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: Raleigh MLS project funding, Islanders’ train station costs, Flames arena talks are all ???

Happy Friday! If you’ve been wondering if Scott McCaughey’s excellent new album of songs written while in a hospital room recovering from a stroke can drown out the sound of poorly timed jackhammering by the gas company right outside your window, I’m here to report: Not nearly well enough!

Typing really loud so you can hear me over the din:

  • Raleigh residents are concerned that a development project centered on a new soccer stadium could price them out of living in the city. Also, there isn’t actually enough Wake County tax money available to pay for the project’s proposed $390 million public cost. And Raleigh doesn’t have an MLS team, or the promise of one. Other than that, this is going swimmingly.
  • Newsday has contradicted Long Island Business News’s report that New York state will pay “most” of the cost of a new $300 million train station for an Islanders arena at Belmont Park, saying that the actual cost is only $100 million and developers will pay most of it. Unnamed source fight!
  • Calgary city councillor Jeff Davison, who is spearheading behind-closed-doors talks with the Flames owners over a new arena, says, “We do not have a deal today, and when we will have one and if we will have one is totally up in the air. But what we can tell the public today is that discussions are productive but they’re not complete. We can’t give an exact date as to when we’ll be back with any information [but] I’m confident if we do bring a plan back, that the public will support it.” Pretty sure that translates as “Still talking, ask again later.”
  • Noah Pransky has been on a writing tear about the Tampa Bay Rays mess this week, including a review of an article he wrote in July 2009 predicting much of what has since come to pass and an analysis of how hotel-tax money that Tampa officials say can’t be spent for things like policing or libraries really can, because they could be used to free up general-fund money that’s currently spent on tourism-related expenses. “Where’s the study on best uses for that new money?” writes Pransky at Florida Politics. “How about just a best-use conversation, held out in the sunshine?” Crazy talk!
  • Speaking of tax money that could be spent on other things, Cuyahoga County is considering a 1% hotel tax hike to free up $4.6 million a year to spend on its convention center and sports venues, which in present value comes to about $70 million. (The Cleveland Plain Dealer article on this is entirely about how the bed tax hike would affect the hotel industry, because of course it is.)
  • “Could an NFL Stadium [for the Buffalo Bills] be Built on an Abandoned Coke Plant Property?” asks Erie News Now, boldly toying with Betteridge’s Law.
  • Worcester will break ground next Thursday on its new heavily subsidized Triple-A Red Sox stadium set to open at the beginning of the 2021 season, which, uh, isn’t a lot of time. They’d better hope that the climate crisis means a less stormy winter construction season in New England, which, uh, isn’t likely.

Rays execs say Montreal-Florida plan came from “ether,” is wave of future, we’re all gonna be rich!

Owner-mouthpiece sportswriters like the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin can be useful not because they do any actual reporting — they try to avoid that wherever possible — but because when they turn over their columns to self-serving statements by team officials, all kinds of amusing stuff can come out. And that is most certainly the case for Topkin’s inside-Rays-execs’-minds look at the team’s announced plans to move to two new stadiums in Tampa Bay and Montreal by 2024, which is totally neither crazy nor a cynical attempt to appear crazy, and about which we now learn:

  • Rays owner Stuart Sternberg claims not to remember who came up with the split-city plan, saying it has “no authorship” and “was just sort of there in the ether.’’ (Topkin does not address whether this is indeed amnesia or just plausible deniability.)
  • Team officials say all the kids will soon be doing it, with team president Brian Auld asserting, “We like to be first.”
  • Sternberg acknowledged that the idea seems “cockamamie,” which despite Noah Pransky’s claims to authorship was actually first suggested by FoS reader Andrew Ross. (Also, did you know that “cockamamie” comes from the same root as “decal,” after being filtered through the mouths of mid-20th-century New York youth? Now you do!)
  • Playing in two cities will enable the Rays to spend more money on players because they’ll have more revenue, somehow! “If this comes to fruition, we’re going to have more resources, and more resources means a higher payroll, and a higher payroll is good for all players within baseball,’’ team president Matt Silverman told Topkin, not in the least trying to lobby a players’ union that might otherwise scream bloody murder at 25 of its members having to live in two different countries every baseball season.
  • Sternberg insists he likes this plan even better than the one for a single new stadium in Tampa, telling the Times editorial board that if given the choice between the two, he’d pick “slam dunk, what we’re doing today.’’
  • Team execs think that since Tampa Bay fans don’t go to many games anyway but mostly just read about them on their phones or whatever the kids today do, they can go to just as many if the team is only around half the time, because that’s absolutely how consumer spending works.
  • Sternberg insists “our TV ratings aren’t that great” in Tampa Bay, which is sort of true, but they’re not that bad either.
  • These are words that Sternberg actually said, presumably in an attempt to convey some meaning: “This isn’t us just leaning on Major League Baseball, like the bogeyman, ‘Mommy says I can’t sleep over’ kind of thing. They are large partners, they are large contributors to putting our team on the field every game, every year. They are going to weigh in, whether we like it or not.’’

