Friday roundup: Remembering Jim Bouton, and the latest in stadium shakedown absurdities

One day maybe 16 or 17 years ago, I was sitting at my computer when my phone rang and a voice at the other end said, “Hi, this is Jim Bouton. Can I speak with Neil deMause?”

Once I’d picked my jaw up off the floor that the author of Ball Four (and winner of two games in the 1964 World Series) was calling me, we got down to business: Bouton was in the midst of writing a book about his attempts to save a nearly century-old minor-league baseball stadium in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and had some questions about how attempts to save old ballparks (and save the public’s money on building new ones) had gone in other cities. We soon fell to chatting amiably about the nuances and absurdities of the stadium game — I’m pretty sure Jim had only one setting with people he’d just met, which was “chatting amiably” — and eventually ended up having a few conversations about his book and his work as a short-term preservationist and ballclub operator. (The preservation part was successful — Wahconah Park is still in use today — but he was eventually forced out from team management.) I got to meet him in person for the first time a couple of years later when he came to Brooklyn to talk with local residents then fighting demolition of their buildings to make way for a new Brooklyn Nets arena, an issue he quickly became as passionate about as everything else that touched his sense of injustice; when I learned (at a Jim Bouton book talk, in fact) that the initial edition of Field of Schemes had gone out of print, he enthusiastically encouraged me and Joanna Cagan to find a publisher for a revised edition, as he had never been shy about doing for his own books, even when that meant publishing them himself.

The last time I talked to Jim was in the spring of 2012, when he showed up at a screening of the documentary Knuckleball! (along with fellow knuckleball pitchers R.A. Dickey, Tim Wakefield, and Charlie Hough) to help teach kids how to throw the near-magical pitch. We only got to talk briefly, as he was kept busy chatting amiably with everyone else who wanted a moment with him. Soon after that, he had a stroke, and eventually developed vascular dementia, which on Wednesday took his life at age 80.

I’m eternally grateful to have had a chance to spend a little time with one of the nicest, smartest, funniest world-famous authors and ballplayers you could ever hope to meet, especially when we crossed paths on a topic that was so important to both of us. The image I’ll always retain of Jim, though, was of getting ice cream with him near his home in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and him looking at my cup and exclaiming, “Sprinkles! That’s a great idea!” and then sprinting back into the shop to get some added to his as well. To the end, Jim Bouton remained boyishly intense about things that were truly important, whether fighting General Electric to save an old ballpark or eating ice cream, and that’s a rare and precious gift. My sympathies to his wife, Paula, and to all who loved him, which by this point I think was pretty much everybody.

And now, to the nuances and absurdities of this week’s stadium and arena news:

Friday roundup: Sacramento soccer subsidies, Fire could return to Chicago, and a giant mirrored basketball

Did I actually write a couple of days ago that this was looking like a slow news week? The stadium news gods clearly heard me, and when they make it rain news, they make it pour:

New Tottenham stadium’s terrible corner kick dimensions in video, and explained!

Tottenham Hotspur‘s new stadium finally opened yesterday with an under-18 match, leading to an outpouring of photo galleries and exuberant tweets about all the flashing lights. If you’re like me, though, what you really want to know is: What did it look like when players took corner kicks from the tiny amount of space in the corners?

The answer, it appears from a fan-shot video with terrible overdubbed music, is that players have to run down the touchline at an oblique angle to avoid falling backwards down a slope:

That’s pretty bad. How , and is only going to get worse if, say, you have a right-footed player taking the kick from the left corner. Which happened a bit later in the match:

That doesn’t look too bad from that angle, but it still appears that the player had to run uphill somewhat to kick the ball, which is clearly less than ideal.

All the press coverage of the stadium opening, which was uniformly positive, also provided some insight into the reasoning behind that crazy slope that starts just beyond the boundaries of the pitch:

The £1 billion stadium will seat 62,062 and also boasts the world’s first dividing, retractable football pitch, with a turf pitch underneath for NFL London Games, concerts and other events.

So the real field (the turf one) is under the grass pitch, which sits in a tray that will slide out under one end of the stadium for when they need to hold non-soccer events there, kind of like the Arizona Cardinals field that slides out to get sun. And as a result, soccer players who leave the pitch will tumble down a slope into the advertising barriers. I am not a soccer fan of that long a standing (I’ve only been seriously watching for less than ten years), but this seems like a really bad idea just so you can host the occasional Jacksonville Jaguars game, especially when you consider how much it must have added to the stadium cost, not to mention those construction delays. It all looked fine in the renderings!

