Sending signals to MLB: Montreal deserves a Major League Baseball team

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Last month I wrote “Target: Sell-Out – 2014 was a party, it’s for real in 2015”.  The post stressed the importance of selling out the upcoming Spring Training baseball games to be held at Olympic Stadium on April 3 and 4.  Well ladies and gentlemen, we did it!  As of this writing, one cannot purchase two consecutive seats for either game.  There are singles sparsely located throughout the seating chart.  You can try it yourself by going to the evenko site.

From this point forward, no one can say that last year was a fluke.  This year, Major League Baseball will be shining a bright on Montreal.  Rest assured that people involved in eventually granting Montreal another franchise will be in attendance.  I am looking to one key signal: if Rob Manfred, the new MLB Commissioner is in attendance, it’s done.  One way or another a team is coming here.  Will it be the Rays or an expansion franchise?  In the nearer term, I will continue to be of the opinion that the Rays are moving to Montreal.

Speaking of signs, the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg have sent a sign or two of their own:

1) In December of 2014, the St. Petersburg city council voted against adopting the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which would have allowed the Rays to explore for stadium sites outside their county.  In turn, the Rays stood firm on the provisions of the MoU.  Politicians and journalists called for a cooling of period.  Cool all you want, the damage has been done.

2) The Rays offloaded players and salaries reminiscent of the San Juan Expos.  Sternberg clearly signalled restraint to his baseball operations staff.  After all is said and done with arbitration eligible players, the Rays will be under last year’s $77M salary base.  Look for further decline in attendance.

3) Silence may also be a signal.  Not a single business person with major wealth has said that baseball in either Tampa or St. Pete is viable.

Back in Montreal, we are ready.  Mayor Denis Coderre sent a signal about a major overhaul of baseball infrastructure in Montreal.  The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, essentially Quebecers’ pension fund, may become an investor in the construction of a baseball stadium, at least this is how I interpret the agreement.  This was a brilliant move in the name of Montreal economic development.  This had to be done while there was a Liberal majority in place.  The Parti Québecois would never enact such an agreement favoring Montreal.

So the stage is set.  We have two sell-outs for the Blue Jays vs Reds exhibition games.  With newly elected Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez hopefully in attendance, it will be insane atmosphere.  There will likely also be some timely announcements demonstrating progress in our journey for the return of major league baseball.

Play Ball!

Copyright © 2015 BaseballPoutine.com. All Rights Reserved.

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It’s time to usher in steroid-era players into the Hall of Fame

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For many years I was tormented with the issue of whether the players who put up huge numbers during the steroid era of this beautiful game are worthy of entering into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  It felt like this was an appropriate time to talk about it as the baseball writers are filling in their ballots for the 2015 Class.

During the summer of 1998, it was exciting to follow Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire approach and ultimately surpass Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs in a season.  By season’s end, Sosa ended up hitting 66 and McGwire 70.  McGwire’s 69th and 70th home runs that season had a Montreal connection as they were hit off the Expos at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

In those days we were naïve about performance enhancing drugs so many of us followed it intently.  It was an exciting time for baseball.  Maris’ home run record had held for 37 years.  This was a big deal.  How long could this record last?  Another generation?  Well, not exactly.  A mere three years later, in 2001, Barry Bonds hit 73 HRs in just 476 ABs and had an OPS of 1.379.  These were video game numbers.  Something was not right.  Allegations of steroids were rampant and Bonds was steadfast in his denials.

In March of 2006, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams published “Game of Shadows“.  The genie was out of the bottle.  This was an end of the innocence of sorts for baseball fans as this seminal book blew the doors wide open and exposed the game of its darkest moment since the Black Sox scandal of 1919.

On May 28, 2006, Bonds hit home run number 715, passing Hank Aaron as the all-time Home Run King.  I remember watching Aaron’s pre-recorded message congratulating Bonds.  At that moment, I was touched by Aaron’s dignity and grace but at the same time I felt like I needed to take a shower.  Bonds’ record was dirty, in my mind.

