Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.
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Major League Baseball in Las Vegas is one big bluff


Yesterday Rob Manfred said that he would not rule out Major League Baseball moving to or expanding to Las Vegas. This was news as it has long been thought that baseball would be wary of Vegas because of the sport’s history with gambling. Manfred, to his credit, was realistic about all of that, noting that casinos are all over the place now. He could’ve also noted that casinos advertise with teams and that MLB, via its partnership with daily fantasy companies, is basically in the gambling business itself.

But even if the sport is getting over its hangups with gambling, I am still skeptical that baseball will seriously consider moving to Las Vegas. Not because of gambling, but because of economics. Because it is too small overall, its demographics are uniquely challenging, and its dominant industry — indeed, the industry which gives the city its very reason for existing as we know it — would be the sport’s main competitor and possible adversary in litigation or legislative initiatives.

Las Vegas is glitzy and glamorous, but it’s not big. Indeed it’s only the 40th largest media market in the country, coming in behind such allegedly-not-ready-for-big-league cities like Columbus, Raleigh-Durham, Greenville-Spartansburg, Sacramento, Orlando, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Hartford, Salt Lake City, West Palm Beach, San Antonio and Austin. We have written here many times that Major League Baseball needs to break its dependence on local TV money deals as they’re currently constructed in order to grow in the future, but it’s still the biggest source of revenue for teams. Expanding into the 40th largest TV market when there are multiple bigger markets without teams seems unrealistic.

Then there’s the notion of filling the stadium. While the local population base is not quite as big as other places, backers of sports in Las Vegas like to point to how many tourists are in town at any moment. They’re absolutely right about that, but it’s no gimmie whatsoever that they’ll want to spend three hours a night in a ballpark as opposed to on a casino floor, a fancy dinner or at a show. A lot of Vegas backers say that the casinos will buy luxury suites and give tickets to high rollers, but the companies which own the casinos have even less of an interest in their guests leaving their property to go to a ballpark in the evening than the would-be fans themselves do. Unlike boxing or even football, baseball is not a “destination” sport. People will not, in any serious numbers, travel to Las Vegas for the express purpose of watching baseball games. Attendance depends on local season ticket holders who go to games on Tuesday nights and Sunday afternoons, not tourists who come in on Friday and Saturday night.

Heck, even if a casino company becomes a partner with Major League Baseball in either a team or a stadium deal which, in theory, will funnel tourists onto a ballpark concourse, the other casino companies would likely oppose it. We’re seeing that right now with football, as the Oakland Raiders are trying to strike a deal with the Sands company to help them build a domed stadium. MGM, a competitor, is opposed to the idea and has threatened legal or legislative action to block it. Does Major League Baseball want that kind of hassle? It’s hard to imagine it does.

In the past when this topic came up I cited Las Vegas’ local economic challenges. The city was hit harder by the Great Recession than just about any other place in the nation. That was many years ago, however — in 2010 and 2011 — when foreclosures were still at record highs and jobs were being lost, not added. Thankfully Vegas and Nevada are seeing a big economic rebound, so that’s less of a concern than it was when we last talked about all of this. Still, so much of that growth and so much of Las Vegas’ existing employment base is centered in entertainment and hospitality industries. Those are a lot of people who go to work in the evening, when baseball games are being played, as opposed to going to office jobs during the daytime and looking for something to do at night.

Given all of these challenges I can’t help but wonder why Rob Manfred would throw a bone to Las Vegas as a potential major league city, especially when there are others like Montreal, Charlotte and perhaps Austin-San Antonio which are better options. And when I wonder about all of that, I can’t help but think of Major League Baseball’s history of pitting cities against one another, both current big league cities and would-be relocation and expansion sites, in order to get lucrative incentives or free stadiums for its owners. It used Washington like that for decades. It’s starting to play footsie with Montreal in the same way. Now Las Vegas.

Put more bluntly, when it comes to baseball in Las Vegas, Manfred is bluffing. For which, given the city in question, I’ll give him points for style, but a bluff is still a bluff.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Padres 10, Orioles 7: The O’s had a 6-3 lead heading into the seventh, thanks in part to two two-run homers from Pedro Alvarez. Then whatever chrono-synclastic infundibulum which has caused the Padres to be a potent offense team lately intersected with Camden Yards and out came their bats. San Diego rallied for four runs in the seventh and another three in the ninth to win their third game in a row and to score five or more runs for the sixth straight game.

Indians 6, Rays 0: Corey Kluber tossed a three-hit shutout and struck out nine. He had a one-hitter going into the ninth. Juan Uribe homered for the fourth straight game since coming back after getting hit in the beans with a ground ball while he wasn’t wearing a cup. It’s like a superhero origin story or something.

Giants 15, Pirates 4: The Giants scored seven runs in the fourth thanks in part to an Angel Pagan grand slam and put up another five in the eighth for the hell of it. The night before the Pirates beat the Giants 1-0, but here the bats came out. Why such different outcomes, Angel Pagan?

“Whatever happened last night, this is just another game,” Pagan said. “Obviously we were trying to win a ballgame (Monday), but we didn’t. Today we just came with a brand new opportunity to go out there and try to put together the best at-bats possible.”

