Baseball, Football, the Free Market, Government and Stadiums

 

            Back in the late 1950’s I, along with playmates, would build stadiums out of grocery-store cardboard and invent board-game baseball games to be played with rolled up aluminum foil wads and trained trigger fingers. We would make our back yards into fantasy “stadiums” for various incarnations of whiffle-ball and softball, with rules designed for very few players.

            In those days, the horribly managed Washington Senators could lose all 18 games on western road trips (in those days the “western clubs” were Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit and Kansas City—I remember that August 1958 headline “A’s Hop on Pascual, Too, 6-1”).  Attendance in Washington was poor and the lackadaisical Griffith family seemed to complain about the racial composition of the city that supported the team.  Of course, the Senators became the Minnesota Twins, of Tony Oliva, Kirby Puckett, homer hankies in 1987, and a Harmon Killebrew Drive at the Mall of America.  The “new Senators” floundered (except for 1969) like the old until Bob Short took them to Texas, where they continued to flounder until they found George W. Bush and got a new ballpark.

            The Twin Cities is confronted with the likely loss of both the Vikings and Twins unless it comes up with public money for brand new stadiums for both of them.  Owners know that municipal taxpayers can be blackmailed into generating sales tax revenues for their corporate welfare. The battle for civic supremacy is no longer on the gridiron or diamond but among the politicians. If one city gives in, then the others have to, so it goes.  Denver is one of the biggest tax-and-spenders, soaking visitors for its new airport and local taxpayers for its new stadiums.

            In San Francisco the new Pac-Bell stadium, where sluggers can driver homers over the right-field wall into the Pacific Ocean, was built with private money.  Can the same be done here?  With all the large companies in the Twin Cities and a self-interest in their local stakeholders (companies like Targer, Daytons, Best Buy, Deluxe, American Express, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo and ING) one would hope that some private consortium could invest the money in new stadiums.  (And by the way, I don’t know why the 20-year-old metrodome can’t be “fixed.”)

             The deregulation of pro-sports and the recognition of free-agency (starting in 1976) was a necessary recognition of markets and of open competition in the workplace.  We see this in the computer field all the time.  Free competition has become distorted, however, by the economics of television revenues among metropolitan areas of vastly differing populations, and this is much more important in baseball than other sports.

            It seems like common sense that private funding at least for the Twins would depend largely on organized baseball to practice its own kind of socialism and implement voluntary revenue sharing to keep the competitive balance.  (It might depend upon exploring why the 20-year old Metrodome is so inadequate.) Instead, the owners (who once, according to George Steinbrenner back in 1986 ought to voluntarily submit to drug tests themselves) talk of contraction, and the team that used to be called the Nats and would perform so hopelessly on those road trips and Sunday and holiday doubleheaders could simply cease to exist, violating the laws of thermodynamics.

 

ÓCopyright 2000 by Bill Boushka  subject to fair use

 

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