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westofyou
02-10-2006, 11:07 PM
http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=4749

February 8, 2006
Offseason of Discontent
How St. Louis Baseball May Be Altered

by Will Leitch


For all the attempts by Bud Selig and his merry men to level the playing field between those teams which derive a large percentage of their revenue from their cable station and those which derive a large percentage from Hat Day, it’s still obvious that we’re a long way from the Royals beating the Yankees in a bidding war. It’s generally assumed that certain teams, thanks to population density and geography, will simply never be able to compete until even more rules are changed.

The four teams that come up the most often: Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Cincinnati. Because the cities these teams reside in are so much smaller than New York and Los Angeles, and because there isn’t much relative cash in television contracts and massive merchandising deals, the thought is that they can’t compete.

Let’s take a look, for a moment, at the populations of each of these cities, plus one other:

Milwaukee: 583,624
Kansas City: 444,387
St. Louis: 343,279
Tampa (Bay): 321,772
Cincinnati: 317,361

No one ever considers St. Louis a small market team, but they’re pretty much the definition of it. Allotting for the suburban sprawl that infects all our nation’s cities, the St. Louis Cardinals are in the bottom five of all of baseball in urban population … but were sixth in overall payroll last year, at $92,106,833. Why is this? If you’ve been to Busch Stadium any time over the last decade, you have the answer to that: No fans in baseball are more slavishly devoted to their team than Cardinals fans. Sure, we’re dopey, but we Cardinals fans are the reason the team is not the Royals. It’s the best example in sports of a team’s success being owed solely to their fans.

And, if the last three months are any indicator, it’s a relationship that could be in serious trouble.

It was difficult for some to understand why Cardinals fans were so openly emotional when Busch Stadium ended its nearly 30-year run via the brutal right arm of Roy Oswalt. Wasn’t Busch just another of the outdated cookie-cutters of the Riverfront/Three Rivers/Veterans Stadium multi-purpose mode? Well, it was if the last Cardinals team you remember was managed by Whitey Herzog; many improvements had been made to personalize the stadium from the inside, and, more important, the Cardinals’ entire personality (along with baseball’s) had changed since Vince Coleman was unsuccessfully dodging tarps. It was still Busch, but it had become our Busch; for people who lived too far from Chicago to visit Wrigley, it was a vacation destination.

But ownership talked of outdated locker rooms and maxing out revenue streams, the usual prattle tossed out there when there’s more money to be had in construction. As with everything else the Cardinals do, the fanbase was supportive, if confused; what was wrong with Busch again? And when the new stadium blueprints came out, it became clear the new Busch Stadium looked, well, a lot like the new Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia stadiums. It was almost a cookie-cutter, just 30 years later. This is what we’re tearing down Busch for?

But fine. If the ownership claims it needs a new stadium to continue to compete, well, hey, we’re St. Louisans; we trust people. Whatever you gotta do, ya know? This is a World Series caliber team; whatever it takes to improve it and keep it together, make it happen. Remember, this is a fan base that gives standing ovations to Rick Ankiel, rejoiced upon the signing of Scott Cooper and had special promotions involving Joe McEwing; it’s not too difficult to keep us happy. Even if you take the games off KMOX Radio--the station every Cardinals fan grew up listening to, either to Jack Buck and Harry Caray or Jack Buck and Mike Shannon--and put them on this strange all-Cardinals radio station with a weaker signal and a bunch of guys with nicknames like “Ian The Peon” and “Frank O. Pinion,” destroying a bond millions of Cardinals fans have shared for decades, we’ll put up with that too, because doggone it, we just love those Cardinals.

As close as the Cardinals came yet again last year to a championship--it has been 25 years since the Redbirds last won one--fans were eager to see how last season would be built upon, how the team would capitalize on Albert Pujols (a player the team essentially lucked into) in the prime of his career and finally snatch the ring fans had been waiting for. With a new stadium, record attendance and that fat new radio contract, there should be plenty of money to go around. Right? Right?

Suddenly, away went Larry Walker, Reggie Sanders, Mark Grudzielanek (who, along with Sanders, was signed by the … Royals?), Matt Morris, Julian Tavarez, so on. These weren’t exactly Jim Edmonds-quality guys, but it seemed strange to be doing such large-scale subtraction on a team that didn’t seem in much need of rebuilding. But we could still handle that; we lost Mike Matheny, and every male Cardinals fan secretly believes that if they had caught a break or two, they could have had Mike Matheny’s life (and they’re probably not that far off). We’re sentimental, but we’re realists.