Anyway. The Rays’ use agreement on Tropicana Field still says they can’t go anywhere before 2028 without the permission of the city of St. Petersburg, and St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman has made clear he has no intention of approving this cockamamie scheme before then, certainly not if it involves any public money from his city, which if it doesn’t then Sternberg could have just built his own stadium in Tampa already and been done with it. The wall-of-execs push for a Tampontreal solution, and commissioning Topkin to amplify it, is clearly meant to convince the sports world that they’re serious about this plan; whether they actually are or just want people to think they are remains an open question, but you know which one I’d put my money on.

Friday roundup: Another Islanders arena delay, Wisconsin to wrap up Brewers stadium spending but not really, Italy wins (?) 2026 Olympics

My endorsement of Hmm Daily last month was so successful that this week the site announced it’s shutting down. I am now officially afraid to tell you people to give money to any other particular site, lest I bestow the kiss of death on them as well, but you should give money to someone you like, because journalism is in bad shape, with dire effects on, among other things, the public’s ability to hold elected officials accountable.

Speaking of which, here’s this week’s news about elected officials doing unaccountable things, and the rich dudes who want to keep it that way:

UPDATE: Just realized I forgot to link to my Deadspin article yesterday on Stuart Sternberg’s Tampontreal Ex-Rays threat, Richard Nixon, Kinder eggs, and bird evolution. And now I have done so, so go read it!

Rays owner stages hour-long tirade about how Montreal-Tampa split team is not a threat, but a promise

When MLB commissioner Rob Manfred dropped his bombshell last week about Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg seeking permission to have his team build new stadiums in both Montreal and Tampa Bay and split time between them, the big question was: Is Sternberg serious? Not serious about going through with it, necessarily — there are many, many reasons why a two-nation team is a terrible idea — but serious about using it as a threat to shake loose some stadium money at a time when his lease prohibits him from threatening anything until after the 2027 season?

Well, Sternberg and other Rays execs held an hour-long press conference yesterday, and the answer is hoo baby yeah he is serious. Not only did he double down on insisting that the Tampontreal ExpoRays can be a real thing, but he said it would be great not only for the team but for Florida and — you know what, let’s hand the mic to longtime Rays stadium saga chronicler Noah Pransky:

Pransky then closed his Twitter window and hightailed it over to Florida Politics, where he reported that Sternberg’s discussions with would-be Montreal MLB owner Stephen Bronfman had triggered a legal inquiry by the city of St. Petersburg into whether this violated the team’s lease, which prohibits any stadium discussions anywhere other than that city until 2028:

According to mayoral spokesperson Ben Kirby: “The City Attorney’s office has been in contact with the general counsel for the Tampa Bay Rays and received assurances that the Rays will not commence exploration of the shared city concept, or conduct any other activities related to a pre-2028 future stadium site, without an agreement with the City of St. Petersburg. The Rays’ general counsel also confirmed that all conversations related to Montreal were limited to the time period after expiration of the use agreement.”

Pransky also noted:

  • Sternberg isn’t saying how much two stadiums in two cities would cost or how they’d be paid for, but a part-time stadium only in use in the spring could be build smaller and more cheaply.
  • That “economic impact” thing is completely bonkers: “Back-of-the-napkin math on this suggests St. Pete would need tens — or even hundreds — of thousands of new Canadian tourists to make this work, which seems somewhat ridiculous, given that no Montreal fan is going to want to watch their team in Florida’s June humidity when they could wait three weeks and watch them up north in July.”
  • Sternberg said that the site of St. Pete’s minor-league Al Lang Stadium, where his Tampa Bay Rowdies USL second-tier team now playes and which he once considered for a new domed stadium before abandoning the idea, was “absolutely a possibility.” Pransky had previously noted that Sternberg could be angling to move the Rays to the Al Lang site before 2028 by dangling the carrot of letting the city redevelop the Tropicana Field site sooner — which would also allow Sternberg to get a 50% share of any redevelopment money so long as the Rays still play in St. Pete. Pransky told Canadian sports radio that “I think Sternberg is trying to find a way to have his cake and eat it too — get the redevelopment money he’s entitled [to], but not have to play all these games in St. Petersburg. We’re talking tens, possibly hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Whatever exactly Sternberg has in mind, this is clearly a long, long con, or if nothing else a way to kill time and build momentum for something while waiting out the remaining eight years of his lease. It’s transparently a classic non-threat threat — even Twitter noticed — but the question now becomes what the Rays owner plans to do with any leverage that he’s savvily created, especially considering he faces an opponent in St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman who isn’t afraid to sue to enforce the lease’s gag rule on stadium talks.

