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Camden Yards did not pay for itself, no matter what the papers say

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We’ve talked for years about how bad a deal publicly-funded stadiums are for taxpayers most of the time.

They are often sold as necessary in order to keep sports teams in town, but in most cases the teams weren’t going anyplace. They are promised to be engines of economic growth for cities, but they hardly ever are. Indeed, according to study after study, they rarely, if ever, even pay for themselves. And that’s before you figure what the tax dollars put toward stadiums might have done if put toward other uses. Or what the economy might’ve looked like if the taxes were not leveled in the first place.

Yet, the myth that publicly-funded stadiums are both necessary and economically beneficial continues. Why? In large part because local media outlets lie about the costs and benefits of these places.

The indispensable Neil deMause of the Field of Schemes blog finds a wonderful example of this in Baltimore today. There the Baltimore Sun writes a story about the local stadium authority which funded Camden Yards. The story’s headline touts the notion that the Orioles’ payments to the authority have exceeded the costs paid by the public to build and operate the stadium.

Except, as deMause makes clear it’s not true. Not at all. Not by any rational economic measure. And the story itself even admits that, more or less, further down the page.

Not that most people will read further down the page. For the most part, people scan headlines, believe them and move on. Most readers of the Baltimore Sun who noticed that article likely put down the paper this morning believing, hey, Camden Yards was a good deal. It paid for itself! Except it didn’t. As most ballparks don’t. Despite the best efforts of team owners, politicians and, in many cases, the local media’s efforts to fool you into believing otherwise.

Camden Yards is a great ballpark. And it cannot be questioned that it has served as the anchor for the Inner Harbor and its revitalization for pushing 25 years now. But there is no evidence that some other sort of public investment — or private investment — in the Harbor would not have accomplished the same goal. And there is no logical way that what has happened with the ballpark can be spun as some miracle of private enterprise or cost-free public investment. One can characterize it as a public works project, if one chooses. Like, say, an interstate highway or something.

The only difference: no one ever tries to make the case that an interstate highway pays for itself. Probably because interstate highways aren’t built in such a way that they enrich people like Peter Angelos and the Orioles to the amazing degree Camden Yards has. A fact which, it seems, the Baltimore Sun wants to obscure.

How Yu Darvish tipped his pitches during the World Series

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You hear a lot about pitchers tipping pitches. It’s often offered up post-facto as an excuse for poor performance by the pitcher himself or his own team. It’s sort of like the “best shape of my life” thing being offered in the offseason to talk about why the player got injured or played badly the previous year. “Smitty’s stuff is still great, he was just tipping his pitches,” said a source close to the player whose stuff is not really great anymore.

Which isn’t to say that pitchers don’t tip pitches. Of course they do. Opposing teams look for it, pick up on it and take advantage of it whenever they can. It’s just that (a) the opposing team has an interest in not talking about it, lest the pitcher STOP tipping its pitches; and (b) the guy actually tipping his pitches doesn’t want to talk specifically about it lest he starts doing it again.

Which is what makes this article at Sports Illustrated so interesting. In it Tom Verducci talks to an anonymous Houston Astros player who explains how Dodgers starter Yu Darvish was tipping his pitches during the World Series, leading to him getting absolutely shellacked in Games 3 and 7. The upshot: the Astros knew when a slider or a cutter was coming, they waited for it and they teed off.

Darvish is a free agent now. I’m guessing, whoever signs him, knows exactly what they’ll gave him work on the first day of spring training.