Error, Comptroller


With both the Yankees and the Mets in the playoffs (at press time, anyway), that could only mean one thing: time for City Comptroller Alan Hevesi to emerge from his 11-month hibernation and make like Tim McCarver on the subject of baseball economics. In this year’s missive, Hevesi projected that if the Yanks and Mets played a seven-game Fall Classic, the city economy would receive a windfall to the tune of $175 million, counting ticket sales, media revenues, and five-dollar watery beers.

“Ridiculous!” says University of South Florida economist Philip Porter, who has studied the economic impact— or lack thereof— of major sporting events. “You can’t count gate receipts as economic impact. It’s not like the money comes out of the sky— people would have spent that money on something else in New York.” The fact that George Steinbrenner and most of the Yankees roster lives outside of New York means the Series could even have a negative impact, according to Porter: “If you didn’t have that event, people would be more likely to spend [their money] on the theater, or something that’s local.” (Porter’s studies of three Super Bowls and the 1996
Atlanta Olympics found no appreciable bumps in local spending.)

Porter is among a virtual Murderer’s Row of economists who challenge the claims of fiscal manna from the sporting heavens. “The things that make for good economic growth are not very sexy to write about,” says Allen Sanderson of the University of Chicago. “It’s easy to go to Yankee Stadium and take pictures of the 50,000 who are there, but it’s harder to go to a mall or a restaurant and interview some guy who says, ‘Yeah, my business was off by three percent tonight.’ And yet in dollar amounts, the winners and losers are just the same.”

None of which has stopped local officials in city after city from touting baseball’s bounty— especially when they’re stumping for money for new stadiums. Last season, Yankees fourth-inning radio announcer (and sometime city mayor) Rudy Giuliani declared that a new ballpark on the 33rd Street rail yards would create $1 billion in economic impact and “thousands and thousands and thousands of jobs”— only to be rebutted the next day by the discovery of an earlier report by his own consultants projecting just one-tenth those benefits.

The media, though, never seems to learn. Before the ALCS, the Associated Press ran a story on the $10 million boost the Boston economy would allegedly receive if three games were played at Fenway. “The only way that you create an economic impact is if you import people,” says an exasperated Porter. “If the Yankees play Boston, and people come down from Boston, what about the Yankee fans that go up to Boston to see their game? Don’t we count the negative impact of people that leave? It’s voodoo economics at its worst.”

Wilt Chamberlain: View From Above

Whether 100 points in a single game or 20,000 women in one lifetime, Wilt Chamberlain will forever be associated with prodigious numbers. Both records, in fact, reflected the exaggerated spotlight into which this self-styled “unloved Goliath” always placed himself. Yet Chamberlain also needs to be remembered for the real controversies he engaged in during his heyday. Indeed, by the late ’60s Wilt had become literally the biggest figure in Richard Nixon’s co-opted version of Black Power.

Throughout the early ’60s Chamberlain gained a reputation for being more interested in his off-court business ventures— the Small’s Paradise nightclub in Harlem, the Villa Chamberlain apartment complex in L.A., etc.— than in winning championships. Certainly, had he improved his free-throw shooting, Chamberlain’s teams (the Warriors, 76ers, and Lakers) probably would have won more than two titles. Unlike Bill Russell, whose politics leaned decidedly to the left, Chamberlain instead preferred an image as both successful entrepreneur and regular feature at the Playboy Mansion. To prove his point, he titled his 1973 autobiography Wilt: Just Like Any Other Seven-Foot Black Millionaire Who Lives Next Door.

Chamberlain first served as a Nixon delegate to the Miami Convention in 1968, and he stayed Republican four years later. During this same period, there was talk of him stepping into the ring with the exiled Muhammad Ali. Such an event surely would have been a hugely hyped publicity stunt between two great athletes, but it also promised a genuine ideological struggle, placing Chamberlain in contest with the foremost representative of black (inter)nationalism. Though Chamberlain largely paved the way for Charles Barkley, J.C. Watts, and other contemporary sporting black Republicans, his political legacy is generally not seen as fodder for an obituary. Instead, in an era when fame blurs ideology, Chamberlain is fittingly eulogized only as a “gentle giant.”

Brave and Crazy: Fan Rivalries

Thanks to free agency, sports rivalries are now mainly a fan phenomenon. The players either like one another too much, or are too practical to get into it with an opponent today who could be a teammate tomorrow. To put it another way, if Nomar Garciapara ran into Derek Jeter in the men’s room at Fenway Park, it ain’t all that likely that Nomar would grab Jeter’s cap and flush it down the toilet. But for the less famous New Yorkers in Boston last weekend, that was the fate of their headgear.

But how about rivalries with a less storied past? In the case of the Braves and the Mets, we know that a few (and really, just a few) choice words from Atlanta players have turned half a city into an angry anti-Braves mob. But how do the fans from the gentle South view their northern adversaries? Do they hate the Mets? Or do the Yankees still strike the most fear in the heart of Dixie? Clipboard in hand, Jockbeat went to the Ted last week to find out.

By a wide margin, Braves fans said they feared the Yankees more than the Mets. Granted, this survey took place after Game 1 of the NLCS, when the Mets seemed like a minor obstacle. But the Cobb County types also said they enjoyed seeing the Yanks go down to defeat more than the Mets.

So it was odd when Atlantans narrowly picked the Mets as their rivals over the Bombers. Guess league affiliation does count for something.

But as far as deep-seated feelings about New York goes, only a handful of fans claimed to “hate” either the Mets or the Yanks (or the city itself, for that matter). Those polite southern folk . . . most said the word “hate” was a little too strong, preferring, instead, the word “dislike.”

Well, maybe those Gingrich lovers ain’t all that polite. Almost all polled said they felt “hate” for New York fans. Somehow, though, that aggressive attitude didn’t seem all that menacing. To say the least, we’d still feel pretty confident wearing our N.Y. ballcap in Turner Field.

Contributors: Neil Demause, Theodore Hamm, Jon Cooper

Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman

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