Sunday, August 16, 2009

Top 10 Dumbest Team Moves in Sports History

Dishonorable Mention. 2008 Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City Thunder. The Sonics were Seattle’s longest-lasting major league team. (41 years; the Seahawks will take over that title, assuming they’re not moved before the 2018 NFL season). They’re also the city’s most successful: Three trips to the finals (the Mariners and Seahawks combined: one) and the 1979 NBA Championship. They were horrible in their first season in Oklahoma City, although the fans came out.

Oklahoma City proved during the New Orleans Hornets’ temporary relocation that they deserve a team. But not this team. The Sonics didn’t fail, they were sabotaged. The reason this one doesn’t make the Top 10 is that it’s still too soon: If the Thunder turn into a long-term success, on the court and at the box office, I’ll take them off this list should I ever choose to revise it; if they turn out to be a bust, they’ll move up.

10. 1958 Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles. How can the most successful move in the history of sports be one of the ten dumbest? Let’s see, a “visionary” like Walter O’Malley should have been visionary enough to outwit Robert Moses and get the stadium he wanted in Downtown Brooklyn, at the Atlantic Yards site now favored by a current lying megalomaniac, Bruce Ratner, for the Nets. Let’s see, suppose it was the same capacity as the Dodger Stadium he actually got, 56,000…

How many of those seats do you think Brooklynites would have bought to see Brooklyn natives Sandy Koufax and Tommy Davis? To say nothing of the last years of “Boys of Summer” Duke Snider and Gil Hodges? Maury Wills? Don Drysdale? Later, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Don Sutton, Mike Marshall… Fernando Valenzuela, Pedro Guerrero, Orel Hershiser… Mike Piazza, Pedro Martinez… Russell Martin and the rest of the current Dodgers managed by Brooklyn’s own Joe Torre? Even if this planned-but-never built Dodger Stadium were to have been replaced by now, it would still have been every bit the gold mine that the actual one in Chavez Ravine was.

9. 1982 Minnesota Vikings from Metropolitan Stadium to the Metrodome. In their first 21 seasons of existence, the Vikings played out in the suburbs, equidistant from downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, and made the Playoffs 11 times, more than half the time. In their 27 seasons in the Metrodome, they’ve made the Playoffs 14 times, also more than half. The difference is that, at the Met, they reached the Super Bowl four times; at the Metrodome, they’ve reached three NFC Championship Games and lost them all. (Update: In January 2010, the Vikes made it 0-for-4 in NFC Title Games since moving indoors.)

Some attribute the Vikes’ lack of success to the change in the atmosphere – literally. The Minnesota cold terrified some teams. Maybe not NFC Central opponents like Green Bay and Chicago, but Tampa Bay? Atlanta? Los Angeles? Brrrr…. But the Met seated only 54,000, and the Dome added another 10,000 and protection from the cold. But although the Dome is known for its noise level, a Vikings game has never truly been the same. At least they stayed in the same metropolitan area, although even that is no guarantee, as witness the next entry.

8. 1979 Los Angeles Rams from the Coliseum to Anaheim. L.A.’s oldest team, having arrived in 1946, went from perhaps the greatest football stadium ever built to the suburbs. From 1966 to 1978, Anaheim Stadium was a nice baseball facility. But then, in 1979, after Rams owner Carroll Rosenbloom drowned, his widow, Georgia Frontiere (wow, she got remarried fast), cut a deal to move them down the Santa Ana Freeway (Interstate 5), I guess because the Coliseum and the USC campus are on the edge of South Central and she was worried about some men from a race she didn’t like vandalizing her limousine.

The Rams made the Playoffs in their last 7 seasons at the Coliseum; in their 15 seasons in Anaheim, they made the Playoffs 8 times, but had totally lost the L.A. glamour. The move to St. Louis was depressing – although not entirely unjustified, as Anaheim Stadium was totally unsuitable, and St. Louis was Georgia’s hometown, and they have done better there – but it wouldn’t have happened if Georgia had simply accepted that playing in L.A. was worth more to the team than playing in a suburban parking lot.

7. 1996 Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix Coyotes. Every other NHL move, possibly ever, could be justified on some grounds or other, including improved performance. But what was gained by the Jets moving to Arizona? Especially now that the team is bankrupt, while Winnipeg has a new arena? Forget Hamilton, Ontario: Send the Jets home!

6. 1997 Washington Redskins from the District to Landover. Huh? The Bullets/Wizards and Capitals made the smart move, from just outside the Capital Beltway to Downtown, from the Capital Centre/USAir Arena to the MCI/Verizon Center. So why did the Skins move to almost the same spot, but still slightly inside the Beltway? Because Robert F. Kennedy Stadium seated 56,000, and the District wouldn’t build Jack Kent Cooke a new stadium. So Prince Georges County built it.

In their last 26 seasons at RFK, the Redskins made the Playoffs 13 times – half the time. In the 12 seasons they’ve played at what was Jack Kent Cooke Stadium and is now FedEx Field, they’ve made the Playoffs twice. It’s like the move from the 56,000-seat, noisy, intimate RFK to the 92,000-seat FedEx Field has cost them those things that made a Washington Redskins game such a special event.

