Folks are talking up Portland as a major league city again

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Back about 10-15 years ago Major League Baseball loved to talk up Portland, Oregon as a relocation/expansion site. Indeed, after Washington, D.C. it was the second most-mentioned city that could — and maybe should — have a major league team.

There was a lot of work done by baseball backers in the city but, ultimately, it wasn’t in the cards. Local opposition to a publicly-funded ballpark was just too great. A few years later Portland even lost its Triple-A team when the owner of its ballpark saw a more lucrative use of the building: soccer.

But now, according to this report by Tracy Ringolsby, there is baseball fever in Portland again. And maybe even a plan:

Portland’s backers of baseball have the blueprint for a state-of-the-art baseball-only stadium, which would have a retractable roof and seat 35,000. They have community support, including that of the current city administration. A site, endorsed by mayor Charlie Hales, has been chosen, next to Memorial Coliseum and the new Rose Garden, home of the NBA’s Trailblazers . . . All the folks in Portland need is a team.

A blueprint is nice, but so is funding, and there are no details of that yet. And while there is talk of the possibility of a major corporate owner of a would-be Portland team, there is a lack of a willing seller or re-locator of a major league team. People talk about the A’s, but they’re not for sale and have not come off the idea of moving to San Jose or building a new park in Oakland. The Rays have a tough lease. Everyone else is pretty much in place for the long haul.

Also: it’s one thing for there to be community support and support of the city government when it’s all hypothetical like it is now. That draws people who are profoundly interested and desirous of baseball in the city. Once plans go further, however, in will wade the people who oppose such a thing, either because of the inevitable costs to taxpayers — even a totally private development would require some public help, even if it’s just utilities, infrastructure or property tax abatements and the like — or because some people just like to oppose big stuff like this. Sometimes the opposition is silly NIMBY stuff. Sometimes it’s serious stuff related to people’s vision of what they want their city to be like and whether professional sports fit that vision.

It would be cool for a team to play in Portland. But I say that as someone who doesn’t live in Portland and who doesn’t have to wrestle with the issues a ballpark and all of the attendant hoopla inevitably creates. It sounds to me that, however promising things look now, not everyone in Portland is wrestling with that yet themselves. Wake me up when the wrestling begins.

Must-Click Link: Sherri Nichols, Sabermetic Pioneer

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If you are old enough and lame enough as I am, you may have lurked around on sabermetic message boards in the 1990s. If you did, you may have heard of Sherri Nichols, who back in the day, was a significant contributor to the advancement of statistical analysis, particularly defensive analysis.

While it’s probably better that not everyone is as old and nerdy as me, the downside of it is that most people haven’t heard of Nichols and know nothing about her contributions. That changes today with Ben Lindbergh’s excellent analysis of Nichols and her work over at The Ringer, which I recommend that you all read.

The short version: Nichols is the one who planted the seed about on-base percentage being valuable in the mind of Baseball Prospectus Founder Gary Huckabay, back in the late 80s. She’s also the one most responsible for the rise of zone-based defensive metrics in the 1990s, such as Defensive Average, which she created and which served as the basis for other such metrics going forward. She also played a critical role in the development of RetroSheet, which collected almost all extant box score and play-by-play information going back to the turn of the 20th century, thereby making so much of the information available at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs possible. A key contribution there: making the information free and available to everyone, rather than closing the underlying data off as proprietary and either charging for access or keeping it in-house like some recent data collectors have chosen to do. Ahem.

A larger takeaway than all of Nichols’ contributions is just how loathe the baseball community was to listen to a woman back then. I mean, yeah, they’re still loathe to listen to women now, as indicated by the small number of women who hold jobs in baseball operations departments, but back then it was even worse, as evidenced by Lindbergh’s stories and Nichols’ anecdotes.

A great read and a great history lesson.