Of course, it’s always possible this non-threat threat is all Sternberg plans to do, in hopes that it will shake loose more stadium talks in Tampa Bay, given that he’s tried that move (albeit without the Montreal gambit) roughly a billion times before:

This is all crazy, and it’s only likely to get crazier. It is not likely to get more Rays fans in Tampa Bay to go check out their pennant-contending team, but when you’re running a long con, you can’t sweat the small stuff like selling baseball tickets.

ADDENDUM: This Washington Post article doesn’t have much new information that Pransky didn’t already cover, but major props to whoever wrote its URL link.

Friday roundup: Rangers fans don’t like nice weather after all, Orlando re-renovating renovated stadium, Dan Snyder has a $180m yacht

Today is site migration day — cue the jokes about how Field of Schemes should be hosted half the time in Montreal and half the time in Tampa Bay — so if things look a bit weird after 2 pm Eastern or so, that’s to be expected. Rest assured that the site will be back to normal soon, hopefully later today but certainly entirely by Monday; or actually better than normal, because the whole point of this exercise is to have a zippier, more reliable platform so that you can get your immediate fix of stadium news without having to refresh or even wait multiple milliseconds for images to load.

And speaking of your immediate stadium fix, here’s the rest of this week’s news:

  • The Texas Rangers are building (read: mostly having the citizens of Arlington build for them) a new stadium just so they can have air-conditioning so that fans will go to games, but the Fort Worth Star-Telegram points out that the team has been winning and the weather has been nice this spring, and fans still aren’t showing up.
  • MLS commissioner Don Garber said that he “could see [Las Vegas] being on our list for future teams,” which is literally the most noncommittal thing he could say, but he still gets headlines for it, so he’s gonna keep saying it.
  • Here’s an article about how building a whole real estate development that will turn a big profit will help the Golden State Warriors make more money, if anyone wasn’t clear on that concept already.
  • The Orlando city council approved the $60 million in renovation money for Camping World Stadium (née the Citrus Bowl) that they said they would last fall. Since the stadium doesn’t even have a regular sports tenant — it is only used for the occasional soccer friendly, college football game, or concert — it’s hard to call this a subsidy to anyone in particular, but it’s still probably a pretty dumb use of money, especially since the stadium was just renovated once already in 2014.
  • There is no actual news in this Page Six item, but if you thought I was going to pass up a chance to link to an article that begins, “Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder roared up to Cannes Lions in his $180 million yacht as ad sources speculated he’s in town to find a title sponsor for the team’s new stadium,” you’re crazy.
  • Construction on the Las Vegas Raiders stadium was momentarily halted last week when it turned out one of the parts didn’t fit, which probably isn’t a big deal in the long run — in fact, the ill-fitting steel truss was adjusted and reinstalled a few days later — but that doesn’t mean we can’t make Ikea jokes.
  • The Arizona Diamondbacks owners have hired architecture firm HKS, who designed the Texas Rangers’ new park, to design a new stadium for them if they choose to build one, and you know what that’s going to mean: lots of renderings with Mitch Moreland and his wife in them.

St. Pete mayor on Rays’ Montreal timeshare plan: Nuh-uh, you won’t

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman hasn’t always been the hardest of hard-liners when it comes to stadium negotiations, coming to office in 2013 saying he was willing to talk about a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, and then handing Rays owner Stuart Sternberg a lease buyout option for a relatively modest price. (Though that worked out well when the buyout expired without Sternberg using it.) Handed a gimme yesterday, though, in the form of Sternberg’s offer/threat to build new stadiums in both Tampa Bay and Montreal and split time between them, Kriseman knocked it out of the park:

#micdrop.

