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ON STADIA


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?

--MG

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

FUN WITH TRANSACTIONS


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?

--JD

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).

--MS

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?

--TD

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?

--CA

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

THE REST

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...

--FE

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?

--CM

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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