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June 4, 2001

From The Mailbag

Stadia, Transactions Fun, and Ben Davis

by Baseball Prospectus


As you state, prior to 2000 teams that moved into new stadia tended to be good ones. You might check attendance figures for this season at Comerica Park. Granted the weather has not been good, but allowing for unoccupied season tickets counted as attendance, it's hard to claim that fans are flocking to the stadium.

After the SABR convention in West Palm Beach last year I went to a game at Tampa Bay. They've had the stadium there for about a decade and a baseball team there for a couple of years, so if it is going to promote development one would think there would be some visible by now.

There are two restaurants to the north of the structure, and one looked as if it might be new. The other clearly wasn't. I spent an hour wandering around the neighborhood and found nothing else that could be traced to the stadium's presence. A few people and small businesses offer parking.

This sort of scam is not confined to the major leagues, either. Bridgeport dropped something like $18 million on a stadium for its Atlantic League entry, justifying [the expense] for its revitalization effect. However, the stadium is at least a half mile south of downtown, and to get there one crosses a highway, goes under rail tracks, and goes past warehouses and such. The route looked unappetizing and unattractive in daylight and I can't imagine many people would care to try it after dark.

If the media were willing to report and analyze such things, the great stadium swindles might be forestalled. Our experience in Detroit (I was on the executive committee of the Tiger Stadium Fan Club) was enormously frustrating and did not lead me to conclude that the media were interested in doing anything other than shilling for the new stadium interests. Minnesota doesn't look any different, alas.

--Alex Bensky

Anecdotal and summary evidence all contradict the nonsense claims from sports teams that they encourage economic development. They realized about a decade ago that they could claim that they create economic benefits for the community and no one would call them on it. It's like the AFL-CIO saying they oppose free trade because they're concerned about labor rights in developing nations; people swallow it whole, even though it's clearly not the reason for their opposition.

--Keith Law

I've been suspicious of Minnesotans for Major League Baseball ever since I read that it was populated by local celebrities hand-picked by the Twins. Their report is what one would expect given the circumstances, and I'm thankful that you went into detail and highlighted the many deficiencies of the committee's "findings."

You may not be aware of another group of private business people that's attempting to fund a stadium through private investment. In 1999 they formed New Ballpark Inc. to raise money to fund a proposal. Their vision at the time (1999) was a $120-150 million "traditional neighborhood ballpark" along the lines of Wrigley or Fenway and philosophically aligned with the writings of architect Philip Bess (limit the imprint of the stadium so it is less disruptive to the surrounding area, seats of the average fan closer to the field).

At the time the group admitted that their cost estimates were probably low, but the idea of building a park on a budget shines a light on why baseball teams want the taxpayers to pay for their new stadiums. Most teams could not afford to fund a stadium that cost $400-500 million. But a stadium like that gives them every amenity of which they could dream, especially the revenue-producing ones. Not being able to fund these behemoths themselves, they cry poor to the public.

But do teams "need" stadiums this lavish? New Ballpark Inc. and Bess don't think so. They believe that a park that serves the needs of a team can built on a relatively modest budget (relative to what's been spent on new parks recently), and the resulting park would have more charm and serve the average fan better than most of the new "intimate" and "traditional" ballparks.

What do you think? Is it possible for teams to build their own parks and still make money? Do you know of anyone that has examined this question?

--Jon Kortebein

I wasn't aware of that group, and I'll have to try to track them down.

As for your question, I don't think we have enough data to say conclusively whether a team can build its own stadium and still make money. The Giants appear to be doing fine, although the novelty of the new ballpark has yet to wear off.

I was privy to some confidential financial data on one of the teams sold in the mid-1990s, and crafted some pro forma income and cash-flow statements assuming that they built a $200MM stadium and financed it entirely with 20-year debt issues. The team in question could have easily operated at a $40-50 million payroll, even with conservative assumptions on incremental media and merchandising revenues. But such an exercise is, of course, completely academic.

--Keith Law

After reading your article I started wondering about one of the key issues, whether performance drives revenues or the other way around. The Minnesotans for Major League Baseball report includes, on page 19, a table entitled "Twins Attendance and Performance History" which got me started.

It would have been better to use a more direct measure of revenue than average attendance (such as, say, total revenue) but I went with what I had. Wins, however, is about the best gauge of performance available.

I copied the Average Attendance and Wins for each year into an Excel sheet. I split the data up into two groups, one for Metropolitan Stadium and one for the Metrodome, and adjusted the wins for each year for a 162-game schedule.

I then added columns for two- and three-year totals in both wins and average attendance, but a plot of these against each other shows nothing about causality, so I pondered giving up, realized that this would mean finding something else to do, then continued. I figured that if revenue drove performance, then two- and three-year average attendance totals would correlate well with wins (for the last year of that period); and, conversely, if performance drove revenues than the two- and three-year win totals would correlate well with average attendance (for the last year of the period).

