerto Rico’s baseball fans.

Continue reading the main story

How Giancarlo Stanton Let Go of ‘Mike’ and Embraced Who He Is


A week later, outside the Yankees’ spring training clubhouse in Tampa, Fla., Giancarlo Stanton said he had no idea about any of this.

“Nuh-uh,” he said, laughing, but also realizing the name Fidel wouldn’t have gone over well with the Cuban exile community in South Florida. The Marlins drafted him in 2007 as a 17-year-old, eventually awarded him a $325 million contract and watched him develop into a National League most valuable player before trading him to the Yankees in December.

“Thank you for not naming me that, especially being drafted by Miami,” said Stanton, who will make his home debut for the Yankees on Monday afternoon. “That would have been not so good.”

We are all born into names, and, like circumstance, some are more fortunate than others, particularly for athletes. Amid the dysfunction of the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony’s countenance remained Melo. Why wouldn’t Noah Syndergaard, towering with flowing blond hair, embrace his distant heritage and answer to the name fans gave him, Thor? And there would not be an admonition for all to rise for Aaron Judge if his adoptive parents had been named Jones.

Photo

Of her son’s predilection for flashy footwear, Jacinta Garay said, “He gets that from me.”

Credit
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

While some athletes are destined to embody their names, Stanton’s name — polyglot, lyrical and lengthy — may reveal something about him, too.

If he had stayed with Mike — the name he used publicly through high school and during his first two seasons with the Marlins — he would not even be the first Mike Stanton to play for the Yankees. But there has never been another Giancarlo to play in the major leagues.

“You’ve got something unique, you don’t run from it, you embrace it,” said Stanton, whose bats and gloves have always been stamped with “Giancarlo.” “I’ve met some cool fans that come up and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got the same name.’ But, personally, there’s no one in my phone that I say, ‘Oh, what up, Giancarlo?’ I like the uniqueness of it.”

That is not to say he minds what people call him. His mother calls him Cruz, his father calls him Mike, relatives call him Mikey and his new teammates mostly call him G. His parents gave him so many names, they said, in part so he could choose the one he liked.

Meet the Family

When Giancarlo was learning how to write, he made a drawing for his father. He spelled out his first name, all in lowercase, with brightly colored markers. His father took it to work at the post office and hung it in his locker.

If it was hard then to see his son growing up to be one of baseball’s best players, it was easier in that drawing to see an expression of what he might become — his attention to detail, his zest for rich experiences and an embrace of his name.

In that way, along with his uncommon size, 6 feet 6 inches and 245 pounds, Stanton seems to be neatly tailored for New York and all that it has to offer. Until now, his exposure to the city’s culture, clubs and cuisine has come in small bites: a night out here, a weekend there. Home runs, like the two he hit on opening day on Thursday in Toronto, will make it easier for the fans to embrace him. But they will also make it harder for him to blend into the background.

Stanton was raised in the melting pot Tujunga area of Los Angeles by a mother and father who were poles apart. His parents were married for 10 years — splitting up when he was 8 — and seem to have but one thing in common: They both worked for the Postal Service.

Mike has the wit and fashion sense of a suburban dad — khaki shorts with the shirt tucked in, white socks, a sweatband on his wrist — and is as deeply abiding as one. He was there for his son growing up — throwing him batting practice after school before putting in a night shift — and in his moment of peril, accompanying him to a hospital when he was horrifically hit in the face by a pitch in 2014.

Jacinta Garay, whose parents were African-American and Puerto Rican, has piercings on each cheek and musical tastes ranging from Afro-Latin jazz to Lynyrd Skynyrd. She recently got her first cellphone so Giancarlo no longer had to leave a message on the house phone to reach her. But she still rates as a cool enough mom that Stanton invited her to his birthday party at a Hollywood club so she could meet Snoop Dogg.

Photo

Giancarlo Stanton with his father, Mike Stanton, and mother, Jacinta Garay, during the 2017 All-Star break in Miami.

Credit
Mike Stanton

Of her son’s predilection for haute couture (and flashy sneakers, including a pair of gold metallic high tops), his mother said: “He’s really into coordination and how things look and how to match the colors. The bling tennis shoes — he gets that from me. And he teases me about the furry boots?”

