Signs point to stadiums becoming a no-sell issue

ON BASEBALL

January 11, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The era of the publicly financed stadium may be coming to an end, if what's happening in Minnesota is any indication.

The Minnesota Twins have spent the past couple of years trying to persuade local politicians to build a new baseball-only facility in the Twin Cities. Owner Carl Pohlad even set a deadline for public funding and reached a tentative agreement to sell the club to businessman Don Beaver, who said he hopes to move it to North Carolina.

Trouble is, nobody fell for it. The state legislature let the Nov. 30 deadline pass without approving a funding plan and now one lawmaker is encouraging his fellow politicians to call the team's bluff.

Rep. Kevin Knight returned from a fact-finding trip to North Carolina last week and called a news conference to tell voters that the Twins have no place to go. Support for a publicly financed stadium in either the Winston-Salem or Charlotte area is far from guaranteed.

Knight is advising his fellow legislators to put the whole stadium issue on the back burner for two to three years, essentially telling the Twins to go ahead and try to move if they can find a stadium deal elsewhere.

Minnesota's stadium authority, meanwhile, is preparing to sue the Twins if they try to leave the Metrodome, charging that Major League Baseball created the bad economic conditions that the Twins will cite to trigger an escape clause in their lease. If that doesn't work, they also may consider a challenge to baseball's antitrust protection.

Neither legal gambit figures to succeed, but either one of them could provide a disincentive for baseball owners to approve the sale and relocation of the team. The fact that the deadline passed without an agreement to sell the team may indicate that Pohlad knows his bluff hand has been called.

Club officials continue to hold out hope that a group of legislators sympathetic to the team will be able to push through a last-ditch funding plan later this month. Confidential to pro-stadium Twins fans: Don't hold your breath.

The times they are a-changing when it comes to local stadium financing. The voters have figured out that they lose on both ends of the new stadium equation. They pay to build it, then pay premium ticket prices or worse -- pay for ridiculously expensive seat licenses -- to sit in it.

The benefits of a new state-of-the-art stadium go entirely to the team, as evidenced by the $250 million price that recently was offered for the once-struggling Texas Rangers franchise. The value of the club more than doubled after the stadium was completed, but none of that money will go toward retiring the debt on The Ballpark in Arlington.

The Twins clearly would benefit from a new stadium. They might even be able to pull off the kind of baseball renaissance that has taken place since the Cleveland Indians moved into Jacobs Field. But with salaries skyrocketing again, there's no guarantee that the Twins franchise would be able to afford a competitive team even after it moves into a new ballpark.

Sutton was deserving

It's hard to understand why there was any debate about the qualifications of right-hander Don Sutton after he was elected to the Hall of Fame. He ranked 10th on the all-time win list and fifth on the all-time strikeout list. End of conversation.

There are no objective standards for induction at Cooperstown, but 300-plus victories should do the trick unless there's a serious question of integrity.

Sutton's detractors might point to the fact that he was often accused of scuffing the ball during his lengthy career, but that certainly would not be enough to shut him out of the Hall of Fame. When Gaylord Perry was inducted, they had to wipe Vaseline off the podium after his acceptance speech.

No one would argue that Sutton was the most dominant pitcher of his era. He wasn't. But he was one of the most consistent and durable pitchers of his time.

No consensus on Perez

Former Cincinnati Reds great Tony Perez could make a similar -- if less compelling -- argument for admission. He has been passed over seven times, even though he ranks 16th on the all-time RBI list and every one ahead of him is a Hall of Famer.

Perez drove in 100 runs or more seven times and drove in 90 or more for 11 straight seasons, but he diluted his accomplishments by staying around five years too long.

Does he deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? Probably, but there is no consensus, so he may have to wait for the next thin ballot to get in.

It won't be next year, when Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount are all but certain to be elected on the first ballot.

Look out for Padres

The San Diego Padres continue to stock up on pitching and seem poised to make a big run at the National League West title this year. The acquisition of right-hander Kevin Brown might be the most important off-season move made by any National League club, and the signing last week of veteran Mark Langston also could end up having tremendous significance.

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