I’d be curious to see a study of what players say about momentum carrying over when things are good — which they say a lot — vs. this “hey, the next day is a new day” kind of thing when stuff goes bad. I guess more broadly I’d like to read stuff about the psychological state of athletes and the ways in which they motivate themselves/psych themselves out and things like that. I imagine it requires a pretty complex handling of reality and mood and everything else in order to get yourself up for competition 162 games a year and to deal with as much failure as baseball brings.

Diamondbacks 4, Blue Jays 2: Five in a row for Arizona. They scored four runs on only three hits. Here’s to makin’ things count.

White Sox 3, Red Sox 1: Chris Sale allowed one run over seven innings and fanned nine to pick up his 12th win. Clay Buchholz returned to Boston’s rotation and, just one day before, his GM said he had to prove on Tuesday night that he can be effective. He gave up a homer on his first pitch of the game. Don’t tell Clay what to do, man. He marches to the beat of his own drummer.

Rockies 8, Yankees 4: Charlie Blackmon lead off with a homer and hit another later. Nolan Arenado hit his league-leading 21st homer, got three hits and drove in three runs. He leads the NL in those two categories of the Triple Crown race. He’s hitting “only” .295, but that’s pretty spiffy all the same. The Yankees have lost six of nine.

Tigers 4, Mariners 2: Seattle had a 2-0 lead in the top of the sixth thanks to a Kyle Seager homer but the Tigers chipped away with one in the sixth, one in the seventh and two in the eighth. The Mariners have homered in 14 straight games, but they are 5-9 in those games. It’s a shame that they’re killing rallies like that.

Mets 2, Royals 1: Bartolo Colon lasted only four pitches before getting hit with a comebacker and being forced out of the game. Five Mets relievers came in to allow only one run on seven hits in eight and two-thirds innings of work, however. Twin solo shots from Asdrubal Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes were enough to carry the day. Colon’s X-rays were negative, so he was merely bruised, not broken.

Braves 3, Marlins 2: Atlanta couldn’t do jack against Jose Fernandez, who tossed seven shutout one-hit innings. David Phelps came in for the eighth, however, and gave up a two-run homer to Jace Peterson to deprive Fernandez of his W and to force extra innings. Peterson played the hero once again by singling in Chase d'Arnaud in the 10th for the win. The Braves have won six straight. In this span they have not only passed Minnesota to no longer be the worst team in baseball, but they have made up a lot of ground on Philly and are now “only” five games behind them for fourth place in the NL East. It ain’t much, obviously, but in a year that started off like this one, the battle for not-last-place is something to root for at least.

Cardinals 4, Cubs 3: Attack of the Matts. Carpenter and Holliday each homered in the Cards’ three-run third inning. Adam Wainwright scattered six hits and three runs while pitching into the seventh. The Cards will likely only be playing for a Wild Card this year, not the division, but beating the guys who are more than 10 games up on you at the moment in their home park probably feels good.

Reds 8, Rangers 2: The Reds came out swinging against Colby Lewis, plating three in the first and three in the fifth against the Rangers starter. Jay Bruce hit a three-run homer. Zack Cozart homered and drove in two with a triple. The Reds ended the Rangers seven-game winning streak and Lewis’ personal six-game winning streak.

Twins 14, Phillies 10: Viva football scores in games between two terrible teams. Kurt Suzuki went 4-for-5 with six RBI. Aaron Nola got hammered. He has allowed 20 runs over his last nine and two-thirds innings over three starts. That’s not good. Maikel Franco drove in four runs in a winning effort in a losing cause.

Astros 3, Angels 2: I guess 3-2 is technically a football score too. If it ever happened in real life it was probably a boring as hell game. In baseball, however, it can be exciting and great. Like it was here, as the Angels held a 2-1 lead entering the bottom of the ninth before Huston Street came in, loaded up the bases without recording an out and then gave up a two-run walkoff single to Carlos Correa. I haven’t looked yet, but between the location of this game, the identity of the winning team and the name of the pitcher who blew the lead, I will be shocked if we don’t have at least three examples of “Houston/Huston we have a problem” in this morning’s papers.

Athletics 5, Brewers 3: Oakland turned in a three-run seventh inning to break a 2-2 tie. Marcus Semien hit a two-run triple off Michael Blazek that inning. He had a three-hit, three RBI game in total.

Dodgers 3, Nationals 2: There were a whole lot of late rallies to bring teams from behind last night. They were all smallish rallies in terms of the total number of runs and the size of the deficits, but those are fun little rallies all the same. The last of the night came here as Yasmani Grandal hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning to bring the Dodgers back after being down 2-0. The Dodgers have won five striaght games and seven of eight.

Zack Wheeler has a setback in his Tommy John recovery

Associated Press

Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. And while last year he was trade bait at the deadline, this year the Mets have had no interest in dangling him. Indeed, they are ready for him to join the rotation in the second half of the season which, it has been reported, will be a six-man situation in order to keep everyone fresh.

Except now it appears that it may take Wheeler a bit longer to return. Anthony DiComo of reports that Wheeler has experienced some elbow discomfort in his Tommy John rehab. He won’t be throwing a simulated inning as scheduled this week.

What that means for his timetable is unsure, but it certainly isn’t welcome news.