Miami and Denver are considered the favorites, Sports Illustrated says, but the magazine rates Miami and Tampa Bay 1-2 in its own rankings of the baseball expansion contenders. "The clear leaders down the stretch are Miami, Denver and Tampa-St. Pete, in that order," staff writer Tim Kurkjian writes in the June 10 issue. "Orlando and Washington are six runs behind in the bottom of the ninth; Buffalo trails by 10."
The story doesn't explain how that order was reached. But in an accompanying chart, Miami has 26 points, Tampa Bay 25 and Denver 22 in a breakdown of five categories _ population, television market, ownership, stadium and location (one point is worst; six is best) _ with points added or subtracted for each candidate's greatest asset and drawback.
Miami gets six points apiece for ownership (Blockbuster chairman H. Wayne Huizenga) and stadium (Joe Robbie Stadium, half-owned by Huizenga), five points apiece for population and location, and four for the TV market. Three are added for Huizenga's wealth and connections; three are deducted for "hot and rainy weather."
Tampa Bay gets five points apiece for TV market, ownership and stadium (the Florida Suncoast Dome), four for population and three for location. Being "baseball-hungry" and having 22,000 season-ticket requests is worth four more points, and one is taken away because the stadium is domed.
Denver's location is worth six points; ownership, four. Population, TV market and stadium (planned) are worth three points apiece. It gains five for being an "unclaimed territory (with a) huge cable TV potential" and loses two because of its "far-flung population base."
Except for Washington's population and TV market, Buffalo's stadium and Orlando's location, the three remaining candidates come in on the bottom half of the scale in all categories (Washington, 16 points; Orlando, 9; Buffalo, 7).
The story mentions the relationship between Huizenga and baseball _ Pirates owner Douglas Danforth is chairman of the expansion committee; Pirates president Carl Barger is on Blockbuster's board of directors and a 20-year friend of Huizenga; Barger's law firm has done work for Blockbuster; Blockbuster is the exclusive retailer of Major League Baseball Home Video _ and suggests the links are anything but negative for Miami.
Despite Florida's propensity for summer rains, the Dome isn't necessarily a plus, the story says, because, "In recent years, major-league baseball _ not to mention fans and players _ has stressed a preference for open-air ballparks with grass fields."
But the story quotes St. Petersburg assistant city manager Rick Dodge as saying: "Floridians love air-conditioning more than they love their wives. The state didn't start to develop until air-conditioning came along," and points out that only 28,000 people attended a mid-day rally for Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf at open-air Tampa Stadium.
If Tampa Bay doesn't land an expansion team for the Dome, the story adds, the Seattle Mariners "or some other discontented franchise" might move in. "Though (baseball commissioner Fay) Vincent frowns on the idea of franchise moves," Kurkjian writes, "he also says he would not prevent one if economics dictated a relocation."