Friday roundup: Cobb County still losing money on Braves, Beckham now wants two new stadiums, A’s reveal latest crazy rendering

It’s yet another morning to wake up and read the news and want to immediately go back to bed, or maybe get out of bed and protest something or just hug somebody. There’s a full week of additional stadium and arena news to recap, though, and that still matters, even if maybe not quite as much as man’s inhumanity to other humans, so:

  • Cobb County is still losing money on the new Atlanta Braves stadium, but it was at least down to $5.8 million last year from $8 million the year before. That’s mostly thanks to increased property tax payments from the development around the stadium, though, and as I’ve covered before, property taxes aren’t free money, they’re revenues that are supposed to pay for all the social costs of new development, so please everybody stop pretending that’s how fiscal math works.
  • David Beckham’s Inter Miami (do I have to keep identifying them that way? you bet I do!) now wants to play its first two MLS seasons, 2020 and 2021, at a new stadium in Fort Lauderdale while waiting for its Miami stadium to be ready. I admit to being somewhat confused as to how an 18,000-seat stadium can be built in Fort Lauderdale in less than a year (even if it’s just a temporary facility that will eventually be converted to host the franchise’s youth team) when it’ll take two years at least to build one in Miami, but mostly I’m just excited for Beckham to have two different stadium ideas that can run into inevitable obstacles because he’s Beckham.
  • The Oakland A’s dropped another new rendering of their proposed Howard Terminal stadium as part of their latest site plan, and mostly it’s notable for apparently being the only building left with its own electrical power after the apocalypse wipes out the rest of humanity, which should help ticket sales. Vaportecture fans will also be pleased to see that the gratuitous shipping cranes for unloading containers to nowhere have been moved to a different corner of the site, possibly for logistical reasons but more likely because the renderers thought they framed the image better there.
  • Tottenham Hotspur stadium update: Finally looks on target to open in early April, except for the small problem that players trying to take corner kicks will tumble backwards down a slope if they stand more than one foot from the ball.
  • Milwaukee-area residents will finally get to stop paying a sales-tax surcharge to pay off the Brewers‘ Miller Park next year, after 24 years of the 0.1% tax being in place. (The public will keep on paying for repairs to the stadium, but it’s already built up a reserve fund from sales tax payments for that purpose.) That’s certainly good news for Wisconsin residents who want to see their spending dollars go 0.1% farther, though even more so it will make it harder for anyone to try to use that tax stream to fund a replacement stadium for Miller Park, which the Brewers haven’t talked about but you know it’s just a matter of time.
  • The Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Authority is set to vote today on a new short-term lease for the Raiders, who would pay $7.4 million in rent for 2019 and $10.4 millon in rent for 2020 if necessary, plus $525,000 a year in rent for the team’s practice facility for up to three years after moving to Las Vegas. Plus, Oakland still gets to continue with its antitrust suit against the Raiders for leaving in the first place. I love happy endings!
  • Calgary city councillor Evan Woolly says instead of giving tax kickbacks to a new Flames arena, he wants to give tax breaks to all businesses across the city in an attempt to keep more of them in town. I’d definitely want to see his projected economic impact numbers before deciding if that would be worth it, but it certainly makes as much economic sense as giving money solely to a pro hockey team on the same logic.
  • “Planning experts” told the city of Saskatoon that it should kick off downtown revitalization efforts by building a new arena, because that’s the “biggest piece,” and, and, sorry, I’m looking for any actual reasons these experts gave, but not finding any. Though given that one is described as a “real estate sales specialist,” maybe their reasoning is not so mysterious after all.
  • The New York Islanders management emailed season ticket holders to ask them to sign a change.org “Support New York Islanders New Home at Belmont” petition, which leads me to think that maybe they’re taking this whole local elected official opposition thing more seriously than they’re pretending when they keep saying don’t worry, they’re totally going to have the place open by 2021.
  • The Carolina Panthers are talking about moving to South Carolina, but only their offices and practice field, not their actual home stadium. Not that that’s stopping them from trying to get out of paying their stadium property tax bill.
  • The government is Sydney is rushing to demolish a 31-year-old Australian football rugby (sorry, read too quickly and can’t tell all the Australian ball sports apart really anyway) stadium nine days before a new government might come in that would have preserved the building, and while I don’t fully understand the whole history here, you can read about it here while we wait for FoS’s Aussie sports correspondent David Dyte to chime in.
  • Emails obtained by the Los Angeles Times reveal that Irving Azoff tried to talk the Los Angeles Lakers into moving out of the Staples Center and into the MSG-owned Forum, but talks didn’t go anywhere. This honestly doesn’t seem like much since it was just an emailed offer that was rebuffed, but it is interesting in that it shows how the arena management wars are playing into sports team decisions. (And also in that it reveals that Lakers owner Jeanie Buss refers to Clippers owner Steve Ballmer as “Ballz.”)

