COMMENTARY | In writing about PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates since 2001, for the July 12, 2010, issue of Sports Illustrated, L. Jon Wertheim described the park's beauty -- it's location on the Allegheny River overlooking the skyline -- and contrasting it with how dismal the team was.
The Pirates, of course, were in the middle of a losing streak that would span 20 seasons. A team that once employed the likes of Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Barry Bonds had become a doormat in the NL Central. Sports fans in Western Pennsylvania wore shirts that read "Pittsburgh, City of Champions … and the Pirates" after the Steelers and Penguins won championships in the NFL and NHL.
It wasn't just Pittsburgh that had a new park and couldn't win in it, many other cities were having the same trouble at the time. The Baltimore Orioles played many of their 14 straight losing seasons in Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the Milwaukee Brewers were notoriously mediocre and, like Pittsburgh, also had their new stadium, Miller Park, erected in 2001. After the story was written, the city of Miami put up $2.4 million for Marlins Park -- complete with a retractable roof and a psychedelic statue -- only to have the team undergo yet another fire-sale in Year 2.
The problem with having a city build a stadium for a team is that all MLB teams are privately owned, so public funds (taxes) increase the value of a billionaire's property (the baseball club).
"[Just] as your net wealth would improve if local taxpayers built you a new million-dollar home," wrote Aaron Gordon for The Classical, "so too did franchise valuations."
The model for an owner to get a hold of this money, as laid out in Field of Schemes, is rather simple: threaten to move, have a mayor in another city suggest he wants a team, provide a study commissioned by the owner showing the economic impact of the stadium and then wait for the venue to be erected.
No sports fan in the Twin Cities is going to argue that baseball should be played in a giant white dome, especially one that collapses, and certainly places like Crave, Rock Bottom Brewery and Brother's are more busy on gameday -- let alone other money that is generated from parking or public transportation to the game -- but nobody wants to fork over tax dollars to a losing team. It has not gone unnoticed that the Twins went from spending $100 million on payroll in 2011 and 2012 to $82 million last year and that the team has lost 90 or more games in the past three seasons.
Nobody wants to see the Twins, who were once a model small-market franchise, endure losing streaks like the Pirates or Orioles or even be reliably mediocre like the Brewers, but it's hard to understand how a team went from a perennial division champion in a decrepit bubble to getting locked in the AL Central basement while playing in a state-of-the-art facility.
It's also increasingly frustrating because Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, who is probably as crooked as Marlins owner Jeffery Loria, looks like he's trying to hustle Minnesota taxpayers out of their hard-earned money to fund a space command center new stadium for his team. The city already built a stadium for the Wild in 2000, which to be fair has had a positive impact on St. Paul, and also needs that money for schools, hospitals, parks, etc.
I don't see the Twins struggling like the Pirates and Orioles, however, because their losing has allowed them to replenish the farm system. Instead of trading away prospects just to keep the team around .500 and try to make the playoffs in Game 163, they've kept their best young players and, at the very least, should have a powerful lineup in a couple years.
In my mind, this is what the future lineup looks like: 1. LF Aaron Hicks, 2. 1B Joe Mauer, 3. CF Byron Buxton, 4. 3B Miguel Sano, 5. RF Oswaldo Arcia, 6. C Josmil Pinto, 7. DH Chris Parmelee or Trevor Plouffe, 8. 2B Brian Dozier and 9. SS Pedro Florimon. By my calculation, that's a pretty stacked set of bats and should make up for some pitching deficiency.
Had the team just tried to keep the band together and remain at .500, guys like Dozier and Pinto may not have gotten a shot in the majors and the team never would have landed Buxton.
The problem ultimately is with starting pitching. Of the hodgepodge that had playing time this year, only Kyle Gibson, Scott Diamond, Andrew Albers and Samuel Deduno really should be considered part of the future. Gibson has the stuff, but needs to be more consistent, Diamond and Albers have been good enough at times to be worth another look, and Deduno is a wild card that's worth tossing out there since he doesn't cost much and his fastball a complete anomaly. Correia is a fine plug, but probably isn't a long-term solution and the rest of the guys look like they'll be in the minor leagues or belong in the bullpen.
Other than that, it's up to Alex Meyer, Trevor May, J.O. Berrios or Kohl Stewart to become an ace. What that really means is that ownership is probably going to have to go out and pay big money to land a No. 1 guy. And, really, when taxpayers build you a $545 million facility, it's the least they could do.
After all, no matter how nice the theatre is, nobody is going to go if the movie is a flop -- even if he or she paid to build it.
- Sports & Recreation
- Pittsburgh Pirates