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Wins and stadium votes don't go hand in hand

And so we gather to mourn the streak. Nice ride, wasn't it?

On the other hand, were you really ready for all of those "What the Heck, Let's Build the Darn Stadium'' signs that were about to be scattered across the lawns of your neighborhood?

Another series sweep by the Rays, by golly, and the fans would have demanded to vote now. Wouldn't they? Another six straight wins, and they would have thrown in a parking garage. Maybe two. Another 10 in a row, and fans might have rushed to Al Lang with their own saws and hammers, like the great barn-raising scene in the movie Witness.

Then again, perhaps they wouldn't have.

We are still in the early stages of the Great Stadium Debates. No one has raised a voice or called a name or gnashed a tooth. So far, it seems there are some people who oppose the stadium in any circumstance, some who support it at any cost, and a great many of us in the middle who need to hear more before we decide. Nothing wrong with any of that. It is, one supposes, why they put such things on the ballot.

Along the way, however, there also are those who are eager to connect their decision to the baseball standings. Time and again, you hear it. This person will vote for the stadium if the team wins 80 games. That person will vote for it if the team finishes out of the cellar. And so on.

The truth of it, however, is that stadium votes rarely have anything to do with the won-loss record, nor should they. After all, the standings change every day, but a new stadium should stand for a generation. Think of it like this: If new stadiums were built to reward success, wouldn't George Steinbrenner be surrounded by them?

Remember when the voters approved Raymond James Stadium? It was 48 hours after the Bucs had been clobbered 34-3 by the Packers and everyone in town knew the team was on its way to its 14th straight losing season. It was only after the vote that things changed for the Bucs.

Remember the haggle for the hockey arena now known as the St. Pete Times Forum? Funding was approved in 1995, after the team won 70 games in its first three seasons … combined. Again, the success came later.

Around the country, new stadiums come to bad teams fairly often, like the meek inheriting the earth, only in this case, the meek are very, very rich men.

Take the strange case of the Florida Marlins. After the Marlins went 91-71 and won a World Series in 2003, they couldn't get anyone to listen as they talked about a new stadium in Miami. It didn't matter where the team threatened to move. Yet, after last year's 71-91 record, funding was approved.

Consider the woebegone Arizona Cardinals, for instance. Given the history of the franchise, it's hard to believe anyone would vote for a new stadium in Phoenix. But in the middle of a 3-13 season in 2000, the team's 11th losing season in the past 12 years, voters found a reason for one. Yes, they may have been buzzing about Aeneas Williams' 104-yard fumble return 48 hours earlier that highlighted a 16-15 victory over Washington, but it's doubtful. Regardless, it was the Cards' last victory of the season.

Then there are the Pirates, thoroughly hapless even by Rays' standards. In July of '98, as the team was in its sixth straight losing season (the Pirates are now on their way to their 16th), they received a new park.

And so it goes: Safeco Field was approved (one month after voters rejected the idea) even though the Mariners had three winning seasons in 19 years. The Phillies got their new stadium in 2000, the season in which they won 65 games. The Tigers got theirs after winning 113 games in the previous two seasons. The Lions, who are 1-9 in the playoffs during the Super Bowl era, managed to get a new building.

On the other hand, ask the 49ers how difficult it is to get a stadium. Ask the Yankees. Ask the Cowboys.

Let's face it: Approving a new stadium is never a comfortable notion for the taxpayers, who tend to hit owners with whatever is available. In the case of the Rays, it's the record. It's easy for a voter to decide that an owner who wins most of the time doesn't need his help, and an owner who loses too much doesn't deserve it.

When it comes to this owner, and this town, it is fair to wonder if the Rays' recent success has helped the efforts in securing a new stadium. Probably not much.

On the other hand, it didn't hurt. For the Rays, for any team trying to move to a new house, good will is as important as good games. A team wants to be treasured. That does last longer than the standings.

Again, none of this should be taken as an endorsement, or as opposition, to a new stadium. Given the economy, I still haven't decided how I'm going to vote.

I do know this, though: Whether the Rays win 77 games this year or 78 won't matter.

Wins and stadium votes don't go hand in hand 04/30/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 2, 2008 1:57pm]

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