In today’s edition, they’re overzealous about chapter one.
Albert: So today, we take on chapter one, in which the author discusses… some very business-y, government-related, big-picture earth-shattering franchise stuff. As a baseball fan, I know that the Marlins and Rockies were 1993 expansion teams and that the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays were 1998 expansion teams. However, I was either (a) much too young to remember the expansion era (as in the first case, 1993), or (b) much too young to understand anything about that era (as in the second case, 1998). So it’s nice for Jonah to take me on his time-machine portal thingamabob back to those years when several cities were lusting after MLB teams.
The whole St. Petersburg lobbying and dying for a baseball team reminds me, just a very, very, very little bit, of reading about the secret meetings Brooklyn Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley had with Los Angeles representatives. Carson, as a (much) older man than me, how were those expansion years in the 90’s for you as a baseball fan? Was it exhilarating and thrilling? As in, history-in-the-making thrilling?
Cistulli: While, as you kindly note, I’m a very old person, I was actually only — what? — 13 when the Marlins and Rockies were introduced to the league. And though, as you might imagine, I was very mature for my age and possessed no little affection for the men’s fashion best described as “business casual,” my thoughts on the matter weren’t particularly nuanced, basically amounting to:
1. They’re just allowed to make new teams? Who knew!
2. Those are dumb colors for baseball teams.
I suppose the lasting effect is that regarding the league’s four newest teams — Florida, Colorado, Arizona, and Tampa Bay — I have the vaguest notion that they lack some sort of aged gravitas. My guess is that people, say, 10 or 15 years older than me might feel the same way about the Mariners, Blue Jays, and — it goes without saying — the Barangay Ginebra Kings.
You, of course, being only five years old today wouldn’t necessarily feel that way. Do those four teams seem just as much a part of league as the other 26?
Albert: I am a part of the generation of fans who knows very little of two/three/four-team pennant races and of the great heresy committed by Bud Selig when he introduced interleague play. (Tangent: My very first game was a 1997 interleague game between the Braves and Yankees post-1996 World Series at the old Yankee Stadium. I think I recall Ryan Klesko striking out. Or hitting a stand-up double.)
I am also, for no other reason than that my parents’ decided to birth me at the UCLA Medical Center, a suffering Dodgers fan, and thus have been deeply invested in the history of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies.
The current divisional breakdown as we now know it has been a constant since the expansion teams arrived, save for one team moving from one nation to another and changing names. So pretty much, at this point, I would like to say that I firmly believe that I have no prejudices against any team and whether a team should belong in the league as we now know it.
Still, that hadn’t stopped me from wondering, in the early 2000s, why the Devil Rays existed: Was Tampa Bay a town of masochists? Or did the Lords of Baseball introduce this “team” for the pleasure of the rest of baseball and SportsNation(TM)?
Cistulli: The actual answer for the Rays’ existence appears in some form in chapter one and isn’t limited to, but certainly includes, the following:
1. St. Petersburg had a stadium already built and a potential ownership group in place.
2. In 1992, after being passed over for expansion, the Rays’ ownership group actually bought the San Francisco Giants for $111 — a move that was blocked by other MLB owners.
3. The same ownership group, mostly spearheaded by the efforts of Vince Naimoli, filed lawsuits against Major League Baseball — lawsuits which, had they gone to court, would’ve compelled the court to ask for MLB’s financials, something that commissioner Selig et al. were interested in avoiding.
Before that lawsuit, Tampa Bay actually seems to’ve been — as Los Angeles currently is for the NFL — seems to’ve been most valuable to Major League Baseball because it was a readymade market without a team. Owners in the 26 or whatever other markets could extort money from their respective local govenments by threatening to move to St. Petersburg — something the White Sox, most notably, did in 1988.
By the way, I didn’t know most of this stuff. So, credit to Mr. Keri for that.
Albert: It was tres fascinating to read about all of this big picture franchise-moving stuff and at a relatively recent era. I recently read The Lords of the Realm by John Helyar (highly rec’d as well) and its elaboration on labor relations and how/what the owners thought. Reading chapter one of The Extra 2% gave me the same “this is epic” feeling.
Regarding Tampa Bay and St. Pete being “major league ready” for a team for so many years before actually getting one, particularly with Jerry Reinsdorf’s threats to move the Southside Chicago club and Tampa reps in attempting to lure the fish in, I realized I had a knowingly wrong conception of franchise movement. It’s not like the Devil Rays just showed up and had to plan city-moving plans and bills and etc. within a couple of months, but the city, officials, and ownership group had been prepping for a team’s potential arrival or birth for several years, and necessarily so. It seemed to me that Tampa Bay was much more MLB-ready than your typical candidate city.
Cistulli: Whether that’s the case for every city attempting to lure a franchise, I don’t know. Mr. Maury Brown has probably written at length on this topic, but my guess is that few metro areas have gone to the same lengths as Tampa Bay did in trying to attract an MLB team. Portland, for example, never built an MLB-ready stadium on spec — which, that’s what Tampa did with what is now called The Trop.
As Jonah notes, the very dogged Vincent Naimoli was finally able to force MLB’s hand. As we’ll learn in chapter two, that was basically the last time his skill set was relevant to the franchise.
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