But then came the final straw: the “reinforcements.” Notorious lollygagger Juan Encarnacion was signed. For three years. Junior Spivey is almost certain to be confused with Pokey Reese by every Cardinals fan. Braden Looper exists solely for Mets fans to make fun of us. And, the piece de resistance: the signing of Sidney Ponson to a one year deal. Never mind his tendency toward troubles with the bottle, or that 6.21 ERA; we think it’s only a matter of time before a DUI arrest in Clayton turns wrong, and he accidentally eats the breathalyzer. But hey: he has hair now.

It’s not just one thing. It’s a combination of all of it, the unwanted new stadium, the lack of respect for radio tradition, the sudden (and promise-breaking) penny-pinching. Suddenly, this doesn’t resemble the fuzzy love of Cardinal Nation; it feels like just another team. Like a business. It is a business, of course, but when you’re messing with Cardinals tradition, you’re in serious danger of killing the golden goose. If the fans turn against the franchise, the Cardinals really are just another team. And that’s disaster.

Imagine, if you will, the Cardinals getting off to a rough start this year, and combine that with disorganization at the new park; it won't be able to handle full capacity until May, and the concessions will only be partly open for the first month. Those outside the St. Louis area may open the season by struggling to get adequate radio reception. The Cardinals suddenly aren’t so cuddly; the fans finally express their impatience with Tony LaRussa not turning into Whitey Herzog.

If the fans start to turn, it could be dark days for St. Louis baseball. It could happen much sooner than you think.

Falls City Beer
02-10-2006, 11:13 PM
People have been predicting the St. Louis model's going to collapse...this year...no, no, this year. Myself included. Until they show they have no idea how to do it anymore, I gotta respect them as the best-run organization in the Central.

They might get challenged this year by other teams, but the Reds aren't going to be one of those teams for years to come.

Personally, I think the Cards will cakewalk to the Central title this year.

Johnny Footstool
02-10-2006, 11:25 PM
Let’s take a look, for a moment, at the populations of each of these cities, plus one other:

Milwaukee: 583,624
Kansas City: 444,387
St. Louis: 343,279
Tampa (Bay): 321,772
Cincinnati: 317,361

Skewed population numbers that don't include surrounding areas.

cincinnati chili
02-10-2006, 11:46 PM
Skewed population numbers that don't include surrounding areas.

Exactly. I'm surprised that the editors at Prospectus let that one go.

I know the author is trying to make a point, but the Cardinals draw from a significantly more populous area than the Brewers.

St. Louis is the 18th most populous metro area in the country (2.7 million).

Milwaukee is the 36th most populous area in the country (1.5 million), trailing the likes of metro Norfolk, Virginia and metro Providence, Rhode Island.

http://www.proximityone.com/msa03us.htm

Besides, I don't really agree with the author's larger point. Cards fans are pretty resilient, and I don't expect them to jump ship due to a bump in the road or two.

KronoRed
02-10-2006, 11:52 PM
Cards fans are pretty resilient, and I don't expect them to jump ship due to a bump in the road or two.
A further question is, where would they be going? to the Royals? HA ;)

Chip R
02-11-2006, 12:00 AM
Looks like the same tripe from the majority of fans. Boo hoo, our team doesn't have a large enough payroll. If StL fans have faith that LaRussa and Jocketty are good at what they do, they should believe that the moves that they made should be sufficient enough for them to continue to keep winning. Their big problem, as I see it, is that they are getting older at some of the key positions.

macro
02-11-2006, 12:05 AM
It was difficult for some to understand why Cardinals fans were so openly emotional when Busch Stadium ended its nearly 30-year run via the brutal right arm of Roy Oswalt.


It was almost a cookie-cutter, just 30 years later.

I guess I'm nitpicking, but doesn't the author realize that Busch Stadium opened in 1966? That would be 40 years.

westofyou
02-11-2006, 12:21 AM
Besides, I don't really agree with the author's larger point. Cards fans are pretty resilient, and I don't expect them to jump ship due to a bump in the road or two.

Will Leitch is the editor of Deadspin.com and the author of two books, including the recently released Catch.

TeamBoone
02-11-2006, 12:33 AM
No fans in baseball are more slavishly devoted to their team than Cardinals fans. Sure, we’re dopey, but we Cardinals fans are the reason the team is not the Royals. It’s the best example in sports of a team’s success being owed solely to their fans.

Hmmmm, I would have guessed the best example would be the Cubs... and I don't see that it's benefited them a whole lot.

Johnny Footstool
02-11-2006, 01:48 AM
Exactly. I'm surprised that the editors at Prospectus let that one go.

