I write this column with little joy. Major League Spring Training in Pima County is dead.
I spent my first 10 years in Boston. Third grade was wonderful. I once watched my brother strike out guys like Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky and the great Ted Williams in a pre-season Braves vs. Red Sox series. For years, I ate baseball. After moving to California, I helped found the Bilko Boys to root for guys like Steve Bilko and Gene Mauch with the old AAA L.A. Angels.
Unfortunately, something happened to both baseball and the country.
One harbinger was the skybox. It divided stadiums into a class structure worthy of study by today's neo-Marxists. At Braves Field when I was a kid, the family section was some seats behind home plate with arm rests. In the sun — Dad and I used to move into shade by first base.
Just how bad it has morphed was illustrated by a Master Card ad a few years back. A guy at a baseball game totals up the tickets, the hot dogs, the programs and — he's out of cash. Not to worry, they take plastic.
When my old man took me to Fenway Park he somehow paid admission, bought programs, hot dogs, peanuts and drinks and didn't need a bank loan. We also watched real players. We didn't have to worry if Kiner or Mize finally broke the Babe's home run record, they did so courtesy of chemical enhancement. We never wondered if Spahn and Sain would have asterisks after their names.
What finally did it for many was the players strike of the early '90s. Yes, the owners had too much power, just like the guys who owned the coal mines before them, some of whom were the same people. And union leadership proved once again that they were just as stupid and greedy as the people they struck against, forgetting that what they really did was strike against us.
Owners made up for it with a great scam called "get the rubes to pay for our stadiums or else they go elsewhere." They've generated a host of phony stats to scare mostly bush league pols into concerns about all that lost revenue even spring training supposedly brings. Real numbers say otherwise. Sports subsidization is a loser for cities engaging in it, from the Olympics and Super Bowls down. It's great for the guys with hotels athletes stay in, nearby restaurants, and in-house vendors. After that it bites.
The Pima County Sports Authority consists of many well-meaning folks wanting to keep spring training here. They successfully lobbied the GOP legislative majority to abandon no new tax pledges to give voters here a convoluted batch of sales taxes on hotels, restaurants, and rental cars for the November 2010 ballot to be used for stadium construction. The voters will reject it overwhelmingly, as they just did in Casa Grande this May by three to one. It will have trouble even in Marana where the new stadium is proposed.
When I rent a car at Chicago's Midway Airport, they hit me for close to 20 percent. Note that Daley does not share with Reinsdorf, and the White Sox are still there. If there's easy tax money to collect from visitors who rent cars and use hotels, perhaps it should be used for roads or cops.
President Obama's indirect mentor, the late Saul Alinsky, had at least one universal political principle. He divided folks into two groups — hustlers and marks. He advised we should all decide early on which one we want to be.
That's the decision we'll make in November 2010. Anybody wanna bet?
Hear Emil Franzi and Tom Danehy Saturdays 1-4 p.m. on KVOI 1030AM.