Said his father, with resignation: “He didn’t learn how to dress from me.”

When it came to naming her children, Garay’s eclectic tastes mostly reigned. Her older son, Egidio Carlos Moacir Garay, has a first name she found poetic with the Portuguese soft “g” (pronounced e-JID-e-o) — but off-putting with a hard Spanish “g.” Moacir is a nod to the Brazilian jazz composer Moacir Santos.

Her daughter, who is two years older than Giancarlo (pronounced zhon-CAR-lo), was supposed to be a boy, so Kyricio became Kyrice (pronounced KIE-reece); her middle name is Valivia, the name of Garay’s grandmother.

When her plan to name her younger son Fidel was quashed, she pondered an alternative. An aficionado of foreign and independent films, Garay revered the actors Giancarlo Giannini and Giancarlo Esposito, and she liked the way the name sounded. “I talked to my cousin and she was, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’ because we just loved the way that Giancarlo flows,” Garay said, pronouncing it with a flourish.

(Stanton’s second name came because his mother’s favorite singer was Celia Cruz and because an actor who lived in the neighborhood — A Martinez — played a character named Cruz on the late-1980s soap opera “Santa Barbara.”)

If their names caused occasional angst, the children did not stew over it. Egidio went by E. G., Kyrice went by Ky and Giancarlo became Mike.

“We just chalked it up to, my mom went to too many Parliament concerts in the ’70s,” said Egidio, 38, who teaches political science at Glendale Community College in California. “It just kind of was. It wasn’t something we spent a lot of time deconstructing.”

In retrospect, though, their names may have subtly spurred his worldview.

“Growing up in more suburban areas where you have that name that stands out, it’s already pointing you out as being a little different,” Egidio said. “Being a little kid in first grade being picked on for your ethnicity and identity, it compels you to make those broader connections to cultures and have a wider horizon about the world.”

For Giancarlo, there were other nudges to do that. His father had traveled to China, India and Africa. His uncle Miguele would bring him gifts and regale him with tales about his frequent visits to Colombia, and take him to local Latin festivals. Giancarlo’s eyes were opened further when he took a trip with high school classmates to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, at the tip of Baja California Sur. He went fishing, rode all-terrain vehicles on the beach, ate Mexican food and listened to mariachi.

“It was fascinating to me,” said Stanton, who in recent off-seasons began to explore Europe, and then places further afield, cities like Istanbul, Bucharest, Jerusalem and Dubai. Asia and South America are being considered as the next possible destinations. “You don’t understand until you grow up a little bit how cool places are.”

Photo

After Stanton was drafted by the Marlins in 2007, his first stop was playing Class A ball for the Jammers in Jamestown, N.Y.

Credit
Mike Janes/Four Seam Images, via Associated Press Images

The more recent trips have been with two housemates — the former Marlins pitchers A. J. Ramos and Ricky Nolasco — and another friend, the Marlins clubhouse attendant Jeremy Ruder.

Getting Away

Stanton’s Instagram feed — a montage of photos from shirtless workouts, vacation spots, celebrity hobnobbing and other areas of the baseball life — are often accompanied by pithy captions that show an often self-deprecating wit.

“On the field it’s hard to joke around — I’m game time,” Stanton said. “But off, when I’m not working, I’m a jokester. I don’t want to spend all my energy being mad and focused.”

While Stanton’s Yankees teammates have been struck by how fastidiously he adheres to his hitting and workout routines, he is adamant about leaving his work at the office. He has told his father, at times, that he does not want to talk about baseball with him. And Ramos, who has lived with him since 2011, said that in the time they have known each other, they have not had more than 10 conversations about baseball away from the ballpark.

The travels over the winter also provide a necessary break from baseball.

“We play seven months, counting spring training, and you’re so regimented that if you don’t get away it makes you crazy,” said Ramos, the Mets reliever who will share an apartment with Stanton in New York this season. “We actually set a plan for what we want to do, and 100 percent of that time we don’t even stick to that plan. There’s no one holding us to it but us. That’s the balance.”

