Publicly-Funded Stadiums, Part One

by Alan J. Claffie

Feb. 9 2006 - I'm as apolitical as one can get. I vote, so I'm not like I'm not interested in the goings-on in the world, especially being a half-hour's drive from Our Nation's Capital. But when you get into the nuts and bolts of decision making deep in the catacombs filled with our elected officials, the minutia and undertones of every decision are tedious at best.

But I see politicians making short-sighted decisions that showcase misplaced priorities and questionable motives.

The 800 pound gorilla that is Major League Baseball (do I have to put one of those copyright or trademark thingies next to their name? Cause I don't know how to do that.) strong-armed the District of Columbia to commit to hundreds of million dollars, getting it to pay for the biggest portion of a new baseball stadium.

Cause that's what DC was lacking most. Its schools are great, its infrastructure sound, and its streets safe. Never mind that the city already has a baseball park that might not be the showplace that a lot of the parks unveiled in the last ten years are, but it was good enough to host the Nationals in 2005.

I'm as big a baseball fan as any. I bleed Red Sox blue (if that's a correct statement) and catch as many Nationals games as possible on TV - this bringing up more stupidity on the part of bazillionaires that we're not going to get into here. I thought the return of baseball to DC was great, speaking from the perspective of someone who doesn't live or pay taxes there. Which is a good thing, cause if I did live and pay taxes to DC I'd be pretty ticked at where my tax dollars were going.

A city's responsible to provide certain stuff to/for its residents. Garbage collection, schools, streets, traffic lights, stuff like that. It's a lot of work making the limited tax dollars coming in cover all those things.

Bazillionaires have toys. Airplanes, car collections, corporations, professional sports teams. At some point, though, bazillionaires decided that their bazillions of dollars were better kept in their pockets and instead of forking out their own ample wealth for theaters for their vastly overpaid athletes, they blackmail big cities into providing such a place for them to increase their riches.

Blackmail's a pretty strong word, but it's truth. Repeatedly city governments' feet are held to the fire by bazillionaires demanding new stadiums or they'll pack up and move. Some have, leading to the occasional bizarre team name like "Utah Jazz".

Here's the thing with DC, though. The city doesn't need baseball. The Senators left in the early '70s and the place didn't fall completely apart. Well, maybe it did, but it wasn't because the team left.

DC could have set a fantastic example by not kowtowing to the MLB monolith and told them to spend their money to make their money. If baseball was such a cash cow that franchises were being traded for half a billion dollars, four potential buyers are jockeying to be the next owner of the Nationals, what do they need the city for?

And if MLB is going to be such a demanding outfit as the Nationals try to find a home, what does the city need MLB for?

I'm just glad it's not my money MLB wants the city to spend. I feel bad for those whose money it is, especially those who are sending their kids to underperforming schools in unsafe buses over unsafe roads.

But I digress.

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