LAS VEGAS – Above the heads of 1,000 people crammed into a hallway at the Las Vegas Hilton jutted a pair of gigantic headdresses adorned with feathers the color of a peacock's plumage. Which, of course, could mean only one thing.
Make way for the mayor.
Oscar Goodman weaved his way through the crowd, accompanied by two showgirls dressed in blue and green sequined bikinis and matching 3-foot-tall coiffures, until he landed safely in an empty room. He was there to deliver the opening remarks for baseball's winter meetings, only he happened to be at the hotel where a vast majority of the personnel was from the minor leagues.
"So, is there anybody from Major League Baseball here?" he asked.
Well, yeah. Tommy Lasorda came to shake the mayor's hand. They met at an airport on the way to the 1980 World Series in Kansas City. Then Lasorda saw Goodman sitting 15 rows in front of him and wondered how he'd gotten better tickets. Being a mob lawyer, Goodman said, had its perks.
Otherwise, no, the place was bereft of big-league personnel, which left Goodman a bit sour. Because in his ascendancy from defender of mafia to one of the country's most popular mayors, Goodman still has an empty slot on his résumé: No major sports call Las Vegas home.
And even though Goodman is an equal-opportunity bettor – he'll wager on just about anything, including, he said, Carolina minus-3 on Monday night – he is partial to landing a baseball team.
"Major League Baseball is scared to come here," Goodman said. "At least, that's been their position in the past. We've made great inroads with the NBA and the NHL, but I think the community would be much more supportive than they are in other cities of Major League Baseball.
"The Vegas Showgirls. That should be the name of the team."
The showgirl strategy was classic Goodman, a maneuver to draw attention, if not gravitas, to his message. Four years ago, at the winter meetings in Anaheim, Goodman appeared in the hotel lobby with a pair of showgirls – clad in red and yellow – promoting Las Vegas' prospects as it tried to lure the Montreal Expos.
They ended up in Washington, and despite questions about Tampa Bay and Florida's long-term viability in their current stadiums, the reality of an MLB team leaving for Las Vegas anytime soon is far-fetched for a number of reasons.
The stigma of gambling, softened across society over time, still sets off alarms in MLB headquarters. The viability of Las Vegas supporting a big-league baseball team when there are so many other entertainment options concerns MLB, even with the city's population of 2 million and 40 million tourists a year. And there is the trouble of the economy: With redevelopment-agency bonds not selling well and a citywide vote the only other option for building a stadium, Goodman cannot abide by an if-you-build-it-they-will-come maxim.
Still, Goodman said, he has met with owners who have lent their support to his cause, at least before higher-ups started to put the kibosh on such meetings. ("I give no names," Goodman offered. "I'm not a rat.") He stopped, not wanting to alienate MLB as he did the NFL. He said Monday of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue: "They are the dumbest human beings who ever lived."
Instead of going through back channels, Goodman plans to hit MLB head on over the next two days. On Tuesday, he'll hit Jet, a popular nightclub, and Wednesday he'll head to Pure, a showgirl on each arm as usual. He'll discuss the hot stove goings-on – he was disgruntled with the trade of his favorite player, Khalil Greene, from San Diego – and tell anecdotes like the one about the time he used too much from the rosin bag for a first pitch and ended up bouncing it off his big toe.
He'll charm, because that's what he does.
In his 1-minute, 41-second speech to the group at the Hilton, Goodman used all the good baseball clichés. The showgirls were his bullpen, and they had a no-trade clause, and Las Vegas is a major-league city. He exited quickly, off to hit an important meeting before attending the reopening of the volcano at the Mirage, a typical only-in-Vegas moment.
Sure, it's got the fastest-growing population in the country … and also among the fastest-falling housing prices. And, yeah, maybe casinos would buy up plenty of tickets for the new team … only in a recession, are people really going to keep traveling to a place they can flush even more money?
Goodman has pondered all of these questions and remains unswayed. And just to make sure, he looked to his left and right, to his showgirls, Brandy Wood and Stacey Shea, for their rhinestoned approval. Each nodded.
"Brandy, Stacey and Oscar," Goodman said. "It's a hell of a group."
Jeff Passan is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Jeff a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
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