While Ramos has relished experiences like riding to a pyramid in Egypt on camelback — “It looks fake, like it’s in a movie,” he said — their group also returned home with conversations that challenged the way they think. “You go there and you see what’s true and not true,” he said.

For Stanton, his first trip to Europe was a transformational one. Though it was regimented — he did baseball clinics in the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Italy after the 2011 season — the architecture, the food and the culture were unlike anything he had seen growing up in Los Angeles, bouncing through minor league towns or living in Miami.

He also noticed how it sounded to hear names like Gianpiero, Gianpaolo, Gianluigi and even Giancarlo.

When he returned to Los Angeles, he matter-of-factly mentioned to his parents that the next season he was no longer going to go by Mike.

“I was shocked,” his mother said. “I had my mouth open for a week. He’s going to go by Giancarlo now? Are you serious?”

“Yeah,” his father said. “I didn’t see it coming.”

Stanton said it was simply a matter of growing up, of coming to a fuller appreciation of what was important to him. And part of that was making sure that people knew him not only by the home runs he hit, but also by his name.

Continue reading the main story

In the Bronx, Stadium Scents Take Fans Out to the Ballgame


For residents who followed the Dodgers, the scents recalled childhood days at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, and for Giants baseball fans, they brought back afternoons at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, in the days before both teams decamped for the West Coast.

The kiosk features six ballpark scents — hot dogs, popcorn, beer, grass, cola and the mitt — in separate push-button dispensers installed at a height accessible to residents in wheelchairs.

It was recently installed in the permanent “Yankees Dugout” exhibition of team memorabilia at the nursing home, which includes seats, a turnstile and a locker from the old Yankee Stadium.

The olfactory exhibit, called “Scents of the Game,” is meant to evoke long-forgotten memories from the home’s 785 residents, many of whom have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Many have difficulty with short-term memories but with some prompting can summon long-term ones, such as detailed recollections of childhood visits to ballparks decades ago, said Mary Farkas, director of therapeutic arts and enrichment programs at the Hebrew Home, where baseball has also been used in art therapy and poetry workshops.

Prompting these ballpark memories helps connect many residents with the joy they felt at the time and also helps stimulate their cognition, Mrs. Farkas said.

Dr. Mark W. Albers, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who studies the effect of scent on patients with neurodegenerative disease, said the Hebrew Home’s memory exhibit touches on fairly new territory in sensory therapy in trying to resurrect positive recollections in a small population of patients who share certain common memories.

Photo

Joe Pepitone, a former player for the Yankees, spoke during the unveiling of the “Scents of the Game” exhibit at the Hebrew Home.

Credit
Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Memory loss in older patients can often cause “an erosion of familiarity” and be accompanied by feelings of disorientation, he said. Unearthing pleasant memories from earlier years through sensory stimulation may help patients feel more stable, Dr. Albers said.

Of course, he added, memories of Yankee Stadium might bring back very different emotions for fans like him, who root for the Boston Red Sox.

For Renee Babenzien, 89, the hot dog aroma triggered recollections of vendors selling franks with mustard and sauerkraut.

“The way they smelled at the game,” she said, “you couldn’t help but stop the guy walking up the aisle selling hot dogs.”

Al Cappiello, 68, smelled the fragrances and recalled the sensory explosion he experienced the first time he walked into Yankee Stadium as a boy.

“I couldn’t believe the colors,” he recalled. “The green grass, the brown dirt of the infield — man, I was in heaven.”

Up until then, he said, watching the Yankees meant watching games on a black-and-white television set, with the action being called by Mel Allen, the Yankees broadcaster.

And so, during his first time at the stadium, Mr. Cappiello recalled, “I told my brother, ‘I don’t hear Mel Allen,’ and he said, ‘No, that’s only on TV.’”

He did see Yogi Berra, tossing a ball with teammate Johnny Blanchard, and he managed to get Berra’s autograph.

Ms. Youner also recalled being surprised by how different the ballpark seemed in person.

“The first time I walked into the ballpark, I noticed that everything was bigger — even the basepaths were so much wider,” she said.

