December 21, 2005
The dreaded "nightmare scenario" of politicians fouling up the stadium lease deal at the last minute is coming to pass. A few days ago, the nice but hapless Mayor Tony Williams announced that the vote on the D.C. stadium lease terms would be delayed, and now we know why. Former mayor-for-life (and convicted felon) Marion Barry apparently thinks he's in charge of the city once again, because he was conducting his own negotiations in secret, and then blamed the real mayor when his plan fell through. He said, "there are at least seven of us on the Council who remain strong and will still block this horrible . . . agreement." I don't deny the extortionary element in the terms as they stand, but what else are you going to do when you're dealing with a monopolistic cartel? Perhaps such a high-risk game of "chicken" is the only way to get bargaining leverage in this situation. Meanwhile, chairwoman Linda Cropp has resumed her effort to have the new stadium built at the RFK site. Three council members who voted in favor of the stadium bill one year ago were replaced by stadium skeptics this past January; see the Baseball in D.C. page. MLB responded by threatening to take the matter to binding arbitration if the lease is not finalized by Dec. 31. See Washington Post.
Since Barry craves re-acceptance back into the city's power elite, and since he is not one of those who is running for reelection next year, I'm betting that he will come around after getting some token concession and play the role of wise statesman, voting "yes." New council member Kwame Brown appeared on WUSA-TV9 this evening, and made a good case that Major League Baseball should assume much of the risk of cost overruns. (Indeed, as a Post article on Saturday reported, "In all but one of the six cases [of baseball stadium cost overruns in recent years], the team was obligated to pay the extra costs." Of course, Washington's situation is unique because the team has no owner yet! Brown seems like a reasonable guy, and has softened his anti-stadium position since taking office, so he might shift from the "no" column to the "yes" column if the terms were right. Post columnist Thomas Boswell explains why some kind of deal will almost certainly be reached, because both sides would stand to lose many millions of dollars otherwise. Stupidity and stubbornness cannot be ruled out entirely, but sanity will probably prevail in the end. Based on these frightening late developments, nonetheless, I've raised the likelihood of the Nationals relocating out of Washington from five percent to ten percent.
Today's Washington Post also reports that Alfonso Soriano is still insisting on playing at second base, and making noises about looking for a job in the American League after the 2006 season is over. Since Jose Vidro's health is still questionable, however, second base may be available on Opening Day.
Holy cow! After weeks of speculation that they might grab some Red Sox free agents, or recent Red Sock Nomar Garciaparra, the Yankees announced that Johnny Damon will replace Bernie Williams in center field next year, pending a physical exam. He'll be paid $13 million per year over the four year contract, slightly more than Williams was making. Damon explained, "We know George Steinbrenner's reputation; he always wants to have the best players and I think he showed that tonight. ... He and Brian Cashman came after me hard and now I'm part of the Yankees and that great lineup. We're going to be a tough team to beat." Indeed -- as long as they can get some better starting pitchers. I wouldn't want to be around when Johnny bids farewell to his "idiot" comrades in Boston. Would this have happened if Theo Epstein were still the Boston general manager? When was the last time a player went directly from the Red Sox to the Yankees or vice versa? See MLB.com.
The L.A. Dodgers have become very active in the last two weeks, creating a new infield consisting of shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and third baseman Bill Mueller, both former Red Sox, as well as ex-Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal, who joined last week. The Phillies' veteran center fielder Kenny Lofton also signed with the Dodgers. Apparently, all this is the work of their new general manager Ned Colletti. See MLB.com. The fact that a team won the NL West Division this year with a winning percentage barely above .500 provides a wide-open opportunity for an ambitious franchise to grab a postseason slot.
The Metrodome page has been updated with a "dynamic" diagram, and a separate "truncated" diagram conforms to the new standard for use on the Side-by-side page. Based on a close inspection of some photos I've seen since I drew the previous diagram, I've expanded the depth of the upper deck, added the scoreboard, and made other minor corrections. Last April there was a tentative agreement to build a new baseball stadium for the Twins on the west edge of downtown Minneapolis, but the Minnesota legislature has put a higher priority on other projects. As a result, the Twins may still be playing in the Metrodome for ten more years, as I estimated. See MLB.com.
On each newly updated stadium page from now on, I will list the "true" power alley distances (measured from the angular midsection between the bases), as best as I can determine them, rather than the officially marked ("nominal") distances, which are shown on the diagrams. If the difference is less than ten feet, I will just go with the "nominal" distance. In some cases, such as Yankee Stadium, the markers are quite a distance from where they should be, making comparisons between the power alley distances from one stadium to the next very difficult. In other cases, such as RFK Stadium until July this year, the distance markers were wrongly placed and had to be moved to the spot at which the marked distance was correct. Another change in the "Vital Statistics" tables is that the second column heading will vary according to whether the stadium is still standing or not. "Status" refers to the physical condition as well as the psychological- aesthetic factor; this is distinguished from "Stadium prospects," which depend on the franchise's long-term plans. The Status categories are "New," "Good," "Fair," and "Bleak."
Mike Zurawski believes that the Mets are going ahead with their plans to build a new stadium, but I have come across only one news item about that since last July, so I will wait and see. In contrast, the Yankees are moving full speed ahead. Mike also informs me that Tampa Bay is spending $10 million this year to make Tropicana Field more aesthetically appealing. They hope to install a new scoreboard in the next couple years, part of an additional $10 million investment outlay. See tampatrib.com "Tear the roof off the sucker," I say!