In English, it could take a couple years of good gate receipts to be able to buy/retain enough talent to win; likewise some fans might need a good year or two before jumping on the bandwagon and heading to the ballpark.

The R-squared values are as follows [note: which data set is x and which is y doesn't matter for an R-squared value, so I kept x and y consistent]:

Category                        Metropolitan    Metrodome
Three Year Wins vs Attendance   0.6194          0.6949
Two Year Wins vs Attendance     0.5099          0.8552
Wins vs Average Attendance      0.4752          0.7092
Wins vs Two Year Attendance     0.4070          0.3448
Wins vs Three Year Attendance   0.3396          0.1935

Which means, pretty much, that stringing together several winning years does more for attendance than stringing together several high- attendance years does for wins.

Then again, this can easily be dismissed because it relies on a small set of data for only one market and because it uses average attendance as a substitute for revenue and wins as a substitute for actual team quality, but I have neither the data nor the time to throw it all together, so this'll have to do. For now.

--John Haveman

You're right to point out that it's not perfect study, but the proxies you used are not as bad as you indicate--especially since revenue will move pretty tightly with attendance. And the results are completely logical. Thank you for sending them along.

--Keith Law

It seems to me that the decision whether to fund a stadium should be approached the same way as whether to build a park or a museum. If a democratic majority feels that making the expenditure would enhance the quality of life in the area it is within their rights to do so.

Of course, politicians don't usually want to settle for that, so they try to pile on the type of arguments about economic justification--to say that the thing will pay for itself--that you have so elegantly shredded. Intellectual honesty is a lot to ask of politicians, of course.

But why not? If people are willing to pay higher taxes to get a baseball team in town, or to subsidize its operations to allow it to pay high salaries, why shouldn't they?


I think you raise a few issues.

One is whether the results of a vote where one side has so badly misrepresented its position as do sports teams seeking new facilities should be considered legitimate. Sadly, the American population does not do much homework before deciding for whom they will vote, and the average American has little background in economics.

The other major issue you raise is whether such a large expenditure should be left to a simple majority. Take New York City, with eight million inhabitants living on a total of three and half acres. Four million and one inhabitants vote to spend $1 billion to build a combination domed stadium, shopping mall, and toxic waste dump (for things like spent uranium rods, Islip garbage, and Rey Ordonez) in the part of the city where the other four million minus one people live. Protecting citizens from these situations seems to me to be a primary function of a representative government.

You ask why people who are willing to pay higher taxes to save a baseball shouldn't get one, and I don't disagree that they should. The problem is that their neighbors often don't share that opinion.

--Keith Law


It seemed to quietly slip through the media's radar screen until yesterday, so I'm not surprised if it got missed, but I don't recall seeing any comments about Ken Hill's renaissance with the Reds. He was signed to a minor-league contract and has been pitching first in extended spring and now in Louisville. Jim Bowden has always been from the Branch Rickey quality-from-quantity school; can Jose Rijo be far behind?


Well, I don't know, I think we need to see another Pedro Borbon Sr. comeback. Where is Rawley Eastwick these days, anyway?

--Chris Kahrl

I think you're selling Rusty Staub short as a fielder. Take a look at the 1973 NLCS. IIRC, he was a solid all-around player for Montreal (and Houston before that).


I wouldn't say Staub was always a lousy fielder, because frankly I'm in no position to know. Defensive data is of questionable value at best, and anecdotal information even less. I would say that by the late '70s, you probably didn't want to have Le Grand Orange thundering around out there. That said, it seems strange that he stuck with the NL at the end, because he had some very productive years DHing for the Tigers, and he did the Rangers some good as late as 1980. He was wasted lurking at the end of the Mets' bench for five years.

--Chris Kahrl

It should be mentioned that Craig Grebeck has threatened retirement, and that the seriousness of that threat has been bandied about as the popular theory for why he is still on the roster. Not saying I agree with it...to me, having Grebeck is just a waste of a roster spot since Lou Merloni, at worst, is pretty much the same player, and they're due to get two infielders back in 1-2 months. In short, you'll have to get rid of Grebeck eventually, why not do it while keeping Nomar's buddy and every Sox fan's favorite Framinghaman (how do you say a guy from Framingham?) happy?


Ugh, so what we have here is the Red Sox being held hostage by David Cone because he's saying this is his last season and Craig Grebeck for saying he's mulling retirement? I think we need to remember Steve Carlton's fate: sometimes, the decision not only should get made for you, for the team in question, it must get made for you.

I'm not a Red Sox fan, and even I have to get tired hearing Yankees fans laugh about this nonsense.

--Chris Kahrl

You reference Wilton Guerrero and how he was an experiment gone bad. I had looked at Louisville Riverbats stats for several games, and it appeared that Wilton had played very well, at least on offense. Recently, he has disappeared from the Riverbats line-up. Can you tell me where he is now?