For Terry Gioffere, 90, who grew up in the Bronx, the smells evoked memories of watching her hero, Roger Maris — although in more recent decades she became a Derek Jeter disciple.

For Joan Jackson, 84, the smells took her back to her first trip to Yankee Stadium, at age 6, but also reminded her of the role that the stadium played in helping her raise five children in the Bronx after her husband died in 1973.

“I had to do something to lift the kids up, so I said, ‘Let’s do something fun and go to Yankee Stadium,’” she recalled. “The kids fell in love with baseball,” she said, and going to games helped hold the family together.

Photo

A vendor selling hot dogs for 20 cents during the 1953 World Series between the Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.

Credit
Hy Peskin/Getty Images

Even Joe Pepitone, a star for the Yankees in the 1960s who spoke at the kiosk’s recent unveiling, said the smells reminded him of playing in Yankee Stadium as a rookie first baseman in 1962.

He had anticipated that the stadium would smell like hot dogs and sauerkraut, he said, “and sure enough, there was that smell of the ballpark, and you could smell it all over.”

For Frances Freeman, who grew up in Brooklyn rooting for the Dodgers, the kiosk’s beer smell did provoke a reaction. The 103-year-old woman steered her wheelchair to the beverage table and grabbed a beer.

Since scent and memory are intimately linked, using the smells of the ballpark presented “a chance to reach the residents in a special way, as a tool to unlock doors in their memories,” said David V. Pomeranz, the Hebrew Home’s chief operating officer.

Mr. Pomeranz said the kiosk idea grew out of a discussion he had with Andreas Fibig, chief executive of International Flavors and Fragrances, a Manhattan-based company that creates scents for perfumes and other products, as well as flavors for food and beverages.

The company did not have to venture to any ballpark to capture the smells — its perfumers created them from the firm’s vast catalog of fragrances, said Matthias Tabert, the company’s senior manager for strategic insights.

Scents are especially powerful in stirring memories because they register with the brain in a more direct and primal way than other senses, Mr. Tabert said. “So when you smell something, it triggers memories almost instantaneously and serves almost like time travel, to bring you back to a seminal moment.”

Some ballpark staples did not make it into the array of scents, such as peanuts and Cracker Jack. Though both could be developed as fragrances with no traces of real peanuts, the home decided against it to avoid alarming people with peanut allergies, Mr. Pomeranz said.

For Al Schwartz, 91, the scent kiosk reminded him of first visiting Yankee Stadium in the late 1930s, when 60 cents could buy a seat in the bleachers and $1.10 a seat in the grandstand.

Mr. Schwartz said the smells reminded him of the joy of watching Joe DiMaggio snare a fly ball and the sadness of learning in 1979 that Yankees catcher Thurman Munson had died in an airplane crash.

Mr. Schwartz said he attended at least two monumental events at Yankee Stadium. His aunt took him on July 4, 1939, when Lou Gehrig announced his retirement because of a terminal disease and called himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

Mr. Schwartz also recalled a 1942 charity exhibition in which Babe Ruth made a post-retirement appearance and struggled to hit a home run against the great pitcher Walter Johnson in front of 70,000 fans.

“The crowd kept on him, and he finally hit it out of the park, to right field,” he recalled. “The best part was seeing him run around the bases, that way he used to.”

Continue reading the main story

Rusty Staub, Durable Batter Who Won Pennant With Mets, Dies at 73


He was later a Mets broadcaster, from 1986 to 1995, working mostly with Ralph Kiner and Tim McCarver. And though a native of New Orleans, he was much the New Yorker. At one time he owned two restaurants in Manhattan, Rusty’s and Rusty Staub’s on Fifth.

Staub was especially respected, during his baseball career and afterward, for his community involvement and his charitable work.

He particularly endeared himself in Canada, where he played for the expansion team the Expos; he was an All-Star in all three of his full seasons in Montreal, from 1969 to 1971. Staub learned French and became a traveling ambassador for the team, hailing the advent of Major League Baseball in Canada.

He did so out of respect for the fans, he said.

