You Don't Need a Fancy Ballpark to Be Competitive
The Cubs join the large group of people who think George Will's an idiot
Photo by Ron Cogswell
The Chicago Cubs are going to do some major renovations to Wrigley Field. The team's going to spend millions of dollars on attorneys to do so, because the renovations will affect the ability of the owners of the buildings across the street from Wrigley to sell access to rooftop seats. This cost is worth it to the Cubs because, they say, they need the money from playing in a modern, renovated ballpark to stay competitive.
I frankly don't care what happens with this lawsuit. I kind of think the rooftop owners are douchebags. Then again, Wrigley's an old ballpark and just because it's an old ballpark doesn't mean it's a landmark that must never be changed.
What bugs me about the deal is the notion that the Cubs need the money to be competitive. The whole thing is triggered around the idea that unless the team is playing in a renovated, money-generating palace that gives the players a better locker room, then the Cubs can't be expected to win to baseball games. Since when have the Cubs ever really worried about fielding a competitive product? And since when is a stadium with all of the modern conveniences a prime necessity for a team to win?
It's not just the Cubs advancing this argument. It's one of the stated reasons the Braves are attempting to flee downtown Atlanta for the suburban enclave of Cobb County. It's why every team in every professional sport seeks brand new taxpayer-funded stadiums -- the need to be competitive.
It's a lie. The sports media needs to stop feeding that lie. A new stadium is not needed to field a competitive product. High payrolls, and the items needed to afford high payrolls -- taxpayer funded stadiums, PSLs, higher ticket prices, huge media rights deals with regional sports networks -- are not the prime component to fielding competitive teams. Smart people, talented people, that's the prime ingredient.
The Oakland A's ballpark is such crap that the locker rooms literally fill-up with sewage when there's a heavy rain in Oakland. The team's been attempting to move down the road to San Jose for about five years, but MLB won't allow it. The stadium is old and dank. Yet the A's have still found a way to be competitive for the better part of this decade despite low payrolls, lousy attendance, an awful stadium, and low revenues.
The Tampa Bay Rays play in an awful stadium that's hard to get to. It's a dump with an ironclad lease from which the Rays can't escape. The Rays also play in the same division as the free-spending New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The Rays have low attendance, low revenue numbers, and a low payroll. Yet the Rays, too, field a competitive product.
There are books and movies about the A's and Rays and how they succeed when, supposedly, they shouldn't be able to. It's not about money. It's not about great stadiums. It's about being smart. Using statistical analysis to give you an advantage others might not see. It's about drafting smart, about stocking the farm system with talent and getting smart folks to run and manage the minors. It's then about making smart trades, of finding ways to rip off your competitors without them realizing it -- the A's Billy Beane is about the best at this that there is.
Would the A's love to have a new stadium that wouldn't flood when it sprinkles? Sure. The Rays would love to have a stadium that's easier to access and would open up new revenue streams. But they don't need the new stadiums to be competitive. Hell, Beane's rebuilt the A's multiple times. It might be easier with a new stadium, but it's not impossible.
The Cubs' problem with competitiveness has nothing to do with Wrigley Field. It's got to do with poorly thought out trades, bad free agent signings, and draft choices that haven't panned out. It comes from riding the back of Sammy Sosa for too long. A renovated ballpark will do nothing to help the team be competitive if Theo Epstein's plans fail.
Really, I don't care about what happens with Wrigley Field or with the rooftop owners. I'm just tired of people letting team's excuse their awfulness because an old stadium doesn't allow a team to compete.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.