I know the author is trying to make a point, but the Cardinals draw from a significantly more populous area than the Brewers.

St. Louis is the 18th most populous metro area in the country (2.7 million).

Milwaukee is the 36th most populous area in the country (1.5 million), trailing the likes of metro Norfolk, Virginia and metro Providence, Rhode Island.

http://www.proximityone.com/msa03us.htm


How about those poor, small-market Twins with the 16th most populous metro area?

cincinnati chili
02-11-2006, 08:40 AM
How about those poor, small-market Twins with the 16th most populous metro area?

And, from what I understand, the owner was the greatest net worth of any major league owner.

MWM
02-11-2006, 10:12 AM
How about those poor, small-market Twins with the 16th most populous metro area?

Yep. It's a much more populous area than most people realize (I'll be moving there in June). But that stadium is awful. I went to two games there over the summer and hated it. It just didn't feel like a baseball game. It had no atmosphere and it was dull and drab. As much as I love baseball, the experience of going to a game in that place just isn't the same as any other ballpark I've been to.

IslandRed
02-11-2006, 11:20 AM
St. Louis may rank 18th in MSA, but there are some other factors at work:

* Of the 17 markets above it, one doesn't have a team (Riverside CA) and four have two teams.

* The San Jose MSA was split out from San Francisco-Oakland fairly recently, and with Sacramento also nearby, dividing it all two ways still results in the Giants and A's having bigger drawing areas than St. Louis.

* Baltimore ranks behind St. Louis, but the Orioles have been around so much longer than the Nationals and the cities are so close, you have to give Baltimore a slice of Washington's MSA for this purpose. Just splitting the combined Baltimore/Washington MSAs in half gives both greater population to draw from than St. Louis.

* Cleveland and Denver have also had MSA carve-outs in the last few years, making them look smaller than the overall area is.

* Tampa Bay's drawing power is greater than its MSA also, or it would be if they had the stadium in the right place. Bradenton, Lakeland, Sarasota, etc. are right next door.

If I didn't already know the history of the franchises and their fans, and was trying to predict success based solely on drawing area and population trends, I'd only consider three places to be in a clearly worse starting position than St. Louis: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Milwaukee. Cleveland, Denver and Tampa would be in the same group as St. Louis. San Diego and Minneapolis... ok, them too, they're only a little bigger and are also geographically isolated. Maybe Seattle except they have the whole Pacific-Rim thing working for them. Also, the #2 team in the smaller two-team markets (like Oakland or, at the moment, Washington) would be hanging around that group also.

KronoRed
02-11-2006, 11:29 AM
Hmmmm, I would have guessed the best example would be the Cubs... and I don't see that it's benefited them a whole lot.
Cub fans loath winning, they are only happy to lose.

westofyou
02-11-2006, 11:44 AM
Hmmmm, I would have guessed the best example would be the Cubs... and I don't see that it's benefited them a whole lot.

The Cubs leaned on those fans for years and it worked.

But the fact is the Reds fans, Cubs and Cardinal Fans all think they own or should own the Midwest


"There is a body of tradition to this ball club that holds up in bad years as well as good." Statistics place alone place the Cubs with the kings of baseball, but no amount of statistics, artfully compiled and proudly totaled up, can tell the story of the team that has a hold on the great American Midwest that will never be loosed."

Ed Burns on the Chicago Cubs in 1948.

But they got richer with cable, it was cable TV that fed the Cubs and made them bigger than the Reds and the Cardinals as far as revenue, it's what stole Indiana from the Reds and helped themn fight off the Cardinals south of the Loop.

Phil in BG
02-11-2006, 12:15 PM
The Cubs leaned on those fans for years and it worked.

But the fact is the Reds fans, Cubs and Cardinal Fans all think they own or should own the Midwest



But they got richer with cable, it was cable TV that fed the Cubs and made them bigger than the Reds and the Cardinals as far as revenue, it's what stole Indiana from the Reds and helped themn fight off the Cardinals south of the Loop.


Look what cable did for Atlanta. I personally couldn't stand the team or the announcers, but the fan base became country wide. What are Brave fans doing in Toledo, Ohio? They're probably the same people who are Cowboy and Bulls fans for that matter....maybe it wasn't cable....just picking the winners of their era.

westofyou
02-11-2006, 12:20 PM
.maybe it wasn't cableNah... the 80's gave the cable teams a head start on the media flood of the information age.

Ted Turner was the Marc Cuban of baseball.

red-in-la
02-11-2006, 01:54 PM
Think the point the author started with is that the Cards do NOT have a big TV deal....I nelieve theya re still the darlings of KMOX and have basically the same cable situation that the Reds do.

