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October 15, 2004

Let's talk about sports

OK, I've got some things to say concerning some stuff I've been reading about our favorite teams. Let's get to the important stuff first:

• I love Charley Walter's column. If you don't read it you should really check it out. I don't know where he digs up all the crap he reports, and I'd be really interested to know if even half the rumors he reports on turn out to be true, but he almost always has something to discuss in his column. Here is what Charley Walter's reported Tuesday that piqued my interest:

"More than the possibility of contraction for the Twins if they go two more years without a new ballpark is the possibility of relocation, as has happened with the Montreal Expos, who are moving to Washington, D.C. The site that will be mentioned most for the Twins is Las Vegas."

What does everyone think about that statement? Even CNNSI.com picked it up and put it in its "Truth and Rumors" column so it is getting some national press. I'll tell you what I think. Contraction was for real. If not for Judge Harry Crump, God bless his everlasting soul, baseball would have contracted the Twins. So we know that MLB and Pohlad were prepared to carry through with their threat. We also know that recently Jerry Bell has both said he personally will not lead another stadium effort, and he has also said that the Twins are right now evaluating whether or not they will even attempt to lobby the legislature this session. We also know through the example of the Expos that baseball is completely capable of buying out an owner and attempting to move a team. We also know that the Twins will not stay in the Metrodome forever. They can't and they won't. Two years may be a little soon, but if the Twins don't have a stadium solution in place by that time it wouldn't surprise me at all to see the ball start rolling towards an Expos like scenario. What other choice will they have? The Metrodome sucks as a baseball stadium. And not only that, the Vikings want out, and the Gophers want out. Do you think the Twins are going to stick around as the only Metrodome tenant? One day the Twins will move out of the Metrodome. That is inevitable. We can choose to have them move down the street or across the country.

• According to reports coming out of Green Bay, Favre's 5 year old daughter wants him to retire. Couple this with the dismal season the Packer's are having and that means trouble for cheeseheads everywhere. Personally I would be shocked to see Favre retire on such a sour note, but it is obvious his playing football is taking a toll on his family. I was shocked to read that his 15 year old daughter doesn't even live with the family during the season. That would be really difficult on me. Regardless, as a Viking fan I think it would be a very sad day to see Favre retire. Very sad. He has provided me with some world class entertainment and he has single handedly brought the Packer-Viking rivalry to another level. I can't see the Packers being competitive for a few years after his retirement, unless they bring in another stud QB. Anyway, while I would love the inevitable Viking dominance on the division after his retirement, I would miss Favre. No doubt about it.

• Has anyone seen the Fox commercials for the baseball playoffs this year? The tagline is "October isn't scripted" or some such nonsense. How many years in a row have the Yankess been to the playoffs? 10? How many World Series have they been to in the last 10 years? 6? It is ridiculous. Until there is more parity in MLB, until someone other than the Yankees wins the AL East, baseball is scripted. What other conclusion is there?

Here is one person's view. Mark Yost of the Pioneer Press wrote a great article chastising Pohlad for his cheap ways and practically canonizing Steinbrenner for his committment to winning:

As a longtime Yankee fan from Brooklyn, let me say that Steinbrenner has given even the most faithful fans plenty of heartburn over the years. But the one thing we have never been able to criticize him on is his commitment both economically and emotionally to the team. Too bad the Twins fans can't say the same thing about their owner. For if Pohlad could pry his wallet open an inch, the Twins could probably win another World Series and beat the Yankees on their way to doing it.

He's got a point. How close were the Twins to beating the Yankees? Pretty close if not for game 2 of the ALDS. How many more decent players would it have taken to finally get over this hump they've been trying to get over in the past three years? 1? 2? In addtion, Yost had this to say:
How has Steinbrenner built such a successful franchise? He's been willing to pay top dollar for top-notch talent. Of course, that's the primary knock on the Yankees; they buy titles because they're willing to pay more for players than any other team. That makes for nice rhetoric, but doesn't stand up to economic analysis. The Yankees formula has been a success because it has consistently filled the trophy case as well as the seats at Yankee Stadium.
The Twins lack of attendance has been discussed quite a bit lately, but one thing I think people have failed to mention as a possible reason is the lack of any big name players on the Twins roster. The last time the Twins drew 2 million fans was the year the Twins had Kirby Pucket and Dave Winfield. These are two big, recognizable names that filled the seats. Who do the Twins have right now that can fill the seats? Santana? Yes, but he only pitches once every five days. Torii Hunter? He isn't nearly consistent enough. Morneau, yes in a couple of years he will fill the seats but he is to raw right now and by the time he is hitting 40-50 home runs the Twins will lose him to free agency. I don't know, but it seems that the Twins are in a real catch-22. They are reaping what they are sowing in terms of poor attendance, but claim they can't raise their player budget because they aren't filling enough seats. Anyway, it was definitely an interesting and thought provoking article.

That's all for now.

Posted by snackeru at October 15, 2004 6:42 AM | Twins

Comments

I disagree with Yost's thinking on several levels. I don't think a $200 million payroll for a baseball team is a good thing, period. I'm not calling for government salary controls or anything, but that kind of spending just drives baseball beyond levels that I think are healthy. Players make that much money, and fans figure they have every right to treat them as something other than human. Ticket prices rise accordingly. The games become events at which to be seen, rather than games. Stadiums become revenue generators, provided by government funds, rather than intimate ballparks. Etc. Etc. I know that the cows have been out of this corral for a long time already, but I don't have to like it.

Second, it isn't about Steinbrenner being committed enough and smart enough to make money while Pohlad is uncommitted and stupid. I don't know if Steinbrenner comes out ahead on what he spends - probably not. If so, it isn't because he fills Yankee Stadium, but because he can leverage huge media revenues in NYC.

