- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
The Milwaukee Brewers drew 44,561 fans total for a three-game series with Cincinnati. Their attendance is down almost 4,000 fans from this time last year, which was down 10,000 fans from the previous season. Attendance has declined so much that the team is considering closing sections of the stadium's upper-deck.
I can't help but take grim satisfaction in this. I have nothing against the Brewers or their fans, but Bud Selig has spent the past decade telling everyone that new stadiums are the answer to every baseball problem except organ music and Pete Rose's haircut. As recently as spring training, he said that the Athletics, who have averaged 96 victories a season since 1999, need a new stadium in order to compete.
Meanwhile, barely three seasons in their new stadium, his Brewers (or, I'm sorry, his "family's'' Brewers) are now drawing fewer fans than they did in all but three of their final 14 years at old "inadequate'' County Stadium. Attendance is so low even Bob Uecker could get in the front row.
The Brewers aren't alone. In their third year at their new stadium, the Tigers are averaging fewer fans (15,336) than they did in all but one of their final 24 seasons at Tiger Stadium. In their third year at their new stadium, the Pirates are averaging fewer fans than they did in all but three of their final 13 seasons at Three Rivers Stadium.
Attendance is down throughout baseball and there are plenty of reasons for this. With the war in Iraq, interest in actually going to the stadium declined. The economy is bad. Ticket prices are still high. In a way, those are good reasons. As soon as the economy turns around, attendance should improve. In a way, those are bad reasons. There isn't much baseball can do about improving the economy, other than expanding the rosters from 25 men per team to 250,000. And there aren't nearly enough left-handed relievers out there to do that, even when you count Jesse Orosco.
The most glaring aspect of the decline is where it has occurred. Milwaukee, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Texas, even Baltimore, are all enduring tremendously reduced attendance from when their new stadiums first opened. The stadiums that would supposedly solve every economic problem are now a problem themselves.
It's not that they aren't great places to watch baseball. The vast majority are -- and they ought to be, given their cost to the taxpayers. Camden Yards and Pac Bell Park, in particular, aren't just wonderful stadiums, they are baseball treasures.
The stadiums were bad for other reasons, though. One, they rewarded too many organizations that didn't deserve it. Teams that ran themselves poorly and inefficiently didn't learn from their mistakes and change their business models. They merely hit up their communities for a new stadium and went right back to their old ways. The vast money generated at the new stadiums fooled these teams into thinking they suddenly were running their teams well when they actually were just benefiting from temporary corporate welfare.
The stadiums resulted in a huge infusion of cash, but teams that had spent their previous limited resources foolishly simply spent their financial windfall just as foolishly. (As bad and as young as the Tigers are on the field, how could the front office possibly have put itself on the hook for $56 million in salaries?).
It was like giving a panhandler a dollar. Only instead of spending the money on a cheap bottle of booze, they spent their handouts on multi-year contracts for Damion Easley.
This wouldn't be so bad -- after all, there are always going to be teams that waste their money -- except for one thing. The increased stadium revenue drove up player salaries even further, causing team expenses to swell like Mo Vaughn on All-U-Can-Eat Night. And those expenses didn't increase just when times were flush, they increased for years down the road when attendance began falling off.
When Camden Yards opened in 1992, the average major league payroll was roughly $29 million. A decade later, after a dozen retro-parks had opened, the average payroll had increased to about $67 million.
In other words, the price of being average more than doubled. That wasn't exclusively due to the new stadiums, but a lot of it was. It contributed to a vicious cycle that just got worse with every new stadium built.
The owners have been selling their stadium snake oil for a decade now and a couple teams definitely benefited from it early on (so do the people who get in early on a pyramid scheme). But the two obvious facts they always ignored have now become unavoidable: When every team has a spectacular new stadium, some teams still have losing records every season. And fans do not like paying money to see their team lose no matter how many luxury suites a stadium has.
There is only one team that can lose season after season and still regularly draw sellout crowds because of its ballpark. And the Cubs play in a stadium that was built 89 years ago.
Boxscore line of the week
Move over Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. Step aside DiMaggio and Alou brothers. There's a new family in baseball.
Last week, Kendall Burnham and her husband, Jake, became the first husband and wife teammates to play in a regular-season game in professional baseball history last week when the independent San Angelo Colts signed Kendall, an All-America in softball for Texas A&M. The two had recently married and then became teammates when the Colts gave Kendall a uniform and sent her to the plate as a pinch-hitter. She struck out, giving her this historic line:
1 AB, 0 R, 0 H, 0 RBI
Good thing Vijay Singh isn't a baseball player.
Kendall is the second woman position player in the minors, joining Kendra Hanes who was 0-for-10 in the Frontier League in 1994. Ila Borders was more successful as a pitcher during three seasons in the Northern League.
The Colts insist Kendall isn't a publicity gimmick (wink, wink). In addition to starring at A&M, she played professional fastpitch softball and has been an assistant softball coach at UNLV the past three years.
"We're on the same team and we've got a common goal. To help this team win,'' husband Jake, a third baseman for the Colts, told the San Angelo Standard Times. "If there's anyone who knows how I play, it's her, after working out with me all winter. Maybe she can give me advice.''
Lies, damn lies and statistics
There were 16 pitchers with 300 wins and 12 batters with 500 home runs when Roger Clemens made his major-league debut in 1984. He will become the 21st pitcher to join the 300-win club (Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro and Nolan Ryan joined it during his career) and there will be 20 batters with 500 home runs when Fred McGriff joins the club. ... Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Jim Moore bet Jeff Cirillo before the season that the Seattle third baseman would not bat .280 this year. If Cirillo doesn't, he will donate $20,000 to the Humane Society. If he does, Moore will rake Cirillo's lawn and pay for brunch for him and his wife at a local restaurant. A Seattle-area golf course also has offered a Cirillo special, pegging the cost of a round this Tuesday at whatever Cirillo's average is that morning. He entered the day batting .239, so a round cost $2.39. ... Barry Bonds has knocked himself in more times (11) than his teammates have (nine). ... The Cubs have almost as many 120-plus pitch games from their pitchers (five) as the entire American League (six). ... No sooner than were people beginning to worry about Ichiro, he began hitting again. Since reaching a season-low .243 at the end of April, Ichiro is batting .446 in May to raise his average to .318.
From left field
Basketball great Dave DeBusschere died last week at age 62.
The NBA Hall-of-Famer is best known for helping the Knicks to two championships, but Southside baseball fans also remember DeBusschere as a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. One of 10 major leaguers who also played pro basketball, DeBusschere pitched 36 games for the Sox in 1962 and 1963, going 3-4 with a 2.90 ERA.
Here are the 10 major leaguers who also played pro basketball, plus a couple other notable cross-trainers.
Win Blake Stein's money
This week's category is: He Was Viagra's Second Choice, Right Behind Palmeiro
Question: Who is older, Jack McKeon or Wilford Brimley?
Answer: McKeon, by four years. And if the commissioner's office has a problem with the Marlins hiring McKeon without interviewing minority candidates, maybe it shouldn't have given Jeffrey Loria the team in the first place.
Brimley, by the way, was still in his 40s when he played Pop in "The Natural.'' You could win a lot of barroom bets with that one.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
The thrill of the new park has worn out in places like Milwaukee and Detroit, where losing is commonplace.