Years have passed and after all, baseball is a game of statistics and few of us can argue that many of the numbers from the steroid-era are impressive.  The Hall of Fame is for players that have achieved results on the field and not about their piety.  There are players in the Hall of Fame from the dead ball era, the racist era, the amphetamines era, and now the time has come for the steroid era.  That said, I am happy that the game has taken huge steps with the extensive drug testing.

We should know the results early in 2015.  In my heart of hearts, I really hope Tim Raines gets in.  Raines was arguably the National League’s best lead-off hitter in the modern era.  Time is running out as the wave of players from Barry Bonds’ era approaches eligibility.  Bonds will likely be inducted in 2015 and this will signal the end of the baseball writers’ “time out” for PED-era players, guilty or alleged.

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If we follow this line of reasoning, players like Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez and others should get in eventually, with Clemens perhaps as early as 2015.  Manny’s case may be more problematic.  There was mostly a hate-hate relationship between Manny Ramirez and the media.  The baseball writers who are privileged to cast a Hall of Fame ballot are an interesting lot.  Individually, many are accomplished journalists with awards piled up to the sky.  As a collectivity, by the results of some years’ Hall of Fame election results, they appear to be a cast of clowns, avoiding logic and playing favorites.

Copyright © 2014 BaseballPoutine.com. All Rights Reserved.

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Will the 2016 season be the last for the Rays in St. Petersburg?

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I was expecting the time leading up to the Christmas Holidays to be quiet in regards to the fate of the Tampa Bay Rays and the ever more plausible scenario that the Rays will eventually be sold and relocated to Montreal.  A St. Petersburg city council vote to allow the Rays to explore sites outside of the county was expected to be favorable.  This would have started a three-year journey for the Rays to look at alternate sites to build a stadium across the bridge in Tampa.  This was not the case and a political dust up ensued.  There was a call for a cooling off period.  In my opinion, there is no need for cooling off nor a three year analysis for sites in Tampa.  I talk about this in another post.  The damage has been done over the course of the last six years.  Consider the Rays gone.

I am not alone with this opinion.  Accomplished journalists like Bill Madden state it very directly:

“With no prospects for a new stadium, the Rays are doomed and might as well trade Ben Zobrist, a free agent after next year, and even Evan Longoria. Nobody will care. Here’s an educated prediction: Owner Stu Sternberg sells the team and, in three years, the Rays are playing in Montreal.”

A bold statement indeed.  Recall that Madden first broke the story about Sternberg meeting with Wall Street associates about moving the Rays to Montreal.  I am convinced that many other journalists that are not from the bay area agree but are staying silent.  The Rays are purging payroll and like Madden, I would not be surprised if either of Longoria, Loney, or Zobrist are traded away before long.  This is exactly what happened from 1999 – 2003 when the writing was on the wall in Montreal and we ended up losing our team to Washington.

After that fateful vote, many in the Tampa / St. Pete media stated that there is still plenty of time, 2027 is a long way down the road.  The Rays can never get out of the Use Agreement.  Besides, Montreal has neither an ownership group nor a stadium, they said.  Well Montreal does have an ownership group lined up.  One of the potential owners, Bell Media, is flush with cash and will instantly broaden the team’s reach from 2 million people in the bay area to 30 million across Canada.

What about a stadium?  Last Friday during a radio broadcast, the mayor or Montreal, Denis Coderre dropped some subtle hints about baseball and baseball stadium(s).  First, he wants to improve the baseball infrastructure in Montreal, spruce up the parks, better fields, better draining, etc.  Building from the ground up, he called this.  Coderre also wants to be the host of high level baseball, and “…non! pas de Can-Am”, he states emphatically, referring to the Can-Am Independent Baseball League.  Certainly, Coderre wants to see the World Baseball Classic in 2017 in Montreal and more professional baseball beyond that.

There is also this pesky issue about fixing the roof at Olympic Stadium.  The price tag for this is about $400M.  The Mayor talked about the possibility of going roofless, avoid the expenses for repair and maintenance.  He also has 2026 FIFA Soccer in his sights.  So the question remains: Fix the roof or put the $400M towards a baseball stadium?  Coderre, a deft politician, skated away from a response.  During the interview all other questions were answered unequivocally.  Not the stadium question.  Something is simmering and we await for some sort of an announcement.

