World Series Subplot: Homeless Teams

Spats over stadiums underlie games. New York mayor mulls new $1.3 billion facility.

First the Dodgers left Brooklyn's Ebbetts Field when they couldn't get a new stadium. Now, as legendary Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said, "Its dj vu all over again."

As the New York Yankees and the San Diego Padres get set to kick off the World Series tomorrow, both teams are grumbling over their stadiums.

The Yankees, who play in the "House That Ruth Built," want luxury boxes, a better neighborhood, no traffic jams, and improved parking. San Diego residents will get a chance to vote Nov. 3 on a referendum to replace their 1960s-era Qualcomm stadium with a new $411 million facility that has all the latest 1990s electronic amenities.

It's the Yankees, however, that have created the most furor - after all, Yankee Stadium has a long historical relationship with the national pastime. It's where Babe Ruth belted all those home runs, Joe DiMaggio set a new standard for baseball excellence with his 56-game hitting streak, and those Bronx Bombers, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, put fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers.

But now the Yankees' principal owner, George Steinbrenner - a man known around town simply as "The Boss" - is unhappy. He wants to draw 3 million fans a year to Yankee games - a feat almost accomplished this year when the club set an American League record for wins. But Mr. Steinbrenner thinks attendance is lagging because stockbrokers don't want to ride the subway to the gritty working-class neighborhood that surrounds the stadium. After the season ends, he may make a decision as to where his team will play after its lease expires at the end of 2002.

Professional teams demanding new stadiums is a recurring issue. According to Fitch-IPCA, a rating agency, about 30 of the 113 pro sports teams are looking for new facilities. Since 1987, slightly more than 30 new stadiums have been built at a cost of $5 billion.

To keep the Yankees from jumping to New Jersey, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani - an avid Yankee fan - is considering building a covered stadium on Manhattan's West Side that could cost $1.3 billion. The issue has even entered the realm of politics with one of the gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Peter Vallone, trying to get a referendum on where the Yanks will play.

The referendum question is now tied up in the courts where an appeals court heard arguments yesterday. In an initial decision, the lower court judge called Yankee Stadium a "tabernacle of sport" and ruled that the city has to let the voters decide before building a new stadium.

Baseball only, please

On the other coast, the Padres are unhappy with Qualcomm Stadium (a.k.a. "The Big Q"), which was originally built for both football and baseball. The stadium was expanded to accommodate the Super Bowl in 1998, but today, stadium owners want single-use fields such as Camden Yards in Baltimore or Jacobs Field in Cleveland.

With a new stadium, team owners imagine the city - a popular tourist and convention destination - getting the All Star Game and a crack at World Cup Baseball, a potential international event dreamed up by Major League Baseball. "Doing well in the post season could not hurt the chances of passing the referendum," says Dan Champeau, director of public finance at Fitch-IPCA in San Francisco. The Padres have not been in a World Series since 1984.

What unhappy team owners want are new stadiums with sky boxes that rent for $75,000 to $125,000 and other premium seating. With 100 to 110 boxes in a stadium, mostly rented to corporations, teams have a steady revenue stream they can rely on. In Phoenix at the Bank One baseball stadium, the car company Infiniti has purchased "naming rights" to the luxury-suite level. What that means is executives view Infiniti models as they walk to their suites.

In fact, Paul Anderson, assistant director of the National Sports Law Institute of Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, says the new standard for baseball stadiums is the Diamondback facility. The bleachers come equipped with picnic tables and a swimming pool that rents out to corporations for $3,500 per game. "The pool's sold out every game," says Mr. Anderson.

The Diamondbacks' stadium includes concourses filled with stores and restaurants. "You feel like you are going to a mall at the same time," says Anderson, who visited the park before it opened.

Similarly, the battle over Yankee Stadium includes one plan to remodel the stadium and put in a "Yankee Village" surrounding a field topped with luxury suites. The plan, forwarded by the Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer would cost $535 million and would also restore the building's exterior to its original ornate faade. The center-field wall would be lowered so strap-hangers can watch the games as they pass by on the elevated subway.

"Tearing down Yankee Stadium would be unthinkable - the same as tearing down Grand Central Station, the Statue of Liberty, or City Hall," says Mr. Ferrer. However, Mayor Giuliani has castigated the Ferrer plan as a "warmed over" version of a plan the city drew up four years ago.

'The Bronx is up'

In polls, the concept of moving the Yankees has not fared well. In July, the Quinnipiac College Polling Institute found that 81 percent of New Yorkers wanted to keep the Yankees in the Bronx.

Even more people favored fixing up Yankee Stadium. Few wanted the Yankees to move. "New York, New York, it's a wonderful town. The Bronx - with the Yankees - is up. Everything else is down," croons Maurice Carroll, director of the institute.

One of those who want the Yankees to stay is lawyer Bruce Garrison who started going to Yankees' games when he was six years old. Since then he has made the Yankees a part of his life. If the Yankees leave the Bronx, he says, "I'd know how the Dodger fans felt when the team left Brooklyn."

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