Friday roundup: Flames arena questions, Braves funny math, and more vaportecture renderings and videos of suite chairs than you can shake a stick at

I swear they keep making these Fridays closer and closer together:

  • Canadian economists have lots of questions about who’s going to pay for a new Calgary Flames arena, which is as should be because the city council won’t say yet how it will be paid for. And we apparently won’t know more for a while, because first the council needs to figure out who’ll be on the negotiating committee with the Flames, and it’s not even scheduled to meet until next month. I can’t be the only one thinking, “Excellent, lots of time for somebody to leak the details to the press before everything gets negotiated,” can I? Deadspin has a tips line, just saying!
  • The Atlanta Braves brought in $442 million in revenue last year, for a profit of $92 million, but blamed the team’s debt payments on their new stadium in Cobb County for not leaving enough left over to spend big on free agents. After public subsidies, the Braves owners are on the hook for less than $20 million a year in construction debt payments, plus $6 million a year in rent, so, um, yeah.
  • The latest Texas Rangers stadium renderings make the seats in the top decks look just as crappy as in the previous renderings, there are still clip-art fans with translucent heads, and the roof is open in all of them even though the whole point of the new stadium is to have air-conditioning, which won’t work if the roof is open. At least we finally get to see how fans will get to that deck suspended in midair in left field — via a brick-colonnaded walkway, of course — so we no longer have to worry about Rangers fans having to purchase jetpacks to get to their terrible seats.
  • And still more renderings, these of a USL stadium a would-be team owner wants to build in Fort Lauderdale on the site of Lockhart Stadium, the same site David Beckham has targeted as a training site for his Inter Miami MLS team. Are there spotlights pointing pointlessly into the sky? You bet! Is this, regardless of whether the USL stadium stands a chance of getting built, yet another reason to laugh at Beckham over how he can’t catch a break? Don’t you know it!
  • Here’s a video of what the chairs and shelving will look like at the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium. And here’s a picture of what the place settings will look like in the luxury suites at the new Golden State Warriors arena, but it’s just a still photo — come on, Ben Golliver, it’s 2019, don’t you know people want to see furniture in video form?
  • New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky insists that the team’s proposed Belmont Park arena is still “on track for the 2021-22 season,” but what else is he gonna say?
  • Winnipeg will provide a total of $16.6 million in tax breaks and other operating subsidies this year to the Jets, Blue Bombers, Goldeyes, and Manitoba Moose, and bonus points to any non-Canadian who can name what sport each of those teams play. Economic Development Winnipeg CEO Dayna Spiring claimed that the public will make its money back — no, not through the taxes the teams won’t get breaks on, that’s a Wichita thing to say. Rather, Spiring said the public will earn its money back on exposure, via the value of Winnipeg’s name appearing on hockey broadcasts. Somebody please alert this Twitter account.
  • Tottenham Hotspur stadium opening update: still maybe early April! Also, it may be called Nike Stadium, or maybe not.
  • Wichita announced it planned to double down on its $75 million expense for a new minor-league baseball stadium for the relocated New Orleans Baby Cakes Triple-A franchise by also selling land around the stadium to the team owners for $1 an acre, with the mayor saying the city would make money on the $38.5 million in taxes the new development would pay over the next 20 years. This is still not how taxes work, but Wichita has since said it was putting off the land sale after Wichitans griped about the stealth subsidy, so I won’t belabor the point. For now.
  • And finally, NBA commissioner Adam Silver want to make watching basketball at home more like being at the game, via “technology.” Wait, isn’t one main problem pro sports is facing that fewer and fewer people want to go to games because it’s just as pleasant and cheaper to watch games at home on their giant hi-def TVs? I mean, no complaints here if Silver really wants to replicate the smell of Madison Square Garden in my living room, but it seems a bit, I dunno, against their business model? Unless maybe this will be some kind of premium feature you only get by subscribing to their streaming service that will be described as “Netflix for basketball,” yeah, that’s probably it.

