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EDITORIAL: Hot dogs, Cracker Jack and ballpark welfare

Baseball is back, and so are club owners always with their hands out

- - Friday, March 28, 2014

Major League Baseball opened the season Sunday night with the Dodgers facing the Padres at Petco Park in San Diego.

In the cities the 30 big-league teams call home, players and fans dream of ending the season in the World Series. Taxpayers could get a few more days' use from the megamillion-dollar stadiums they built for wealthy team owners.

Lawmakers from Miami to San Diego to Seattle have spent hundreds of millions of public dollars on ballparks so billionaire owners didn't have to reach into their own pockets to pay for a place to put their businesses.

In Miami, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria persuaded Miami-Dade County taxpayers to build a baseball stadium with a retractable roof for his team in Little Havana. By the time taxpayers pay off the interest, the stadium will have cost the public $3 billion.

Despite guarantees that the stadium, which opened in 2012, would lure fans to the park in droves, the Marlins rank 26th in the majors in attendance, drawing fewer than 20,000 fans a game.

Using research by Rutgers University, the sports entertainment website Deadspin determined that taxpayers in the United States and Canada have spent $32 billion subsidizing pro sports stadium construction over the past 90 years, most of it in the past 25 years.

Owners make this sound like a good deal. Without public money, they say, quality players will bolt. Yet, few teams have been as successful in luring big-name free agents as the Los Angeles Dodgers, the "Los Angeles" Angels of Anaheim and the defending champion Boston Red Sox. All play in three of the four oldest ballparks in the majors.

A new stadium does not a winner make.

Owners threaten to move the team to Charlotte or Nashville or San Antonio if they don't get a new stadium, and they're running out of baseball-deficient cities. They'll soon have to threaten to move to Racine or Texarkana.

Only one team, the Washington Nationals, has relocated in four decades and that was from Montreal, where few baseball fans and a weak economy doomed the team, not a decrepit stadium.

Economic revitalization is usually cited as the reason for splurging on a stadium. There's ample evidence to prove that claim as inflated as Alex Rodriguez's home run totals.

New stadiums don't generate new wealth, they redistribute entertainment dollars. There's even evidence that publicly financed stadiums drain dollars that would be spent elsewhere.

The nation's favorite pastime is back, and there's nothing quite like the sound of the crack of a bat on a ball. But as sure as the cry of "peanuts, popcorn, sody pop," the bamboozlers will be eager to gussy the landscape with a stadium at taxpayers' expense. That's a curve ball cities shouldn't go for.