- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 30, 2004

Doug Pappas did not run in the same universe as Peter Gammons, Tom Verducci or any other well-known national baseball writer. He rarely, if ever, appeared on TV. He was not a regular on high-profile book tours.

But Pappas stood alone as a pre-eminent critic and thinker on baseball economics, and baseball fans lost his influential voice earlier this month when he died at 43, succumbing to heat prostration while hiking in Texas.

Pappas’ day job was as a Manhattan attorney, so he was not a media star, but he did serve as the chairman of the business of baseball committee for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). He frequently published his work in their journals, and operated his own Web site, Doug’s Business of Baseball Pages (roadsidephotos.com/baseball).

Pappas also contributed frequently to Baseball Prospectus — the Internet journal found itself in baseball’s cross hairs last year for a Pete Rose-reinstatement story that has yet to come to fruition. Nevertheless, because of writers like Pappas, Baseball Prospectus is a destination for thinking fans.

Pappas passionately took on the conventional wisdom propagated by Bud Selig and key figures in Major League Baseball in a manner still unmet by most mainstream media.

Among Pappas’ claims to fame were: helping turn Michael Lewis on to the concept of payroll efficiency that stood as the core of his much-debated and best-selling book “Moneyball”; showing how MLB’s claims of fiscal distress, while no doubt applying in full force to some teams, are often overstated on a broad level; and developing an unrivaled repository of data on baseball economics and labor relations.

He also took dead aim at the well-read annual surveys of average ticket costs published by Team Marketing Report. He argued there is no such thing as an “average” ticket in any ballpark. He effectively re-examined the situation to evaluate each team’s true costs to fans based on actual market demand and whether one attends as a corporate high roller, a family man with the kids, or are just hanging out with friends.

“He was sort of a one-man truth squad,” said Rob Neyer, author and baseball writer for ESPN.com. “His own stuff was great, but he also had this immense ability to react to something I or anybody else wrote in such a fresh and original way. Even those of us reasonably aware of what’s going on in baseball are not skilled enough to really challenge what’s being said all the time. Doug could do that.”

The finest hour for Pappas arguably arrived two years ago during the heated labor negotiations between MLB and the players’ union. Selig, upset with Pappas’ attacks on MLB’s revenue sharing and debt rules, engaged him in a tense, rollicking and candid debate on baseball economics, traversing from Selig’s infamous 2001 appearance before Congress to the Minnesota Twins’ stadium woes that continue to this day. It remains one of the few instances in recent memory in which Selig, typically quite fastidious about sticking to his talking points, strayed off message while talking to a writer.

“Doug did so much to make the economics of the game understandable to people,” said John Zajc, SABR executive director. “We’ve heard from so many people about Doug since he died, and it’s not just the main group of hard-core SABR people. It’s baseball fans, people who just like cruising around in cyberspace and followed what he did. It’s been rather striking.”

SABR officials are considering establishing some sort of prize or award for writers and critics who strive to meet Pappas’ ideals.

“Nobody else was really doing what Doug was because he was doing it so well,” Neyer said. “Somebody else will step forward and sort of take on his role. It’s question of whether they’ll do it as well, and that’s where I have my doubts.”

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