MLB in Portland?

These people who want to bring major league baseball to Portland should be cut off from their Prozac. Nobody ever floated a leakier boat while trying desperately to patch up the holes.

I’d love to see the likes of Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez gamboling across the Portland diamond. But get realistic. You wouldn’t be seeing them here, except for an occasional brief pass-through. Go for major league baseball now and you’re going to acquire a team of stumblebums now known as the Oakland A’s or the Montreal Expos.

If San Diego, Pittsburgh and Oakland can’t support major league baseball, what makes us believe Portland can? Here we encounter the “Field of Dreams” illusion, “build it and they will come.”

A lot of people want to bask in the reflected glory of bringing major league baseball to Portland. Vera Katz wants to go down in history as the mayor who brought it.

In the late ’90s, Katz formed a task force that concluded that without a suitable stadium, an owner or an apparent fan base, Portland did not have big league baseball in its future. The group concluded, as related in The Oregonian, that “Civic Stadium is not and cannot be made adequate for major league baseball.”

The MLB enthusiasts have an answer. Build a new stadium just north of Northeast Broadway and the Rose Garden complex and hope to attract state funds for stadium construction. A bill to do just that passed the State House by the thinnest of margins last week and now moves on to the Senate for amendments and potential action, where, it is hoped, more rational heads will prevail.

There are already plenty of squawks about the Rose Garden situation. In effect, the Trail Blazers created a wasteland over in the Northeast area. Willamette Week revealed another damaging blow to Katz’ credibility in its issue of May 2. A city-funded consultant said Katz wanted him to “go light on the negative” concerning the impact of a potential ball park in the Rose Garden area.

Meanwhile at the state legislature the voodoo economics group has been holding full sway. Under an original plan, the state would pay $150 million of the estimated $360 million in construction costs, using bonds paid off with state gambling revenues.

When that seemed uncertain to fly, proponents came up with an ingenious variation. Rather than paying off with lottery bonds, the state would pay part of its share with “lease bonds.” These would set aside money from the ballplayers’ income taxes and apply them on money borrowed to build the stadium. This idea has all the charm of perpetual motion. Like scooping water from an unknown well and hoping to fill up an equally unknown dry hole.

A lobbyist for the major league effort, Craig Campbell, stated, “Essentially what happens is, the baseball stadium ends up costing you nothing.” Can thinking people actually swallow this?

Proponents keep talking about Portland facing a narrow window of opportunity to acquire a major league team. This is sheer smoke-blowing. The heads of major league baseball have been warning for years that small market teams will not survive unless the big market teams are willing to divvy up the spoils.

It’s not happening and it’s not going to happen. Any number of small market teams are ready and eager to jump to the roost of a different pigeon such as Portland. We would be doomed to be just another barely-surviving small market team.

Opponents of committing $150 million of state money to a stadium rightly object that the state has much more pressing needs, such as better rural infrastructure. We keep hearing about the crises in schools, in highways, in just keeping the wheels turning. To pretend that putting a major league baseball team in Portland is going to do anything but intensify all those financial problems is sheer absurdity.

If a new stadium is to be built, private enterprise should pay for it. And how likely is that?