The difference is that Busch was bulit in 1968 WITH a Cards museum. It had statues and signs that made you KNOW it was the Cards stadium from the day it was built.

Riverfront had virtually nothing built into its design to tell you that theReds played there.

But the other two difference are, and I have no idea really which one led to the other (chicken or the egg?), one, the Cards are winners. They have always been dedicated to winning season after season. You never hear them referred to as "competitive."

Two, they have the best fans in baseball. Their fans are nutty passionate about their team and their baseball AND their fans are all knowledgable fanatics. The term "casual fan" just doesn't exist in the Cardinal baseball world.

Anyway, as far as size and distance and fan base, take Cincy and the Ohio river and turn it 90 degree couterclockwise and you HAVE St. Louis. The communites and the distances from downtown (and the stadium) are virtual copies of each other. From Creve Couer to Chesterfield to St. Charles, their suburbs are all almost identical the Blue Ash, Western Hills and Oakley.

The Busch family amazes me that they have NEVER cried over the Yankee payroll. They have been spending 50% more than the Reds for years and years. I think their attendance reflects this.

westofyou
02-11-2006, 02:00 PM
The Busch family amazes me that they have NEVER cried over the Yankee payroll.

They haven't owned the team in ten years. Bill DeWitt (Cincy Resident, former minority Reds owner and Stinger owner) is majority owner.


Anyway, as far as size and distance and fan base, take Cincy and the Ohio river and turn it 90 degree couterclockwise and you HAVE St. Louis.

But the one difference is that within a 5 hour drive of Cincinnati you'll hit more major cities with NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB teams. Drive any direction from St. Louis and you'll hit less major cities and fewer competing franchises. That matters when you're trying to wring most of your dollars out of attendance.

red-in-la
02-11-2006, 02:09 PM
WOY, the current look and feel of the Cards, including the now departed Busch stadium was defined by the Busch family....this is what I meant. When Free Agency started, the Cards acted from day one as if they believed it would HELP them, not destroy them. I was referring to the building of the culture of the winners the Cards are and the culture of their fanatic fans....that happened under the Busches. I guess I should have made that clearer.

If you really think the bulk of the Card 3 million a year fan base is built by those who drive 5 hours, you need to live in St. Loius like I did. Besides, Cincy has nothing like the draw of fan base like St. Louis has in Chicago (Cubs). A quite LARGE portion of the folks who live in St. Lou are actually Cub fans. So they don't bother to buy tickets for Braves/Cards games.

And do you really think there are NHL fans who wring their hands over whether or not they should go to a Cards game OR a Blues game?

The difference here, I believe, is that the Cards have always acted like and talked like a BIG market team, whereas the Reds have generally talked and acted like a whining small market team.

The clearest metaphor I can think of is the difference between the LaBeau/soP Bengals and the Marvin Lewis Bengals.

TeamBoone
02-11-2006, 03:08 PM
Look what cable did for Atlanta. I personally couldn't stand the team or the announcers, but the fan base became country wide. What are Brave fans doing in Toledo, Ohio? They're probably the same people who are Cowboy and Bulls fans for that matter....maybe it wasn't cable....just picking the winners of their era.

I'm sure cable is a contributor but there are displaced fans of local franchises all over the country; heck, all over the world.

People are upward and mobile. They move all over, especially for their jobs.

Chip R
02-11-2006, 03:43 PM
I'm sure cable is a contributor but there are displaced fans of local franchises all over the country; heck, all over the world.

People are upward and mobile. They move all over, especially for their jobs.

And that's true but it's easier to be a fan of your team where ever you are at now thanks to cable and the internet. This board is proof positive of that. We have Reds fans from Oregon to Florida and all parts in between. If it weren't for cable and the internet, some of them may not have become Reds fans. And it works the other way too. Someone growing up in Cincinnati doesn't have to be a Reds fan anymore. They can turn on cable and watch a team who hasn't had 5 straight losing seasons. They can watch a team who has won 15 division championships in a row. They can watch the Yankees or the Dodgers. They can watch the Pirates and Angels. It's about choice and access.

GAC
02-12-2006, 03:10 AM
I always felt that it would be advantageous for the region that covers southern Ohio, Kentucky, parts of Indiana, and WV, and with all the various sports teams of different ilks on both the professional and college level, to combine their forces and markets to create a subscription-supported super sports station.

I don't understand why it has never been tried, or even looked into.

KronoRed
02-12-2006, 12:02 PM
I don't understand why it has never been tried, or even looked into.
Too many egos, they wouldn't all want to share the pie with each other.