Bill James on…football?!

Now that we’re deep into the NFL playoffs, here’s Bill James in the 1988 Baseball Abstract, complaining about the integrated major league/minor league system in baseball:

Another of the ugly features of the current system is the abuse by club owners of their monopolistic position in negotiations with cities. Although major-league baseball has a relatively good record on this point in the last fifteen years, a good example of what can happen is what has happened to the football St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals, who may be the Phoenix Assholes or something by the time you read this, are owned by an oversized wart named Bidwell. The Cardinals have a perfectly good stadium, Busch Stadium, a major-league facility in every way; nonetheless, Mr. Bidwell is not satisfied. He wants a new stadium, all his own, and he wants the city of St. Louis to tax its $18,000-a-year citizens to build it for him, and if he can’t have that at the very least he feels he is entitled to have several hundred luxury boxes constructed for him at taxpayer expense so he can sell them to rich people for $150 a game. In effect, Bidwell is telling the people of St. Louis that if they don’t give him millions of dollars he will deprive them of their status as a major-league football city — while Phoenix stands by, anxious to give him millions of dollars to acquire that status. It’s an appalling situation, the most blatant abuse of monopolistic power.

The good news is that St. Louis got rid of the Cardinals, who are the worst team in the history of professional football (even though they’ve been around forever, you can’t call them a “storied franchise,” because they have no stories). However, St. Louis ended up deciding they couldn’t live without an NFL team, so a $280-million domed stadium was built for the Los Angeles Rams, who wanted out of Anaheim. Following their move to the Phoenix area, the Cardinals have been in temporary residence at Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium for over a decade and a half. I’ve been to both, and can report that Sun Devil Stadium is not as nice a facility as Busch Stadium. But now, finally, the Cardinals are getting a $371 million stadium of their own for the 2006 season (and $267 million of that is coming from public funding). The luxury boxes, I’m sure, will sell for many times more than $150 a game.

At any rate, in the process of all this, both Busch Stadium and Anaheim Stadium became baseball-only facilities, and got renovations befitting that status.