Foul Ball

Dec. 16, 2004, midnight | By Armin Rosen | 19 years, 2 months ago

Why the baseball deal fell through

What happened to the great visionaries in sports? Where did you go, Pete Rozelle? What happened to you, Roone Arledge? Where are the daring, farsighted few willing to look past the minutia of the present in order to create something lasting, something special for the future?

Not in Washington, D.C. apparently. And if they are, they sure aren't on the D.C. city council.

It's easy to see the folly in the Council's decision to peg the future owner of the future Las Vegas Nationals with a $300 million funding burden for the now mythical new stadium. Has a pro baseball team ever harmed its host city? Has a pro sports team ever harmed its host city?

Well, yes, but only with the help of gross mismanagement and an apathetic fan base. With the Expos paltry turnout, Montreal falls in to the latter category. Chicago and Charlotte, whose fans took their anger out on the ownership of the Blackhawks and Hornets by staying home on game night, fall into the former. Washington falls into neither. Wizards and Redskins fans have withstood some of the worst management in sports. Amazingly, Wizards faithful still show up at MCI center by the tens of thousands, and the Redskins haven't played to an undersold home crowd since the early 60's.

Point being, it's rare to see fans (read: fans in Washington) become truly disenchanted with their teams. Over the years, they've demonstrated a willingness to roll up to the stadium, buy tickets, grab a bite to eat, watch the game and patronize the local bar no matter what quality of team is playing inside said stadium, and in the process, spend scores of taxable dollars, have an enjoyable experience, and invariably plan on going to more games out of loyalty and love of the game.

Indeed, sport literally creates its own demand. Roone Arledge realized this during his groundbreaking work as ABC sports executive, during which he introduced the world to primetime professional football and slow motion replay. Pete Rozelle realized this when he jeopardized the future of pro football by negotiating the NFL-AFL merger. Anthony Williams realized this when he pushed for a $600 million baseball stadium amidst a budget crunch.

As long as there are sports fans, sports as a product will inevitably sell its self. D.C., unlike, say, Miami or Toronto, has an ample supply of sports fans. And after tax dollars, advertising dollars, stadium lease dollars, s'more tax dollars, urban renewal, and, finally, more tax dollars, major sports related risks eventually pay off.

Yes, $600 million is a hefty price tag for D.C. business (repeat: businesses, not taxpayers), even though the continued dilapidation of the Anacostia waterfront might eventually come at a greater cost (seriously: what business will want to settle in D.C. south of the National Mall until the waterfront is taken care of?). Like the former Camden railroad yards a decade and a half ago, the naturally beautiful yet downtrodden banks of the Anacostia River scream "develop me.” Washington already has a convention center, a 20,000 seat arena, and several major shopping malls. None of them are on the Anacostia, and if they were, none would have had the drawing power of Major League Baseball. With Washington's itch for arena sports, convention space, and commercialism more or less scratched, this stadium might not only have been the best plan for the development of the Anacostia waterfront, it might also have been the last really great one.

And unlike a shopping mall, baseball isn't going out of business any time soon. W.P. Kinsella's/the weird voice from Field of Dreams' assertion that if you "build it they will come” certainly applies here. This wasn't so hard for 6/13ths of the D.C. City Council to grasp. It's just too bad that, to borrow a colloquialism, the other 7/13ths couldn't see the forest for the trees.

And because of their myopia, yet another time-honored colloquialism will echo through Portland or Las Vegas or San Jose in April of 2006: "play ball!”

Armin Rosen. Armin is a Seeeeenyor in the Communication Arts Program. "I am a journalist and, under the modern journalist's code of Olympian objectivity (and total purity of motive), I am absolved of responsibility. We journalists don't have to step on roaches. All we have to do … More »

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