“I was in Quebec — I couldn’t talk to a child,” he told The Montreal Gazette in 2012. “I couldn’t say something encouraging. I felt like I was not doing my job — not being able to respond to the media at least in some basic form.

Photo

Staub earned the nickname Le Grand Orange with the Montreal Expos. He was an All-Star in each of his three full seasons with the team.

Credit
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

“I took about 25 French classes after the first season, and the next year I took longer classes,” he continued. “There’s not a question that my making that effort is part of the reason that whatever Le Grand Orange represented to Montreal and all those fans, they knew I cared and I tried.”

As for the sobriquet that stayed with him, he wrote in The New York Times, teammates had been calling him the Big Orange even before he arrived in Montreal in a trade with Houston.

“The name wasn’t formalized for the public until one day when we were playing in Los Angeles,” he recalled. “I hit a home run and made a pretty good catch when Willie Crawford hit a pea against the fence. The next day in the newspapers, I was ‘Le Grand Orange.’ And in both English and French papers, it stayed that way.”

The Expos traded him to the Mets in April 1972. A year later, he helped propel them to a National League pennant, hitting three home runs — accounting for all his hits — in their five-game victory over the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Championship Series.

He also injured his shoulder in that series while making an outstanding catch. But he went on to bat .423 in the World Series, with two doubles and a homer, though the Mets were defeated by the Oakland A’s in seven games.

Photo

Staub tagging out the Padres’ Ozzie Smith at Shea Stadium in 1981. Staub was a right fielder and first baseman before finishing his career as a pinch-hitter.

Credit
Ron Frehm/Associated Press

Staub drove in 105 runs in 1975, setting a Mets record that stood for 15 years. But he was traded that December to the Detroit Tigers, with the Mets receiving the pitcher Mickey Lolich, and served mostly as a designated hitter.

Staub returned to the Expos in a trade in July 1979. In his first at-bat back at Olympic Stadium, Expos fans gave him a standing ovation.

It was a short second stint in Montreal. He spent the 1980 season with the Texas Rangers and then signed with the Mets as a free agent, playing his final five seasons with the team. As a pinch-hitter in 1983, he had eight consecutive hits in June and drove in 25 runs that season.

Staub was also seen displaying his cooking techniques on television, but his love of food made it challenging to keep his weight down.

“It’s hard,” he told The Times in 1985. “I’ll go into my favorite Italian restaurant, and there’s this risotto dish that I just love. It’s got gravy and porcini mushrooms, and I say, ‘Not this time.’ But every time I go there I have to get it.”

Photo

Staub in 1974 at Shea Stadium with the Expos hitting coach at the time Duke Snider, the former Dodgers slugger. Staub was the expansion team Expos’ first star player early in his career.

Credit
Harry Harris/Associated Press

Daniel Joseph Staub was born in New Orleans on April 1, 1944. He signed with the Houston Colt .45s organization in September 1961 out of Jesuit High School of New Orleans. The franchise, which later became the Astros, was preparing along with the Mets to enter the National League the next season as an expansion team.

After playing in the minors, Staub made his debut with Houston in 1963. His breakout season came in 1967, when he batted .333 with a league-leading 44 doubles and was an All-Star for the first time.

He retired after the Mets’ 1985 season with 1,466 runs batted in and a career batting average of .279 to go with his 292 homers and 2,716 hits.

Besides his brother, he is survived by his sisters, Sally Johnston and Susan Tully.

After leaving baseball Staub became president of the Rusty Staub Foundation, which has supported emergency food pantries throughout New York in collaboration with Catholic Charities. He also created the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, which has raised millions of dollars for the families of uniformed personnel killed in the line of duty. (An uncle of Staub’s died while working as a New Orleans police officer.)

When Major League Baseball returned to New York for the first time after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with the Mets playing the Atlanta Braves, the Mets donated proceeds from the game, about $450,000, to the fund for widows and children.

That night, Staub said the organization had distributed $8.3 million in the 15 years before the attacks.

“Since then, we’ve already raised $8 million,” he told The Times. “You want to get money to the widows and children, we’re the ones.”