I don't know how to put this politely, but...it's just Wilton Guerrero. Do we need to revisit the Freon Deion hype on "players with lousy track records getting off to good starts"? It's a tough year to be a Reds fan, that much is certain.

--Chris Kahrl

What are your thoughts on the way Jim Tracy is using his bullpen? It backfired recently as both Mike Fetters and Terry Adams couldn't hold leads. He pulled Kevin Brown for a PH in the fifth inning last Friday in the shellacking by the Mutts. He seems to have a pitch limit. What do they do with Luke Prokopec or Eric Gagne when Andy Ashby comes back? Or can they trade Ashby?

By the way, How to Be A... Zillionaire! is a excellent album.

--Joseph Roznowski

One hopes they'll find a way to use both Prokopec and Gagne when Ashby's back, but we considering his vet-heavy pen, it would be interesting to see whether or not either of them would get much work coming out of the pen. The decision to sign Ashby and hand Darren Dreifort an insane amount of cash is looking worse than it did at the time, but the happy spin is that at least they might be able to trade a starter for a shortstop or center fielder. The problem with trading Ashby is that he would then have the right to demand a trade from his new team (as free agents traded in the middle of a multi-year deal do), which would make him less attractive to most shoppers already concerned about his price tag.

And yes, How to Be A... Zillionaire! ... well, rocked isn't exactly the right term, but it is a cool album.

--Chris Kahrl


SAN FRANCISCO          ab  r  h rbi bb so lob   avg
Dunston cf              4  0  0  0   0  1   1  .320

Are there so many injured players in San Francisco that they have to have Shawon Dunston leading off? Not the best way to light up the scoreboard in the first inning...


Given the available, realistic options, Dunston is probably Dusty Baker's best choice to lead off against left-handers. Of the Giants eight starters against a typical southpaw, three of them aren't moving from 2-3-4 (Rich Aurilia, Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent). Of the other five, only Russ Davis and Benito Santiago have higher OBPs than Dunston, and it's not like either is a better solution.

If the platooning of J.T. Snow continues, you could make a case for using Ramon Martinez in the leadoff spot, but really, we're splitting hairs. The Giants simply don't have good OBP guys outside of their core players.

The real question is why Dunston is in the role that should belong to Calvin Murray. I don't have an answer for that.

--Joe Sheehan

I wanted to make one comment to something you either neglected to mention intentionally, or you are not aware of. There are unwritten rules in baseball. There is a "supposed" code of conduct. Whether you agree with these rules or not doesn't matter. They exist.

The true question in this case has nothing to do with whether Ben Davis helped the team to win. It is completely and totally obvious that he did. The question is whether in this situation he broke these unwritten rules.

Among the evidence to suggest that he did break these rules: According to what I have heard, Ben Davis has never in his career successfully bunted for a hit. In numerous other close games this year, Davis has never chosen to try and bunt for a hit. He intentionally bunted for a hit because it was a perfect game and Schilling was untouchable.

Among the evidence to suggest he did not break these rules: From most comments among major leaguers, the game was close enough that they shouldn't apply.

There is a lot of other data that can be steeped on both sides, but I think the point is that any discussion of the situation should involve these unwritten rules. As I said, it is obvious that he helped his ballclub, but did he do so against the honor code in baseball?

--Michael T. Gianvecchio

That's a question nobody can really answer, for the simple reason that everyone appears to be using a different copy of the unwritten rules. It's tough to sync up that sort of thing.

Really, how much can you blame a guy if he does something that is in his team's--or even his own--best interest? I'm thinking less of the Davis bunt here and more of the Tsuyoshi Shinjo beaning that may or may not have been an intentional retaliation for Shinjo swinging from the heels on a 3-0 count with a huge lead.

Whoever thought that was appropriate might want to consider that Shinjo isn't exactly a unique talent. Even considering the scorched earth in the Mets outfield this year, he could hit the bench at any time, relegated to pinch-hitting duties. He'll be looking for work after the season is over, having signed a one-year deal with the Mets. The one thing he has is power, and if he can jack one in that situation, it makes it that much easier for him to get a good offer next year, when nobody will remember that he did so on a hitter's count in a blowout.

I can't really answer your question. I just wonder what happened to the philosophy that you should do your job as best you can and avoid worrying about the level of respect the opposition is paying to you or to "the game".

--Dave Pease

The easy question is what should Davis have done? Obviously, he's got to try and win. The better question is what if the Snakes were up 10-0?


Think of it this way: playing the middle infielders on the outfield grass is a stunt to minimize the possibility of a legitimate hit. Where's the uproar over that? Does that "cheapen" Schilling's perfect game?

Players can embark on a fun journey down the slippery slope of what is an appropriate situation to try and win the game versus giving the opposing player a shot at the milestone he's headed for, or they can do the sensible thing and look out for their own interests, no matter what. Much as it pains me to say it, I'm with Tommy Lasorda on this one.

--Dave Pease

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