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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.

Crowd honors Jose Bautista in his last Blue Jays home game

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Jose Bautista ran onto the field on Sunday afternoon, alone, in what was likely his last hurrah as a Blue Jays player. The 36-year-old outfielder signed a one-year, $18 million contract with the club prior to the 2017 season and is not expected to get his $17 million option picked up for 2018. During Sunday’s series finale, he got a fond farewell befitting a decade-long career as one of Toronto’s most prolific hitters, drawing standing ovations every time he stepped up to the plate.

The Blue Jays came out swinging against the Yankees, building an eight-run lead on Teoscar Hernandez’s first-inning home run and a smattering of hits and productive outs from Darwin Barney, Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Kendrys Morales. Bautista supplemented the drive with his own RBI single in the fourth inning, plating Hernandez on an 0-2 fastball from reliever Bryan Mitchell.

Later in the inning, he nearly scored a second run on a Kendrys Morales two-RBI single, but was caught at the plate on the relay by Starlin Castro.

It’s an encouraging end to what has overwhelmingly been a disappointing season for the Toronto slugger. Entering Sunday’s finale, he slashed .201/.309/.365 with a franchise single-season record 161 strikeouts in 658 plate appearances, numbers that somewhat obscure the six straight All-Star nominations, four MVP bids and 54-homer campaign he once enjoyed with the team. Even a bounce-back performance in 2018 likely wouldn’t command a $17 million salary, but there’s no denying his impact on the Blue Jays’ last 10 years, from his signature bat flip to his tie-breaking home run in the 2015 ALDS.

The Blue Jays currently lead the Yankees 9-2 in the top of the sixth inning. Expect a few more standing O’s before the end of the game.

Why more baseball players don’t kneel

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Bruce Maxwell was the first baseball player to kneel for the National Anthem. There may be others who do so, but I don’t suspect many will. Indeed, I’m pretty confident that the protests we’re seeing in the NFL today, and will see more of once basketball season begins, will not become a major thing in baseball.

Some will say it’s because baseball or baseball players are more patriotic or something, but I don’t think that’s it. Yes, baseball is a lot whiter and has a lot of conservative players who would never think to protest during the National Anthem or, for that matter, protest anything at all, but I suspect there are many who saw what Colin Kaepernick and other football players have done — or who have listened to what Steph Curry and LeBron James have said — and agreed with it. Yet I do not think many, if any of them will themselves protest.

Why? I think it mostly comes down to baseball’s culture of conformity.

Almost everyone in baseball comes through a hierarchy. Even the big names. Even if you are the consensus number one pick, you do your time in the minors. Once there, conformity and humility is drilled into you. This happens both affirmatively, in the form of coaches telling you to act in a certain way and passively, by virtue of all players being in similar, humbling circumstances. Bus rides, cheap hotels, etc. In that world, even if you are ten times better and ten times richer than your teammates, you fall in with the crowd because doing otherwise would be socially disruptive.

The very socialization of a baseball player is dependent upon them learning to talk, walk and carry themselves like all those who came before. No one is given special treatment. In the rare cases they are, it’s head-turning. Bryce Harper was a more or less normal minor leaguer, but since he got their earlier by bypassing his final years of high school, he was thrown at and challenged in ways no other minor league stars are. It does not take much for a guy to be singled out for punishment or mockery and even the superstars like Harper are not on solid professional ground as long as they’re still in the minors. Indeed, between a player’s education, as it were, in the minors and their pre-free agency residency in the majors, it can be a decade or more before a unique personality or a true showman is able to shine through, and by then few are willing. They’ve been conditioned by that point.

Even budding superstars can be roundly criticized for the tiniest of perceived transgressions or the most modest displays of individuality. Think about all of the “controversies” we have about the proper way to celebrate a home run or run the bases. If that’s a cause for singling out and, potentially, benching or being traded or being given a shorter leash, imagine the guts a baseball player has to have in order to do something like take a knee during the National Anthem. A guy with multiple MVP Awards would likely be in an uncomfortable spotlight over such a thing, so imagine how brave someone like Bruce Maxwell, who has barely 100 games under his belt, has to be to have done it.

CC Sabathia, a 17-year veteran, spoke out yesterday, but I suspect he won’t kneel for the National Anthem when he lines up with his teammates before the Wild Card game next week. Other ballplayers will likely wade into the fray in the coming days. But I suspect baseball’s very nature — it’s very culture — will keep ballplayers from following in the footsteps of the many NFL players who took a knee today.