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The Barbary Coast, Robert DeNiro and the Minnesota Twins

posted Oct 6, 2018, 6:12 AM by Dan Whenesota   [ updated Jul 21, 2019, 10:31 PM ]

Long ago in my much younger days, I went to Vegas with a buddy.  One of the nights we ended up playing roulette at the Barbary Coast. (The Barbary Coast Casino ceased to exist in 2007, which means that the statute of limitations on this story has expired.  I think.) 

My friend who is somewhat of a “High Roller” was betting tall stacks of $25 chips on red or black and he was doing pretty well.  Around the corner of the table there was another fellow (let’s call him Jim) who was betting $10 chips on black/red as well.  On one of the spins, my buddy had bet black, and Jim had bet red.  The ball landed on red.  For some reason, the dealer paid my buddy, and took Jim’s bet.  Jim immediately protested.  Recognizing the dealer’s mistake, my buddy threw Jim three 10$ chips to get him to shut up.  But Jim didn’t relent in his protest.  And that’s when it got really crazy.  Moose and Rocco showed up.  Not kidding.  The whole table was surrounded by beef and got shut down.   They started checking surveillance cameras and found that my friend had thrown Jim the extra chips.  Once they made that determination…they attempted to take back the stack of chips they had incorrectly paid my friend.  My friend lost his cool.  Apparently, there is some unwritten rule in Vegas that they can’t touch your chips?  I had never heard that but he was putting up a pretty good fight about it.  As all this was going on, I noticed Moose and Rocco inching closer and closer. 

Have you ever seen the movie ‘Casino’ with Robert DeNiro?  Remember that scene where they take that guy in the back and smash his hand with a hammer for cheating?  (and to be clear, we had NOT cheated.  Forthcoming? Not really.  But cheating or illegal?  Not at all.) Anyway…I kept picturing that scene from ‘Casino’ in my head.  Worried Moose and Rocco were going to cattle prod and drag us from the table at any moment, I negotiated a deal with the pit boss, where my buddy gave back the winning stack but kept his own original stack that he had bet.  Basically, splitting it, calling it even and everyone coming out of it injury free.  The pit boss went for it.  But my friend STILL wasn’t happy…and shouted, “Well give me a free dinner or something!”.  So that night we had a nice steak dinner in the Barbary Coast dining room before heading back to our hotel, taser scar free and all digits functioning properly.

That’s a true story.  But what does that have to do with Major League Baseball?  The Twins under performed this year after making it to the wildcard game last year.  They fired Paul Molitor after being named manager of the year and having his contract extended at the end of last season.  AND….Joe Mauer is retiring.  These are clear signs the Twins are moving back to rebuilding mode….again.  We’ve been in rebuilding mode for the better part of the last 27 years!   With Mauer’s large salary gone, I can’t imagine any scenario where the Twins have a larger payroll next year than this year, and they already don’t spend enough.  In the MLB if you spend money, you have a lot higher chance of winning than if you don’t.  Yes, it’s possible to win the World Series without spending a ton of money, but it’s just not very likely.  The Royals did it in 2015.  But 18 of the last 25 teams to win the World Series have come from ‘large markets’.  

In the past I may have called out the Twins ownership for their unwillingness to spend money.  But sometimes I wonder…is it really their fault or are they a product of the system?   In many professional sports leagues like NFL and NBA there is a salary cap.   Most teams spend up to it or around 80% of it at minimum and it creates a more level playing field.  In Major League Baseball, there is no salary cap.  Instead, there is a luxury tax.  With this luxury tax, there is a salary amount that teams can spend up to and if they spend over it they have to pay a tax.  The problem with that is very few teams can get even close to that number.  There is a large difference in salaries between the higher spending teams and lowest.  In my mind, that’s not a level playing field.  In addition, they have revenue sharing.  So those teams that make so much more than the Twins…presumably those ones that spend so much more than the Twins, have to share their profits with the lower teams.  Therefore, the Twins make money, every year, regardless of how the team does.  And if you were the Twins owner, would you spend a bunch of money?  It’s a huge financial risk.  Spending is not a guarantee of winning.  So why gamble…when you can still make money without risking it?  (Especially if you’re a banker.)   

Every time I try to figure out why the Twins do what they do and why Minnesotans keep showing up at the ballpark, it reminds me of the Barbary Coast story.  My buddy won a huge stack of money.  He represents the larger market MLB teams.  He threw some money to Jim (the small market team), to cover his loss and then some.  But in the Barbary Coast story, Jim throws a fit.  In real life, Jim doesn’t.  He just takes his money each year, and moves on to the next season.   Often times certain people who consider themselves ‘ball guys’, tell me that I’m wrong about this kind of stuff, and that I just don’t understand baseball and how upper management works.  That may be true.  I also don’t know much about car engines.  But I sure can tell when my car isn’t working.  And if the issue kept happening over and over again, I’d get a different car. 

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