Friday roundup: Calgary residents demand say on Flames arena, Indy Eleven asked to only accept public funding of 80% of stadium, Raiders could re-up in Oakland this week

Happy Friday! Here is your weekly fact dump of news that I didn’t get to earlier in the week, because I only got two hands, man:

  • Calgary residents who went to speak their minds at yesterday’s town hall on a new Flames arena say they want to be able to speak their minds on a new Flames arena. The city council is set to vote on an arena term sheet on Monday without public input — or even revealing to the public first what’s in the term sheet — though I suppose some councillors might read the press coverage of the town hall and learn how angry the public is. It’s worked before in Phoenix, for a few weeks at least!
  • The Indy Eleven stadium subsidy proposal has made it into a state senate bill, but “with some hefty strings attached,” reports the Indianapolis Star: the team’s owner would need to put up $30 million of his own money before getting to access $200 million in public tax money (more like $112 million in present value) for stadium costs. This does not actually sound like a big ask, but hey, Star sports columnist Gregg Doyel says it’s worth any price to keep the city’s sports teams (even if they’re not threatening to move) because, and I quote, “my job could depend on it,” so why quibble over a mere $112 million, right?
  • The city of Anaheim has hired a real estate consultant to conduct an appraisal of the value of the Los Angeles Angels‘ stadium site, as it first authorized last month, which is slightly weird in that they just did an appraisal in 2014 that found that the stadium parking lots sought by team owner Arte Moreno for $1 were worth $245 million, but whatever. It’s at least good that the city is apparently committing to ask something based on actual market value for the land, especially coupled with talk of basing any land deal on the Anaheim Ducks deal, which was a decently fair price for development rights to city land. Maybe this will not be awful, despite the new mayor talking about how eager he is to cut a deal even though Angels owner Arte Moreno has no real leverage? I’m almost afraid to hope — we’ll just have to see what happens when the assessment comes in, presumably a couple of months from now.
  • Oakland officials could vote soon to approve a new lease for the Raiders for 2019, with an additional option for 2020, which would put an end to talk of the team playing everywhere else on the planet this fall. Apparently Raiders owner Mark Davis is willing to let bygones be bygones and overlook that antitrust lawsuit the city filed that led him to insist he wouldn’t play in Oakland this season. Good successful bluff-calling, Oakland officials!
  • The New York Mets will not be moving their spring training home out of Port St. Lucie, after threatening to in order to secure a revised deal for $57 million in renovations to their stadium, $55 million of which will come from taxpayers. Bad bluff-calling, Port St. Lucie officials!
  • A rival developer is seeking the same land in Montreal that would-be Expos revivers want for a baseball stadium, to use for a “new smart development of office towers, housing, hotels and public space.” Looks like a fight is in the offing, and these guys have “smart” right there in the name, so watch out!
  • Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is hoping to save some money when the New York Islanders move out for their own arena eventually — the arena is losing about $12 million on guaranteed revenue payments to the team, and without hockey will be able to book more concerts — but more interesting to me from this article is that the building lost $21 million on operations in the 2017-18 season, plus another $33 million in debt and other expenses. Maybe the Nets owners are soaking up any profits, or the arena’s builders are earning their money on all the high-priced housing that went up next door, but still the whole project seems a bit like a waste of everyone’s time and money and eminent domain takings.
  • Also, work on the Islanders’ new planned arena by Belmont Park won’t begin this spring as planned, because the environmental impact statement required for the project won’t be ready until June at the earliest, but “state officials insist the project remains on schedule.” Hmmm.
  • And finally, your regularly scheduled Tottenham Hotspur stadium updates: It won’t be open until April at the earliest, it won’t have a VIP cheese room, and team officials are catching wild foxes and shooting them in the head with pistols. Exactly one of those things was something I expected to type this week.

Friday roundup: Suns referendum campaign fails, Panthers owner floats roof, Inter Miami and Raiders both still need temporary homes

The stadium news does not care if I am having a busy week, it just keeps happening! And I am, as always, here to catch it in a bucket and dump it out for you:

Friday roundup: What time is the Super Bowl article rush going to be over?