There are many supremely dumb things about the Tampontreal ExpoRays gambit, but Kriseman has accurately identified the most important one: Sternberg can’t even talk about pursuing any kind of part-time move anywhere until after the 2027 season according to his lease with St. Pete, and St. Pete has zero incentive to let him. So while it doesn’t make much sense in reality, it makes even less sense as a threat. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred tried to explain it away as a plan for beyond 2027 — “They’re committed to being in Tampa Bay through 2027. This is a longer-term project for them” — but then why announce it now, unless you’re hoping Montreal will start gearing up to build a non-domed part-time stadium on spec, in the hopes that Sternberg will still want it (indeed, will still own the Rays at all) by the time 2028 rolls around and he can actually negotiate a move?

On the other hand, yesterday’s declaration got so very much press coverage that if the goal was to get people in Tampa Bay thinking about life without the Rays, at least during the summer months, then mission accomplished. If the goal was to get them to think about it without laughing and pointing, then not so much.

Rays could build new stadiums in both Tampa Bay and Montreal, because that’s totally not insane

This is totally unsourced aside from “sources familiar with the situation,” but Jeff Passan is a decent reporter, so take your grain of salt and let’s dive right in:

The Tampa Bay Rays received permission from Major League Baseball’s executive council to explore a plan in which they would play early-season home games in the Tampa Bay area and the remainder of the year in Montreal, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN…

Under the plan, the Rays would play in new stadiums in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal, according to sources. The ability to play games early in the season in Florida would preclude the need for a domed stadium, cutting the cost of a new building.

Okay, so yes, not having to build a dome would make a Montreal stadium cheaper. But it would also mean building two stadiums, which would be much, much more expensive. Also the Tampa Bay stadium would still probably need a dome because it rains in Florida all the damn time, plus they’d have to figure out how to get two separate fan groups to root for the same team, plus where would they play postseason games, plus how would they work out territorial and TV rights, I mean, really? The stadium watcher who tipped me off to this moments after it was posted prefaced it with “This may be the most cockamamie scheme I’ve ever heard, but you’re the expert,” and I think it just may be. (Note: Those who would like to endorse me on LinkedIn for my Cockamamie skills can do so here.)

If I were a betting man, I would put heavy money on this being a rumor floated by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to put Montreal on the table as a move threat — or at least a partial move threat — at a time when he’s not contractually allowed to talk to cities other than St. Petersburg about a new stadium. (I haven’t checked the Rays’ lease to see what it says about talking to MLB’s executive council about talking to other cities.) But also the Rays’ attendance situation is so dire — they cut ticket prices to $5 recently and still couldn’t get takers — that maybe Sternberg is truly considering this mad plan. It is undeniably cockamamie, but that’s never stopped baseball team owners before.

Friday roundup: New Coyotes owner could move team (or not), public cost of Panthers practice facility goes up, and fresh Austin FC vaportecture!

If you noticed this site being inaccessible a lot the last two days, hey, so did I! The good news is that a bunch of that time was spent in discussions with the good folks at Pair.com about migrating the site to a more stable hosting platform, which is currently in the works, though it may take a week or so before everything is finalized. In the meantime, if you notice occasional glitches, rest assured it’s all part of the process for bringing you a Better, Brighter Tomorrow.

Meanwhile, in the week’s stray stadium news roundup, where the tomorrows never seem to get better or brighter:

  • Billionaire real estate developer Alex Meruelo is set to purchase a majority ownership stake in the Arizona Coyotes, and The Hockey News wonders if this means the team will finally get a new arena or move to Houston, because surely the team’s previous owners never thought of those things. It’s also worth noting, as I do every time Houston gets raised as an NHL team relocation bogeyman, that while Houston is a big market, so is Phoenix, so moving the Coyotes to Texas might not immediately solve the team’s attendance woes as much as you’d think.
  • South Carolina’s $160 million public price tag for a Carolina Panthers practice facility — I know, that dollar figure and that noun phrase make me boggle every time I type it — could go up by an undetermined amount, thanks to road improvements and other stuff the state could be on the hook for. A hundred million here, a hundred million there, and you start to run into some real money.
  • New Austin F.C. stadium renderings! Bonus points for portraying players on the pitch in positions that might actually be possible in a real soccer match; demerits for trying to make the game seem exciting by having a few fans randomly raising fists, and for devoting way too much space to pictures of dining tables instead of showing what the view would look like from other parts of the stadium. (Though there is one renderings of what the game would look like from behind a dining table, which is, you will be surprised to learn, not very good.)
  • The Tampa Bay Rays can’t get people to come to games even by selling tickets for $5, which sounds bleak until you remember that bleacher seats at New York Yankees games went for $1.50 as recently as 1985, which is only $3.55 in 2019 dollars, so maybe the Rays are still charging too much?
  • Here’s an article by CBS San Francisco about the Oakland city council passing two bills in support of a new A’s stadium at Howard Terminal that is entirely sourced to a tweet by A’s president Dave Kaval. Oh, journalism.
  • And here’s an article (on some sports site I’ve never heard of) that declares it a “RUMOR” (in all caps) that MLB is exploring an expansion team in Las Vegas, cited entirely to a tweet by a Las Vegas “news and rumors” site I’ve never heard of, which really only predicts that there will be an announcement after the World Series of a “Major League Baseball plan.” You know who else has a Major League Baseball plan? Portland, Oregon. They don’t have an MLB expansion team either, and all signs are they won’t for a while, but nice to hear they’ll be getting some company in the vaporfranchise competition.