I have been following the situation in St. Petersburg intently.  Why did so few citizens speak at City Council on December 18?  One report had it at only eight people!  I have read some of the citizens’ comments about the stadium saga and they are giving Sternberg much more credit about his business savvy than the media chooses to report.  Citizens know that the writing is on the wall.  On Shadow of the Stadium, one of the best written blogs anywhere, a commenter wrote:

“… why would a businessman continue putting up with this and continue trying what hasnt worked in the past? they are not staying at the Trop until 2027, thats for sure.”

Copyright © 2014 BaseballPoutine.com. All Rights Reserved.

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St. Pete City Council No Vote merely condenses the timeline for the Rays’ inevitable end game

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St. Petersburg City Council has spoken. They have rejected the Tampa Bay Rays offer as stated in the Memorandum of Understanding that was negotiated.  The Rays will not be permitted to look for a stadium outside of St. Petersburg.  Based on what I was reading, a positive response from City Council was achievable.  The turning point was that no matter if the Rays stay in St. Pete or not, they would have had a 50/50 share in the redevelopment profits of the Trop site.  The Rays, not surprisingly, held on to this key negotiating lever, and voila!  A deal-breaker!

There was obviously backlash from the media, blaming the city council members.  This is a totally normal reaction from passionate baseball fans.  I get it.  I believe that time will show that no matter what the outcome of the vote, the Rays are leaving the bay area.  I have stated my reasoning in other posts.  If the vote would have been yes, the Rays would have looked for a “pitch perfect” site in Tampa, and guess what?  Three years would have passed and they would not have found a suitable location for a stadium, which would bring them back to where they started: St. Petersburg.  Three years later, a so-so TV deal, dwindling attendance, and let’s not forget the increasing talk of expansion.

A “NO” vote speeds up the timeline for the inevitable end game: sale and/or relocation the franchise.  Am I certain that it will be in Montreal? No.  The time and place for this to happen will be dictated by cold hard dollars.  There is nothing romantic or nostalgic about what will happen in 2015 and beyond.  We can yell and scream all we want here in Montreal about how MLB-worthy we are.  The fate of the Rays from Opening Day 2015 until whenever, will be predicated by the prevailing business case.

If it is more profitable for Sternberg to keep the Rays in St. Pete, play to an empty Trop and bring in some revenue sharing dollars, that’s what will happen.  Should there be a business case to sell the team, realize hundreds of millions of dollars in profit from the proceeds of the team’s sale and then see what happens in the courts with the so-called iron-clad Use Agreement, that’s what Sternberg will opt for.  It would not be far-fetched for Sternberg to continue to officially call St. Pete the Rays’ home and play their home games in another city, perhaps los Rays de Habana. Here in Montreal, we certainly know that this is a possibility.

There is much to be salvaged by the City of St. Petersburg.

First is to get maximum dollars from the Rays and agree to mutually terminate the Use Agreement.  There is no sense talking about economic benefit, that’s all fiction.  It’s really about filling up the city coffers, so get it done fast and with as much cash as you can.

Second, is to demolish the Trop and concentrate on urban renewal.  St. Pete seems to have a dynamic mayor to make this happen.

Lastly, bid the Rays adieu.  The writing is on the wall: the 2015 Tampa Bay Rays are looking more like the 2003 Omar Minaya Expos than a team with solid plans to stay. They don’t want to be there and they have no fan support.

It’s always better to extract a cavity now than deal with root canal later on.

Copyright © 2014 BaseballPoutine.com. All Rights Reserved.

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Do you agree with Colin Cowherd? (Major League) Baseball will never be successful in the bay area.

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I admire Colin Cowherd.  He is one of the few journalists who will have the courage to state a position while many of his peers stay silent, even if they agree.  Cowherd has the rare gift of stating something complex in a simple, folksy kind of way.  On a recent broadcast he said (of building a new bay area stadium), “That’s like having another baby to save the marriage. It doesn’t work.” (Source).