Third, and this probably sounds silliest of all, I wouldn't want "my" owner to buy me a championship the way Darth Steinbrenner does. I give him credit for spending his money more effectively than some of the other big spenders in the game, but I get more satisfaction out of supporting a team like the Twins or the A's who succeed to a significant degree without outspending the opposition.

Posted by: oldstuffer at October 15, 2004 12:56 PM

Oldstuffer -- These are all very good points. But could it be said that there is a possibility that Pohlad could be reaping more benefits from the Twins by simply investing a little more in his team? I certainly take a lot of pride in how the Twins are run. The small budget, the farm system, the loyalty, etc. etc. But these methods are not filling the seats at the Dome or convincing the public that a new stadium needs to be built. Is it possible that by spending a little more now, the Twins would be healthier in the long run by demonstrating to the fans that the team has a committment to winning? I know, three division titles should be demonstration enough, but there is a real sense amongst the public that this is about all the Twins will ever be capable of doing under the current economic model. I don't know, could it be possible that by spending a little more for players just for a couple of years, they could get over the hump, create some excitement, go to the World Series, and finally get enough public support to build a stadium? Because it just isn't happening right now.

Posted by: Shane at October 15, 2004 3:04 PM

Hey Shane,

Some thoughts:

- Walters gets scoops because he's an ex-player who is more than willing to publish whatever a player's agent wants him to. As for Las Vegas, I can't imagine it happening. I also can't imagine a stadium being approved in 2005, however. It might be best to sit back in 2005 and try again in 2006. Man, as bad as that ALDS was, I still think the worse defeat happened at the beginning of May. How do they pull back on VS1 and STILL not get that bill passed. What a mess. If Bell retires, it may not be because he's tired.

On Steinbrenner - Don't buy into the Ayn Rand inspired hype. Steinbrenner wins because he has a market base that DWARFS that of the Twins. To his credit, he raised revenue from them (and I obviously think the Twins could do a better job than they do) but to praise him for spending insane amounts of money when he still makes insane amounts of money is crazy.

Also, I gotta say, I don't think having an extra $25M available this year would have necessarily made any difference in the ALDS. But that's because I think they were already better than the Yankees, and should've won that damn series. That's what made it so painful. They threw two games away on bad innings that they could have won. The series should have never gone back to NY, even if you accept that "every nubber falls in" inning in the 2nd against Silva. I'm generally a proponent of leveling the playing field, but this series was won when one team had (and continues to have) more mojo - not because they bought it.

Posted by: TwinsGeek at October 15, 2004 7:55 PM

TwinsGeek-- I agree with everything you are saying. When I look back at what I actually wrote I cringe because it sounds like I am praising Steinbrenner and his outrageous money-spending ways. Let me reiterate that I thuoght Yost's article was a well written counter-point that deserved discussion. That is what I mean by saying it is a "great article." You also raise some good points though. First of all, VS1 ... it pains me that the Twins weren't successful in getting this network on Time Warner and Comcast. I wrote about it so much I started to sound like a Pohlad sycophant, but that network would have assured the Twins would stick around for a while even without a new stadium. To see them give it up to gain political clout and then have nothing happen on the stadium front was too much for me.

Secondly, you are absolutely right, spending an extra $25 million is no guarantee they would advance to the World Series. However, I look at everything the Twins do right now through the lens of "how will this help them get a stadium?" Right now, they obviously aren't doing enough. Would spending more for players do the trick? Maybe not, but it would be something different. Maybe you are right. Having Bell step down from his leadership role on this front may be a good thing. Maybe it is time for someone else to give it a try. That would certainly be "different."

Finally, I honestly don't think it will matter if the Twins wait until 2006 to try for a stadium or go for it next session. I have been following the stadium battles for 10 years now and I'm not sure a solution will ever come from the do-nothings in St. Paul. Quite frankly, between the Twins and the Vikings, the only way either team will ever get a stadium is if one of them leaves. Sadly, I think this will be the Twins. Sorry for my pessimism. I still have hope, but given the apathy of your occasional Twins fan, the entrenchment of the legislature, the fact that any bill that is miraculously passed will have a referendum attached, and the willingness of our owner to cash out ... let's just say my hope is fading fast.

Posted by: Shane at October 16, 2004 10:14 PM

I agree about the wisdom of Pohlad investing a little extra -- or possibly a lot -- in order to get it back in the end. To me the solution is ridiculously simple: why doesn't he make a major contribution toward a new Twins stadium. There are two reasons that make sense to me.

#1, for the first ten years of his team ownership he appeared to want badly to be loved and admired in the community, something more likely to happen to the owner of a winning baseball team than a mortgage-foreclosing banker. He seemed to give up on that hope when the 1997-98 plan for a new stadium blew up in his face, when his "contribution" turned out to be nothing more than a loan. If he were to come forward now with a legitimate offer to contribute, say, $100 million toward a stadium he would make it a lot easier for the legislators to authorize the public contribution. He would be be tangibly linked with keeping the Twins in town and putting them in a real ballpark where people could enjoy baseball.

#2, that ballpark contribution would not be money down the drain. It would improve his revenue stream, enabling him to increase payroll without digging deeper in his pocket, and it would increase the market value of the franchise, which is now restricted by the revenue limitations. Whether he would recoup his entire investment I don't know, but I think it would get him beyond the fear of simply pouring money down a payroll hole with no chance of recovering it.

In other words, I think putting his money into a new stadium would have more of a multiplier effect than simply increasing payroll. And, from something you once wrote, Shane, I think you might favor a new stadium. Am I unusually perceptive?

Posted by: oldstuffer at October 22, 2004 6:31 PM

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