Friday roundup: Beckham proposes stadium lease, FC Cincinnati pays off evicted tenants, Florida city admits its spring training economic projections were bunk

Is anyone else hugely enjoying John Cameron Mitchell’s new semiautobiographical musical podcast “Anthem: Homunculus” but having a hard time listening because the Luminary podcast platform keeps freezing up mid-episode? Is there enough overlap in the Field of Schemes and John Cameron Mitchell fan bases that anyone here even understands this question? (If not, here’s a good primer by my old Village Voice colleague Alan Scherstuhl.) Is Luminary still offering podcasts on its pay tier without the creators’ permissions? How should one handle it when great art is only available on platforms that have some major ethical issues? Are we ever going to get to this week’s stadium news?

Let’s get to this week’s stadium news:

  • David Beckham’s Inter Miami has offered to pay $3.5 million a year in rent on Melreese Park land for 39 years, plus $25 million for other Miami park projects, as part of a stadium lease agreement. That still doesn’t sound like too bad a deal for the public to me, but as nobody seems to be linking to the lease proposal in its entirety, there could still always be some time bombs hidden in there that weren’t reported on. More news when the Miami city commission actually gets ready to vote on this proposed lease, hopefully!
  • The owners of F.C. Cincinnati have agreed to pay off the tenants they’re evicting to make way for an entrance to their new stadium, but one of the conditions of the payout is that no one can discuss how much it’s for. We do know, however, that “at one point pizza was ordered in during the eight hours of negotiations” — thank god for intrepid journalism!
  • Clearwater, Florida just cut its estimate of the economic impact of the Philadelphia Phillies‘ presence during spring training from $70 million a year to $44 million a year after realizing that it didn’t make sense to include spending by locals who would be spending their money in town anyway. Now let’s see them adjust their estimates to account for tourists who are visiting Florida already because it’s March and Florida is warm and happen to take in a ballgame while they’re there and maybe we’ll be getting somewhere.
  • Good news for Columbus: After a good year for concerts, the public-private owned Nationwide Arena turned a $1.87 million operating profit last year. The less good news: None of that was used to repay the $4.76 million in tax subsidies the arena received, because the profits were instead poured into improvements like “roof and concrete repairs, natural-gas line replacement, new spotlights, metal detectors, and renovations to corporate suites.” The maybe-good news: If this means that the arena managers won’t ask for new subsidies for renovations for a while because they’re getting enough from operations, yeah, no, I don’t really expect this will forestall that either, but here’s hoping.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred again said a bunch of things about the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays stadium situations, but as usual nobody read them to the end because it’s impossible to do so without falling asleep. I am not complaining when I note that Manfred is an incompetent grifter compared to some of his colleagues in other sports, really I’m not. (Well, a little.)
  • Speaking of the Rays, Minnesota Twins broadcaster Bert Blyleven would like to blow up Tropicana Field because a fly ball hit a speaker, but the game broadcast cut to commercial before he could spell out his financing plan to build a replacement stadium.
  • A street in Inglewood near the Los Angeles Rams‘ new stadium is seeing stores close as a result of luxury blight, but Mayor James Butts says it’s just because of gentrification unrelated to the stadium. Which either way makes it hard to see how the stadium (or the arena that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and Butts want) is needed to help the Inglewood economy, but mayors aren’t paid to think very hard about this stuff.
  • Washington, D.C., is spending $30 million to install three public turf ballfields near RFK Stadium, which sounds like a lot of money for just three turf fields, but still a better investment than some other things D.C. has spent money on, so go … kickball players? Kickball needs to be played on turf? The things you learn in this business!