Continue reading the main story

What’s New in 2018? Something Old: The Bullpen Cart


Photo

The Arizona Diamondbacks will reintroduce the bullpen cart this season. Pitchers will have the choice to be driven from the bullpen or trot in, as usual.

Credit
Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jake Arrieta has taken his beard and his breaking balls from the North Side of Chicago to South Philadelphia. The old Miami Marlins outfield has scattered to the Bronx (Giancarlo Stanton), Milwaukee (Christian Yelich) and St. Louis (Marcell Ozuna). And if you’re sitting in the Green Monster seats at Fenway Park, look out, because a guy nicknamed Just Dingers — J. D. Martinez — has come to town.

But the most celebrated newcomer of 2018, at least for nostalgic fans over 40, can be found in the bullpens at Chase Field in Phoenix. They are EZ-Go golf carts, with an outer shell made to look like a baseball with a black Arizona Diamondbacks cap on top. Yes, the bullpen cart, that charming vestige of the 1970s, is back.

“I’ve never thought of being driven into a game, so it’s a little weird concept, but I think it’s pretty cool,” said Archie Bradley, the Diamondbacks’ ace reliever. “We have some creative minds out in the bullpen. We’re already talking about tricking this thing out — subwoofers, underglow lights. And I definitely want to drive guys in. That would be sick.”

Alas, the Diamondbacks have hired four game-day staffers to drive the cart, and so far, the only add-ons are logos for On-Trac, a shipping company based in Chandler, Ariz., that signed a six-figure sponsorship deal. Derrick Hall, the Diamondbacks’ president, said pitchers would have the choice to be driven from the bullpen or trot in, as usual.

“You know how superstitious baseball players are,” said T. J. McFarland, a Diamondbacks left-hander. “The first guy who goes out there in a cart and ends up having a really bad outing, is he going to do it again? I don’t know.”

Mike Fetters, the Arizona bullpen coach, pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1995, believed to be the last time a team used a vehicle to transport relievers. In the Brewers’ case, it was a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with a sidecar for the pitcher — or, at least, the pitcher’s warm-up jacket.

Continue reading the main story

A Curveball From the New Tax Law: It Makes Baseball Trades Harder


The provision is raising concerns and questions across Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association, starting with: How do you value a player?

“There is no fair-market value of a baseball player. There isn’t,” said Daniel R. Halem, the chief legal officer of Major League Baseball. “I don’t really know what our clubs are going to do to address the issue. We haven’t fully figured it out yet. This is a change we hope was inadvertent, and we’re going to lobby hard to get it corrected.”

The N.B.A. is similarly perplexed. It sent teams an email earlier this month detailing the disruption of the trading system under the new law, but told executives it was still figuring out how to respond.

The confusion is only one of many side effects of the new tax law, which sped through the House and Senate in less than two months at the end of last year, resulting in a series of changes that were both intentional and inadvertent. Republicans say they weren’t trying to hamstring sports teams: The change in the like-kind provision, Senate staff members said, was simply an attempt to broaden the United States tax base.

But that is little consolation to the teams who now join restaurateurs, independent agriculture businesses and multinational corporations on a long list of entities affected by the law in ways they did not see coming, and who now face long odds to secure changes or clarifications.

Major League Baseball and N.B.A. officials expressed hope that Congress would revisit the provision, which is one of many parts of the law that could raise their taxes or hurt their revenues.

It is unclear how aggressively the Internal Revenue Service would enforce the provision with sports teams. Mr. Halem, of Major League Baseball, said the league was asking the Treasury Department for guidance on how to come up with valuations for tax purposes. If such a system was the intended result of the law, he said, “then write some regulations, tell us what you mean.”

I.R.S. officials declined to comment on whether the agency would issue future rulings on the tax treatment of sports trades. Treasury officials did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Photo

Verlander, center, in the East Room of the White House this month as President Trump honored the Astros for their World Series title.

