Sports

BUILD IT, AND THEY WILL BLOW

One of the reasons given for the wave of new baseball stadiums over the past decade has been "competitiveness": New parks, say team owners and their pol pals, turn cellar dwellers into pennant winners and allow baseball's have-nots to compete with their rich big-city cousins.

This year, though, that axiom may have to be turned on its head. Through Sunday, teams with stadiums built since 1989's SkyDome in Toronto had chalked up a cumulative 969-1003 (.491) record; those in older stadiums, 881-847 (.510). The teams with the two oldest ballparks, the Cubs (68-54) and Red Sox (67-55), are still in the playoff hunt, while the two clubs that opened new pleasure palaces this year, the Brewers (53-68) and Pirates (45-78), reside in the abyss.

In the past five years, the new-park clubs have outplayed their old-park rivals by a mere .520-.491 margin, and in two years, 1998 and 2000, the results were almost dead even. Similar figures emerge from team records before and after new stadiums have opened: .501 in the last five years at old parks, .538 in their first five years in new homes. Even ignoring that such results are self-fulfilling to some degree—owners often pour money into payroll when new parks open, as they worry about filling high-priced seats—this is only about six wins a year. Given the sabermetric rule of thumb that 10 runs equals one win, that's less than the difference between Rey Ordoñez (19.7 equivalent runs this year) and A-Rod (110.4 EqR).

Maybe instead of a new stadium in Shea's parking lot, the next mayor should just look into building a concessions tent.


QUIETING THE MARINERS

During last weekend's Yankees-Mariners series, Andy Pettitte, Ted Lilly, and Mike Stanton proved powerless against Seattle. So what prevented the Yanks from getting swept? Mike Mussina, who hurled seven shutout innings to earn Friday's win. Yet in his previous start—retiring 24 of 26 Oakland batters—he was forced to swallow a loss.

It's been that kind of year for the ex-Oriole and newcomer to pinstripes, who adds a novel element to the Bombers' rotation: sideburns. (Plus a fearsome knuckle-curve.) But without Roger Clemens's mad-bull presence or Pettitte's preternaturally long, girlish eyelashes, Mussina remains a cipher, notable only for ending every pitch by hopping forward in a froglike crouch (and for going on the DL in '98 . . . with a finger wart). Routinely described as "brainy" because he can do crossword puzzles, the reserved RHP retreats off-season to his 102-acre compound in Montoursville, PA (pop. 4777), complete with carpentry shed, basketball court, batting cage, and two pitching mounds. (What's the second mound for—go-go dancing?) More mysterious is how Mussina falls just short of greatness. No Cy Youngs, no 20-win columns, no perfect games, and now a 12-10 season. What happened to the rookie ace who made the All-Stars three years in a row? Who trumped Randy Johnson twice in the '97 AL Division Series, then proceeded to set the ALCS record of 15 Ks against Curt Schilling? Actually, the Orioles lost that game, and the AL title, because they couldn't scratch together one piddling run. With the Yanks giving him nearly the worst run support in the league, it's like deja vu all over again.


SHOELESS BRIAN?

In 1987, when the Yanks could have added free agent Jack Morris to a competitive but pitching-poor team, George Steinbrenner passed, thanks to pressure from his fellow owners. That decision was part of a collusion orchestrated to increase profits by keeping salaries down. So what if it cost the Yankees a few victories (or a postseason appearance) here or there? No baseball lord would ever treat the Boss like a common Joe (Jackson). But Steinbrenner's peers may not be as sympathetic to the sound of one team diving.

Three months ago, we wrote that Brian Cashman had more to do to keep the dynasty alive. Since then, he has acquired veterans Enrique Wilson, Jay Witasick, Gerald Williams, Mark Wohlers, and Sterling Hitchcock. The Feeble Five have failed miserably. Together, Wilson and Williams have gotten on base less than a quarter of the time while slugging under .200. Hitchcock has a 7.46 ERA in five starts on normal rest. Wohlers has career-high ratios of hits and homers per inning pitched. And Witasick has allowed a .303 batting average. The new pitchers own a 5.78 ERA in 67 combined innings in pinstripes. Where have you gone, Brian Boehringer?

The Yankee brain trust never makes so many bad moves in a row. Is something more sinister at work? Why not dump the pennant this year if that would mean there wouldn't be a big-market-small-market accord next year? Collusion in the '80s cost Steinbrenner $12 million in damages, but was worth many times more. If there's no big-market-small-market accord, Steinbrenner is an even bigger winner, keeping a huge new influx of media money that insures more profits and another decade of domination. Pssst, Oliver Stone, you want to hear an idea for a baseball movie?


Contributors: Neil deMause, J. Yeh, Dean Chadwin
Sports Intern: Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz
Sports Editor: Ward Harkavy

 
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