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Fools' gold

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff January 22, 2009 05:59 AM

It must be a great time to be a baseball fan in New York.

Yes, there’s that little matter of neither the Yankees nor the Mets making it to the postseason last October, the first time that has happened to the Yankees since 1993, but just look at the commitment to rectifying that. The Yankees have returned to their roots, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into free agents CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. Over in Queens, the Mets have done yeoman’s work shoring up their bullpen, signing free agent closer Francisco Rodriguez, making a deal for J.J. Putz, and — hey, Casey Fossum.

The Yankees have spent a mind-boggling $423 million this winter in attempting to overcome the embarrassment that was the 2008 season, which ended with a third-place finish in the American League East. Think about that for a moment. Almost a half-billion dollars spent on limited personnel. That has some people (rightfully) bellyaching about revisiting a salary cap in Major League Baseball, a proposal that has (predictably) fallen upon deaf ears.

But that’s not even the most ludicrous allotment of funds these days in New York, where the Yankees and Mets last week had their requests for additional public financing for their new ballparks granted. Already receiving $940 million in tax-exempt bonds and $25 million in taxable bonds, the Yankees are now the recipients of an additional $259 million in tax-exempt bonds. Likewise, the Mets, who received $615 million in tax-exempt bonds, now have $83 million more to work with.

Hey, as long as everybody else is getting handouts.

Cities and towns across this economically depleted country are forced to find ways to slash budgets, and New York is no different. Schools are hurting. “Out of business” signs are going up at a startling rate. People are losing jobs by the hundreds every day, almost at the same rate that they are losing their homes. They don’t get help — or even a tax-free loan — from the city of New York. The rolling-in-cash New York Yankees and Mets do. God bless America, and all.

Public financing of sports stadiums can be a touchy subject, seeing as each side has a fair number of benefits and drawbacks. It should be noted that these are bonds the teams are receiving from the city, not dump trucks of cash being backed up to the concessionaire entrance. Still, they’re receiving almost $2 billion of taxpayer money largely tax-free.

On the one hand, these new stadiums create jobs, notably in the form of temporary construction workers (except I don’t think the guy who buried David Ortiz’s jersey in the Bronx was asked back).

On the other hand … well, $423 million.

It's a numbers game
Remember, it's only been a decade since Bob Kraft threatened to move the Patriots to Hartford after failing in his attempt to receive state funding for a new stadium in South Boston. Aside from infrastructure costs, Massachusetts hasn't spent a dime to finance any of the state's stadiums, including the Shawmut/Fleet/TD Banknorth Center/Garden.

Ask John Henry and Co. how easy it was to explore building a new ballpark upon the ownership group's arrival here, when it received an early lesson in Bostonian politics. Still, a new park on the Boston waterfront is a plan that actually might be in the best interests of public funding, considering the vast revitalization plans that could have been in place. Think Camden Yards in Baltimore, or AT&T Park in San Francisco.

In the Bronx, there is little to no revitalization when the new stadium is being built next door to the old stadium. Expect a new bar or restaurant here or there, but it's not as though the new Yankee Stadium will suddenly make the Bronx a hot tourist destination. So, you tell me, Mayor Bloomberg, exactly how many jobs the city can boast out of your generosity to the New York Yankees?

A few published reports estimate that the number of new positions at Yankee Stadium will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 22. If 22 jobs are worth that many hundreds of millions of dollars, we are certainly in a more dire state than anybody could have possibly imagined.

Apparently needing some sort of logical explanation for the inanity going on in New York, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Democrat from Westchester County, subpoenaed Yankees president Randy Levine earlier this month after the team's request for additional funding. Brodsky argued that the stadium project did not create enough jobs to warrant the amount of bonds heading the Yankees' way.

"In these tough times you should be encouraging us to create jobs instead of engaging in political grandstanding that discourages it," Levine told Brodsky at the hearing.

Aha. Well, to be fair to Levine, the Yankees are giving jobs away these days, it seems. They signed Jason Johnson to a minor league contract earlier this month. That’s being downright charitable.

Making payroll
The cost of the new Yankee Stadium has risen to $1.5 billion, up from an original estimate of $800 million in 2006. Of that $1.5 billion, about $1.3 billion is coming from bond financing, meaning the Yankees are spending about $200 million less on their new home than they have this off-season on a handful of players. Of course, they're going to recoup some of that money by pillaging the rich and famous this season with their drastic ticket markups, making it virtually impossible for the average taxpayer to witness a game at the new yard.

And yet, despite their historic spending this winter, more help is on the way, bonds that could, and should, be earmarked for more universal needs. It is about as backward as you can get in the current financial landscape, and stunningly has elicited only a whisper of protest in New York. Because what's a few dollars here and there for public-service workers when the Yankees can beat the Sawx?

Yup, it's a great time to be a baseball fan in New York. A public school teacher, not so much. But at least they have their priorities straight once again.

Eric Wilbur writes the Boston Sports Blog on Boston.com (www.boston.com/sports/columnists/wilbur/)

7 comments so far...
  1. It cost money to build two 21 st century state of the art ball parks. It's a lot cheaper to stay in a turn of the 20 th century dump.

    Posted by Bill January 22, 09 09:31 AM
  1. It cost money to build two 21 st century state of the art ball parks. It's a lot cheaper to stay in a turn of the 20 th century dump.

    Posted by Bill January 22, 09 09:32 AM
  1. What is going on in New York in these difficult times is despicable. Yankee fans make up all kinds of excuses to absolve the team from blame and New York politicians have their own sinister agendas like free tix among other favors. What ever our political faults here in Mass. and we have plenty of them, at least we aren't stupid enough to hand over $1.3 billion in public financing to the richest team in professional sports so the can have a shiney new toy.

    Posted by BobL January 22, 09 09:39 AM
  1. What a bs article, you think funds aren't being appropriated for public schools ? You are such a tool. This article belongs on one of those weei or sox web sites. Hey E wilbur is this what you've resorted too, acting like a 12 year old with hometown allegiances

    Posted by Joe January 22, 09 12:29 PM
  1. 2 new stadiums in the same town in the same year. Disgusting! What should have happened was New York (since they seem to be picking up the tab) should have built ONE stadium, named it "No Salary Cap" Park and had the Yankees play 80 homes games and then have the Mets play 80 home games also.

    ....and if a salary cap is ever put in place in MLB. You will never see another NY team in the play-offs.......ever! and that's just not good for TV ratings, not is it?

    Posted by The Inquizator January 22, 09 12:33 PM
  1. "It cost money to build two 21 st century state of the art ball parks. It's a lot cheaper to stay in a turn of the 20 th century dump"

    And what better way to raise that money than to hurt the taxpayers and citizens of New York by doing so. Well other than direct assistance from taxpayer coffers.

    For example, road construction comes straight out of tax revenue, but the new Stadium is being partially payed for for using bonds floated in insider deals where tax revenue can be leveraged.
    Are the Steinbrenner's cash poor?

    Posted by Boston Dan January 22, 09 03:04 PM
  1. Arrogance and excess......the New York way of doing business.

    Posted by Chris Vitto January 27, 09 11:00 AM
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