Credit
Shawn Thew/EPA, via Shutterstock

Like many franchises, the Astros have aggressively worked the baseball trade market to improve their roster. Last year, on their way to their first World Series championship, they engineered a last-minute deal ahead of the league’s trade deadline to acquire Justin Verlander, a veteran starting pitcher midway through a 6-year, $162 million contract, from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for three up-and-coming young players. Last month, the Astros acquired the veteran pitcher Gerrit Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates in a similar trade.

For decades, teams have not paid taxes on such trades, and thus have not had to account for the value of the assets they are exchanging, for tax purposes. A 1967 ruling from the Internal Revenue Service allowed baseball owners to depreciate the cost of player contracts over several years, thus reducing the team’s taxable income. It declared that “trades of player contracts owned by major league baseball clubs will be considered exchanges of like-kind property” under a section of the tax code.

That distinction was crucial. Until this year, the “like-kind” provision allowed owners of similar types of property, such as machinery or fleet vehicles, to swap their assets without paying taxes on either party’s gains until the asset was sold. In a baseball or basketball trade, the assets aren’t players, they are the players’ contracts — and the I.R.S. was allowing them to be exchanged without fear of taxation.

The new law breaks that peace, by limiting like-kind exchanges to “real property,” which is shorthand for land or other real estate.

“I don’t think that they thought about baseball when they thought about this change,” said Kari Smoker, an accounting professor at SUNY Brockport who has consulted for the N.B.A. and National Hockey League players’ associations in legislative disputes over sports taxation. “It raises all kinds of issues, which I think were easier to ignore, probably, when we had a simple rule that it was a like-kind exchange.”

Mr. Verlander, for example, was clearly a more immediately valuable asset to the Astros than the three prospects they traded to get him. He gave up only four runs in his five regular-season starts for the team, then won four straight starts to begin the playoffs. In very simple terms, he brought value to the Astros in a trade, and had the new law been in place last year, the team would have owed taxes on that added value.

But what, exactly, was that value? Was it the size of his contract? Mr. Verlander earned $28 million last year, while the players traded for him drew minor-league salaries. Was it the additional wins he brought to the team? Statisticians estimate Mr. Verlander gave the Astros nearly two more wins last season, a value that, depending on the statistician, could reach $20 million. Or was some calculation of the total future value Mr. Verlander will bring to the team, minus the total future value it gave up in the prospects it traded away — and possibly adjusted for the amount the team will have to pay Mr. Verlander?

Complicating matters further is that teams value players differently, and one player might help a certain team far more than another team. A struggling club with a surplus of starting pitchers might trade one to a playoff contender in desperate need of one, in exchange for position players who could improve a struggling lineup. In that case, both teams could, reasonably, be considered to have gained value in the trade, and thus would owe taxes on it.

That is exactly how Adam Guttridge views the trade of Mr. Verlander — as a win-win for both the Astros and Tigers, which would have resulted in a capital-gains tax bill for each of them. Mr. Guttridge is a former manager of baseball research and development for the Milwaukee Brewers and the co-founder of NEIFI, a consultancy that has developed software to attach a dollar value to every professional ballplayer and his expected future performance.

How to calculate such value for tax purposes “is the question that somebody has to answer, that nobody in the baseball space has,” Mr. Guttridge said. “There’s certainly no consensus among the 30 teams.”

Several baseball executives declined to comment on the change and how it could affect their willingness to trade players in the future, including the general manager of the Astros, Jeff Luhnow.

Basketball could be an even trickier proposition, because it taxes teams if they exceed a certain amount of total player salary for the season. This year, the Portland Trail Blazers traded a player with a modest contract in order to get under the tax threshold, saving themselves millions. The Cleveland Cavaliers made a series of trades that pushed them over the threshold. Some N.B.A. executives — who would not speak for publication — wondered if the Trail Blazers would need to pay federal tax on the money they avoided in league taxes as a result of a trade.

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, did not return a request for comment on whether he would be inclined to support a bill to change the law for sports teams. Neither did Mr. Brady, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, who reveled in the Astros championship run last year.

“At my desk,” he posted on Twitter, alongside a picture of himself, on Nov. 1, the day of Game 7 of the World Series, “wearing my #Astros tie, putting final touches on the first bold #TaxReform in 31 years.”

Continue reading the main story