The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 9, 2014

Thoma column: The many purposes of spring training


The Mankato Free Press

---- — An amusing verbal scuffle broke out last week when the Boston Red Sox sent a contingent of minor leaguers across Florida for an exhibition game against the Miami Marlins.

The Marlins, who jacked up ticket prices for the game, beefed that the defending World Series champs had failed to field a lineup with at least four regulars, which is the official expectation.

Ben Cherington, the general manager of the Sox, apologized for the B-squad lineup, but he stopped short of saying it wouldn’t happen again. (Truth: It will happen again. The Sox aren’t going to bundle David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and A.J. Pierzynski onto a bus for a three-hour journey, no matter how much the opponent is charging fans.)

Then Boston owner John Henry — who once owned the Marlins before the Bud Selig-designed shuffle that ended up with Henry owning the Red Sox, Jeffrey Loria (owner of the Montreal Expos) the Marlins and the Expos as a dead team walking — tweeted that the Marlins should apologize for their regular season lineup.

Which ... yeah. The lineup the Bosox sent on Thursday had only two players with even one major-league at-bat, but it probably had more talent than the Marlins lineup. (The game itself ended in a scoreless tie, but the Sox outhit the Marlins 7-2.)

Underlying Henry’s barb: The Marlins are a poor champion of consumer rights. Loria’s operation is highly profitable, but that profit is based on ripping off the local taxpayers, conning the fan base and exploiting his fellow owners’ success via revenue sharing. The disdain around the game for Loria is manifest and growing.

But the Marlins’ gripe raises an intriguing issue: What is spring training’s purpose?

For the established players, it’s about preparing for the coming season.

For prospects and suspects, it’s a time to try to win a major-league job, or at least get into position to claim a job if and when it opens.

For managers, coaches and scouts, it’s a time to evaluate talents and skills.

And for front office financial types, it’s about sucking in the dollars.

The Red Sox, in leaving their stars at home on Thursday, helped — or at least didn’t hurt — the first three causes. The Marlins’ grumbles are based solely on the finances, and the Sox have no sympathy for them on that basis.

As an avid follower of spring training and occasional consumer of Florida exhibition games, I know this: the further the visiting team has to come to play a given game, the less likely the big names are to appear.

The Marlins will be the visitors for one of the upcoming games I see in Fort Myers.

I do not expect to see Giancarlo Stanton or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the two established position players on the Miami roster.

You can decide if that makes the Marlins hypocrites.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.