Tuesday, April 13, 2010

No Roof For Rubes

They say that a story is only as good as its sources. Which means that a piece in today's WSJ on Target Field by Mark Yost called If They Build It You Will Pay should be journalistic gold:

For the past six months, I've had a friendly online debate with some blogger friends in Minnesota: Would the Twins get snowed out when they opened their new outdoor stadium?

Actually a good part of our debate consisted of Mark speculating how funny it would be to see Twins fans in parkas when it was forty-five degrees on opening day and us explaining to him that when it's forty-five in the spring, Minnesotans wear shorts. On to the impeccable sources:

"The question is would the Twins have paid Mauer $184 million if the taxpayers hadn't paid for the stadium?" asks King Banaian, chairman of the St. Cloud State University economics department and a candidate for the Minnesota Statehouse. "I don't think they would have."

Prof. Banaian is absolutely right. Target Field cost $545 million, according to the Twins. The Hennepin County taxpayers are on the hook for $350 million of it. Since money is fungible, it's fair to argue that the taxpayers are paying Mr. Mauer.

So not only are us hard working taxpayers in Hennepin County paying for the stadium that Twins fans from across the metro area, state, and region get to enjoy, we're also the ones responsible for ensuring that Joe Mauer remains a Twin? The least you non-Hennepin County free riders could do is buy us a beer or two. Preferably at a Hennepin County watering hole of course.

Then there's the issue of a roof. While the Metrodome was a horrible place to watch baseball, it would have been wise to put a retractable roof on Target Field, as the Milwaukee Brewers did at Miller Park. A dome allows smaller-market teams to draw from a larger geographic area. That's because a family in, say, Fargo, N.D., is more confident buying tickets to a Twins game four hours away when a dome guarantees it won't be rained out.

"As a taxpayer, I don't want to pay for a roof so a family from Fargo can be guaranteed to see a game," said Chad Doughty, a lifelong Twins fan who blogs at Fraters Libertas.

There was local pressure to get the team itself to pay for a roof. It would have cost the team $200 million, a rounding error compared with the Pohlads' estimated net worth of $3.6 billion. Instead, they opted for heat lamps on the concourses.

If there's anything worse as a Hennepin County resident and baseball fan than being forced to pay for a stadium that Twins fans everywhere benefit from, it's hearing this silly bellyaching about how we should have also ponied up for a retractable roof so that people who come from out of town can be assured that they see a game. Guess what? There are no guarantees in baseball or life. You want to come down to "the Cities" to see a Twins game? Fine. But no one here's going to guarantee you that the game won't be rained out (although rainouts at the old Met were rather infrequent so the odds are in your favor). Make alternative plans. Go to a museum. See a play. Get your hair cut. Gawk at the tall buildings. Better yet, go to the Mall of America and buy a bunch of stuff to help us pay for the stadium. Just quit yer whining.

In the interests of accuracy, I should also point out that my actual quote about the roof was: "As a taxpayer, I don't want to pay for a roof so that some rube from Fargo can be guaranteed to see a game." Obviously, Mark though that changing this to "a family" would better serve to portray me as some sort of outside the mainstream, wide-eyed, anti-tax extremist (why do you hate families from Fargo, Chad?). Mission accomplished.

And like all good journalists, Mark knows how to close it out:

So if the false economics of stadiums are so well known, why do city councils and county boards continue to finance them? And why aren't taxpayers more outraged?

I think Jim Styczinski, a lifelong Twins fan who blogs as "Sisyphus" at The Nihilist in Golf Pants, gave me the answer. "Fundamentally, I was against the stadium," he said as we shared a beer after the game. "But I'm glad I lost this argument."

This is disturbing on two levels. Firstly, as someone who does not live in Hennepin County, the price that Sisyphus will have to pay for losing the argument is minimal. Secondly (and most importantly), for contributing a quote to Mark's piece and being portrayed as a voice of reason in the debate, Sisyphus received liquid remuneration courtesy of a WSJ expense account. Me? I got nuthin' for being presented as the cold-hearted bastage who wants to leave North Dakota children out in the rain. Who says no one is outraged?

SISYPHUS ADDS: I don't know what the Elder is complaining about. He received a free 2010 Twins Media Guide courtesy of the Wall Street Journal. We were even sure to give him the guide that happened to absorb some of the spilled liquid remuneration he missed out on. More than someone who hates families from Fargo probably deserves.

Anyway, thanks to Chad and the Nihilist in Golf Pants for paying Atomizer to build me a nice ballpark.

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