It’s too cold to type an intro! I miss the Earth before we broke it. But anyway:

Friday roundup: Don’t subsidize bad people, XFL to pay St. Louis more in rent than Rams did, unscientific poll on Suns arena is unscientific

Happy first Friday roundup of 2019! I could add a whole lot of thoughts on lists I’ve read and haven’t made of the best of this and that of last year, but to save time let me just stick with saying that this song is pretty damn excellent and get right to the news of the short week:

  • Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote a column about how Washington NFL team owner Daniel Snyder is a bad person and a terrible owner and should never get a dime of public stadium money because that’d be “a bailout, welfare,” none of which I can disagree with, but at the same time I’m a bit uncomfortable with the implication that if Snyder were less unpleasant, he’d then be deserving of public largesse.
  • The XFL may still be considered a bit of a joke league, but at least it can pay the city of St. Louis a decent stadium rent, unlike the Rams ever did. (Of course, the “joke league” bit is exactly why they are being required to pay real rent whereas the Rams could refuse to; there’s not much advantage to being an 80-pound gorilla.)
  • This essay responding to Amazon’s tax breaks is pretty excellent, though it’s still a half-notch below this classic Tom the Dancing Bug cartoon.
  • An opposing team manager has demanded that Tottenham Hotspur be required to play the rest of their season at Wembley rather than moving into their much-delayed stadium, because … teams that got to play them while they were adjusting to their new grounds would have an advantage somehow? From what I’ve been able to tell, most of home-field advantage in soccer comes from home fans booing (or whistling) at refs to intimidate them into making calls that go their team’s way, but the last time I tried reading the literature on this it quickly went deep into the weeds, so I won’t belabor the point.
  • “Fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena” were “surprisingly” in favor of spending public money to renovate the Phoenix Suns arena, according to Fox10 Phoenix, compared to “the online response” which was more “mixed.” This is both an impressively off-label use of “surprisingly” and an impressively lazy attempt at polling Phoenix residents — two impressively lazy attempts, even — so fine job, Fox10 Phoenix!

Friday roundup: SF doesn’t want Raiders, Spurs hate Tottenham, Rays outfielder says team has “no fan base” and should maybe move

It was a bit of a slow holiday week, but the news that there was made up for it by being extra-entertaining:

  • The Oakland Raiders played maybe their last game in Oakland, at least until the next time they move back to Oakland. (Hey, it’s happened before.) Still nobody has a clue where the team will play next year, but San Francisco officials are already gearing up to block any Raiders games at the Giants‘ AT&T Park, saying they don’t want to be “scabs” in the city of Oakland’s lawsuit against the Raiders for skipping town that prompted this game of stadium chicken in the first place. This is looking like a better and better option.
  • The New Jersey state legislature is preparing to help out the horse racing industry by providing $100 million over the next five years to goose winnings, which seems like exactly the opposite of how gambling is supposed to work.
  • Tottenham Hotspur still can’t get its new stadium open — the earliest possible date is now in February — but that’s not stopping team officials from griping that the surrounding neighborhood is too dirty to go alongside its fancy new stadium thanks to “litter and fly-tipping.” According to one borough memo, “When the question of all the extra cleaning needed was raised and who would fund it it was made very clear that it would not be paid for by Spurs.” The estimated cost of added street cleaning would be £8,000 per match; the team’s most recent annual profit was £58 million.
  • I love interactive fiction and have even written some myself, so I’m inclined to like this Arizona Republic article presenting the Suns arena showdown as a Choose Your Own Adventure book. But sadly its plot relies on some misconceptions — allowing the Suns owners to break their lease in 2022 doesn’t necessarily mean the team will leave, and if they do leave the city’s estimates of $130-180 million in renovations to keep it “competitive” for concerts may be overblown — so I won’t be voting for it for a XYZZY Award.
  • Some details have been released about plans for a Portland baseball stadium, but none of them involve how the stadium would be paid for or how much rent it would pay to its public landlords or even where a team would be obtained, so feel free to skip reading the full documents unless you’re really interested.
  • Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Tommy Pham was asked what he thought about playing in his new home city after being traded last year from St. Louis, and replied, “It sucks going from playing in front of a great fan base to a team with really no fan base at all.” Pham added, “Do I think something has to happen, whether it be a new ballpark, maybe a new city? I think so.” I am going out on a limb to guess that attendance will probably not be great next year on Tommy Pham Bobblehead Night.
  • The Milwaukee Bucks arena has been open for “several months” now, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which apparently can’t count to four, and the most important takeaways are that: 1) kids like candy, 2) grownups like cheese-covered sausages, 3) everybody likes taking selfies, 4) Bucks president Peter Feigin also likes candy, and 5) nobody actually wants to sit in that ridiculous Panorama Club. No reports back yet on the status of the magic basketball.