In the many years that I have been listening to Cowherd, he rarely has been incorrect in his analysis of any situation.  I will even go as far as saying that Major League Baseball will never achieve a sustained success in the state of Florida.  My opinion is based on more than twenty years’ worth of attendance data and as I have stated in a previous post, MLB attendance in Florida is perennially in the bottom five.

Journalists, politicians, and pundits are all convinced that with a new stadium, Major League Baseball will thrive in the bay area.  I have yet to see a business person share this enthusiasm.  Please point me in the direction of any business person raving about spending probably half of $700M to build a stadium so that a team goes from last in attendance at the Trop to last in attendance in a shiny new bay area ballpark.

Assuming that Mr. Cowherd and I are correct and Sternberg agrees, the Rays are doomed to move.  What will become of the so-called lease at the Trop? Um, I mean the Use Agreement.  There are legal opinions which state that compensation could be in excess of $200M.  There is also a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will be up for St. Petersburg city council vote on December 18, putting the liability in the $20M range, allowing the Rays to explore a new stadium site in the Tampa area.  By all accounts, the MOU should be adopted.  If the city councillors adopt the MOU vote, Sternberg will jump for joy as he now knows St. Pete’s BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement).  Simply put, this means that $20M compensation is the best that the city is hoping to get, anything above $20M is gravy.  This BATNA will come in handy in the very likely event that this goes to the courts when the Rays leave before their lease expires.

Many people are congratulating the mayor for putting the MOU in place.  I congratulate Sternberg for the stroke of business genius.

Copyright © 2014 BaseballPoutine.com. All Rights Reserved.

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Target: Sell-Out – 2014 was a party, it’s for real in 2015

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Click on banner above to buy tickets

Last month, evenko.ca and the Toronto Blue Jays announced the return of two Grapefruit League games at Olympic Stadium to be held on April 3 and 4, 2015.  This time the Blue Jays will host Joey Votto and the Cincinnati Reds.  It will also be a homecoming for Russell Martin who just signed a long-term contract with the Jays.

Those of us who attended last year’s games were taken on a nostalgic tour of some wonderful moments in Expos history.  Friday’s game honored Gary Carter.  There were many teary-eyed spectators among the 46,000+ in attendance.  On Saturday, it was time to celebrate the 1994 Expos, who had the best record in baseball until the strike ended the season and sent us on a downward spiral until we lost Nos Amours.  Even though it was a cold dreary Saturday in March, I had not heard thunderous ovations that loud in the Stadium since the 1979 season.

In the press conference announcing the 2015 games, Paul Beeston spoke of receiving calls asking if it was true that there were 50,000 fans at the game.  No one could believe it.  “Just look on YouTube”, Beeston quipped.  Tweets joked that Walla Walla, WA could get 97,000 fans for two games.  We know better.  We know that baseball is part of this city’s fabric and that 2014 was no fluke.  Cynics have said that we had a team and lost it, so why is this anything more than a trip down memory lane?  Again, we know better: we were abandoned by a carpet bagger.

2015 is going to be for real and as Warren Cromartie likes to say, “The world will be watching.” Anything less than last year’s total attendance will light up the Twitterverse with all sorts of nonsense.  Let’s avoid that.  Sales for the two games appear to be going well.  That’s not good enough. Next April, it will be time to show Major League Baseball that Montreal means business.  If you have not already purchased your tickets, I urge you to make the effort.  Click on the banner at the top of this post and for a mere $22 you will get a great seat.  Rest assured that you will have a great time.  Ask those who were at the games last year.

What will happen after the games in April?  I have no clue.  We all know that things are moving fast in Tampa and there is much happening in the background here in Montreal.  I can tell you that if the games sell out, Major League Baseball will be on notice.  If a city decides that it no longer wants their baseball team, we will be ready.  If MLB is looking to expand, we will be ready.

Copyright © 2014 BaseballPoutine.com. All Rights Reserved.

Read also: Lots of Tampa / Montreal baseball news ahead in 2015

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Bière froide! – A look at beer prices in Major League parks

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This past summer I attended a game a Fenway Park.  Visiting this pantheon of baseball is always a special trip.  After a full day of Boston sightseeing in the blazing sunshine, I was looking forward to watching a ballgame and sipping a cold beer.  After a five minute wait in the beer line, it was my turn: $7.75 for a smallish cup of cold draft beer. Ouch!

