With the approaching end of the regular season comes the opening of the blame game. Some teams should look beyond the general manager, the manager, the coaching staff and the roster when assigning blame.
The ballparks are to blame, too. If the tenant is to have any chance at long-term success, these problems posed by these parks must be addressed as soon as possible:
Citi Field: New York Mets
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Only the dysfunctional Mets could turn the opening season for a ballpark into a summer-long disaster. Citi Field contributed to the flop.
It’s no wonder center fielder Carlos Beltran broke down. Center field is ridiculously large. Beltran is cool to the idea of returning to center next season, which creates another need.
With high walls and long distances, Citi Field crushes hitters’ spirits. Entering Wednesday’s play, the Mets had only 46 homers for 70 home games, and no players had more than five homers at home.
The park forced third baseman David Wright to change his swing, and he has gone from averaging 29 homers over the last four seasons to eight homers this season.
Without the home run, the Mets struggle to rally at home. They began Wednesday’s play with 15 comeback victories at home this season, but the deficit was only one or two runs in 13 of the wins. The Mets were 2-27 for home games in which they trailed by three or more runs with at least one inning remaining.
The Mets need a flurry of hits to get multiple runs. By comparison, division-leading Philadelphia can accomplish the same thing in its scaled-down park. The Phillies have six wins when trailing by three or more runs with at least one inning remaining.
Ownership is unwilling to change the layout, because that would be both expensive and amount to admitting a mistake. Instead, the Mets keep chanting general manager Omar Minaya’s mantra of “build a team with speed and defense and pitching.”‘ If only the Mets had any of those qualities.
Rangers Ballpark: Texas Rangers
With his team on the life support of loans from the commissioner’s office, Texas owner Tom Hicks wants to pack up his autographed pictures of Alex Rodriguez and get out. For all the Rangers’ attractive young talent, Hicks is going to have a hard time selling a team whose home ballpark needs a roof.
Before George W. Bush worked at the White House, he led the Rangers’ ownership group. Bush pushed for a new ballpark to replace the old minor-league facility in which the Rangers play, but he did not want a retractable roof. Something about breathing fresh air in the great Texas outdoors.
Open-air baseball in a Texas summer is not a good idea.
In on-the-field terms, the park gives the Rangers bad travel arrangements because they rarely play day get-away games at home, prevents the kind of pre-game work that a contender such as St. Louis does daily and sits in a jet stream that carries balls to right-center. There have been 191 homers hit in Arlington this season, second-highest total in the majors behind the 205 hit at Yankee Stadium. Only the desperate free-agent pitchers will consider an offer from Texas.
The lack of a roof also cuts down revenue.
Unless the Rangers are really good, customers will find reasons to stay away and avoid the sweltering conditions. This will be the Rangers’ fourth consecutive season with an attendance of less than 2.5 million, and the franchise has never drawn three million in a season. In-state rival Houston will reach 2.5 million for the sixth consecutive season, and the Astros have hit three-plus million in attendance four times in this century.
Houston’s Minute Maid Park, which opened in 2000, has a retractable roof. Whomever Hicks sells to, and a group headed by team president and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan should be considered the favorite, must be ready to peel off about $200 million to add the roof.
Tropicana Field: Tampa Bay Rays
Building a ballpark (Tropicana Field) in geographically undesirable St. Petersburg, Fla, was hard to fathom. Refusing to take advantage of the city’s waterfront by building a new ballpark there was typical of an area that has a large segment of the population resistant to change in any form.
To be more than a one-hit wonder, the Rays need a ballpark that creates increased revenue. That means a park on the Tampa side of the bay.
Until that happens, the Rays are doomed to small crowds at the Trop and financially
driven moves such as the recent trade of lefthander Scott Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels. The club saved about $24 million with the deal.
“This is who we are, and this is what we do,” principal owner Stuart Sternberg said after the Kazmir deal. “People better get used to it, because it’s going to continue.”
Until a new ballpark is built. Do not hold your breath.
Wrigley Field: Chicago Cubs
This is no time for sentiment. Wrigley embodies everything that is wrong with the Cubs.
The place is a dump, but for some reason it has turned into a mecca. The Cubs will draw more than three million for the sixth consecutive season.
In that time, the Cubs have not won a playoff game. Bad clubs, such as this season’s bunch, draw as well as good clubs. That sates the hunger to win. The park is the attraction, not the team.
There are other drawbacks to Wrigley. The irregular starting times prevent players from getting into a routine. The Cubs always overvalue their offense because of what it does at hitter-friendly Wrigley.
Boston plays in a similar home, but the Red Sox started winning when they ended their dependency on Fenway and put together athletic and pitching-oriented teams. The Cubs, the least athletic team in the National League, must either do that or resign themselves to being a tourist attraction as long as Wrigley remains open.