This got to me think of why does it cost so much to buy a beer at a sporting event?  I am presenting a brief unscientific look at this question.  I have failed to see any rationale or correlation as to why we get hosed when we buy a simple glass of beer at a ballpark.

Here are the 2014 beer prices across all cities (source).

2014 MLB Beer Prices
Team Price Serving Size (oz.) Price / oz. Attendance Capacity   Team Price Serving Size (oz.) Price / oz. Attendance Capacity
Marlins $8.00 16 $0.50 57.1% Mariners $6.00 12 $0.50 53.2%
Phillies $7.75 21 $0.37 68.6% Yankees $6.00 12 $0.50 85.7%
Red Sox $7.75 12 $0.65 98.5% Brewers $6.00 16 $0.38 82.4%
Twins $7.50 20 $0.38 70.3% Rockies $6.00 16 $0.38 65.5%
Cubs $7.50 16 $0.47 78.6% Mets $5.75 12 $0.48 64.3%
Braves $7.25 16 $0.45 58.4% Pirates $5.50 16 $0.34 78.6%
Giants $7.00 14 $0.50 99.4% Reds $5.50 12 $0.46 72.3%
Blue Jays $6.82 14 $0.49 59.5% Rangers $5.00 16 $0.31 68.3%
Cardinals $6.75 12 $0.56 99.2% Rays $5.00 12 $0.42 52.4%
Dodgers $6.75 20 $0.34 83.4% Padres $5.00 14 $0.36 63.5%
Orioles $6.75 16 $0.42 67.8% Athletics $5.00 12 $0.42 71.4%
Nationals $6.50 16 $0.41 76.7% Astros $5.00 14 $0.36 52.8%
Royals $6.50 16 $0.41 63.7% Tigers $5.00 12 $0.42 87.3%
White Sox $6.50 16 $0.41 51.5% Angels $4.50 16 $0.28 84.2%
AVG $6.09 14.8 $0.41 Indians $4.00 12 $0.33 42.4%
D’Backs $4.00 14 $0.29 54.0%

At 65 cents per ounce, Fenway’s beer was indeed the most expensive in the Majors, and more than 50% higher than the League average.  When I took the Boston example and mapped it against total attendance, the price kind of made sense from a purely capitalistic standpoint.  All Red Sox games are virtual sell-outs and they have you captive.  The same logic would hold true for the Giants and Cardinals, whose beer prices are above average and that their games are almost always sell-outs.

Conversely, the Diamondbacks and Indians have the lowest beer prices and are among the bottom in attendance as a percentage of their total seating capacity.  This also made sense from the perspective of attempting to attract more fans to their games.  I have been to an Indians home game and it’s a great place to watch baseball.  It is astonishing that their games are so sparsely attended, taking into account the quality of their team, the venue, and the affordable prices for concessions.

My simplistic theory falls apart when I looked at the Los Angeles Angels.  Over 3,000,000 people crossed the turnstiles to watch the Angels play in Anaheim in 2014.  Drawing on the captive audience theory, one would expect high beer prices.  Au contraire. At 28 cents per ounce, the Angels had the lowest beet prices in the Major Leagues.  The Angels also had a payroll of $154M, which makes the low price of beer even more puzzling.  Let’s just say that their owner, Mr. Moreno, is a class act.

Finally, let’s look at the Miami Marlins.  First, their citizens get bamboozled into financing a ballpark.  Secondly, they are being gouged at the concessions – $8.00 for a beer!  Their $45M payroll in 2014 and their below average attendance does not merit such a high price.  You can buy 30 12oz cans of Bud Light for $21.09 in Miami.  That works out to 5.8 cents per ounce.  This is simply arrogance, greed and the usual “I don’t give a damn” attitude that is pervasive with this organization.

When we get a team back in Montreal, I anticipate that the beer prices would be above the league average.  The theory is based on my belief that Montrealers are price inelastic when it comes to beer consumption.

I will also likely see another game at Fenway and will have a few beers in the sunshine – I would be captive, after all.

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