5. 1982 Oakland Raiders to Los Angeles. At first, it seemed to work. In their first season at the L.A. Coliseum, the Raiders tied for the NFL’s best record at 8-1, though flamed out in the Playoffs. In their second season, they won the whole thing, demolishing the Redskins 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII – Los Angeles’ first NFL Championship since the ’51 Rams and the only Super Bowl the city has actually won, rather than hosted. Even as late as 1990, the Raiders were in the AFC Championship Game. But just as he’d butted heads with the Oakland Coliseum authority, so too did he start to do with the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission. By 1994, he’d had enough, and managed to finagle his way back into Oakland after finagling his way out 12 years earlier.

What did Davis get out of his L.A. sojourn? A World Championship that he almost certainly would have had in Oakland anyway, a lot of frustration, a stadium 43 years older than the one he’d left and to which he was returning, and a change in the Raiders’ image as a team of grubby but lovable misfits to a team of hard-core gangsters – part Hell’s Angels, part Crips and/or Bloods. Was that really worth it? And today, the Raiders are still the most popular NFL team in Los Angeles (although the Chargers have reached up from San Diego and claimed Orange County, abandoned by the Rams at the same time).

4. 1984 San Diego Clippers to Los Angeles. Bone. Head. Move. In San Diego, they had the Chargers in November and December, and then, unless the Chargers made the Playoffs, no competition until the Padres started again in April. In L.A., they not only play in the same metro area as the Lakers, but since 1999 they’ve played in the same building. This was even dumber than the Jets playing at Giants Stadium. To say nothing of having to also share the building with the Kings, and the metro area with the Ducks, plus the months of November and December (and sometimes the first week of January) getting attention diverted from them by L.A. being the nation’s premier college football town, with USC as one of the top 5 all-time truly great programs and UCLA being one of the top 25 all-time programs. And UCLA having one of the top 5 great programs in college basketball – there have been times when the Clips might have been the Number 3 basketball team in L.A.

So why isn’t this awful move ranked higher? Simple: Donald Sterling was still the owner. Who’s to say the Clippers wouldn’t have been just as hopeless, performance-wise, if they’d stayed in San Diego? It’s because they’re constantly compared to the Lakers that they’ve reached truly pathetic status.

3. 1984 New York Jets from Flushing Meadow to the Meadowlands. We’ve all heard about how bad Shea Stadium was. Now add fall and winter weather to that mix. Then add the fact that, by the 1983 season, at 60,000 seats in its football configuration, Shea was one of the smaller venues in the NFL. Jet owner Leon Hess had plenty of reasons to want out. Fair enough.

But why would you agree to play your home games in a place that’s not only identified with the other, more successful team in your metro area – especially when their name was on the stadium? (At least, the Giants were then more successful at the box office and in the media, as they hadn’t yet won a Super Bowl while the Jets had.) When the Angels shared Dodger Stadium for four years, they had tickets and media handouts printed up calling the place not by its official name, but by the area’s former name, “Chavez Ravine.” Not the Jets: For all their wishing that people would simply call it “The Meadowlands,” the name “Giants Stadium” was there for all to see. Not to mention the green drapery hung over the blue sideline background for Jet games looked so F! A! K! E! Fake! Fake! Fake! It was even dumber every three years when they’d play each other in the regular season – and dumber still every six years when the game would be a home game for the Jets, making the Giants the visiting team in their own stadium, and sometimes the Jets’ season-ticket holders would have brought along some Giant fans as guests, and sometimes even Jet fans – who may have become such for the simple reason that the Giants haven’t played to an unsold seat since 1956 – would turn on their team, making a Jet home game against the Giants into a Giant home game against some other team. As a notable Sports Illustrated cover with Lawrence Taylor and Mark Gastineau on it pointed out, “In the Big Apple, the Jets are always second banana.”

And when the chance finally came to get their own stadium, the Jets first blew it with the Midtown stadium across from the Javits Center that will now never be built, then could have struck a deal with the Mets to redevelop the Shea site after Citi Field opened, then blew another deal (which, theoretically, is still possible) to work with the Islanders to redevelop the Nassau Coliseum site (putting them right across from their now-abandoned Weeb Ewbank Hall complex at Hofstra University) and restore them to their Queens/Long Island roots, and, who knows, maybe they could have even found a way to share that spacious lawn at Citi Field with the Mets. (Why not, Army is playing a few football games at Yankee Stadium these next few years.)

Instead, they’ll finish the 2009 season at Giants Stadium, and then starting in 2010 they will share the new Meadowlands stadium (as yet unnamed) with the G-Men. The Jets will own 50 percent of the stadium and thus have a considerably more favorable lease, but it will still be seen by most people as “the new Giants Stadium.” If there is a dumber franchise, historically speaking, in all of sports, it’s… just across Route 120, for the moment: The Nets. And, of course, the Clippers.

2. 1961 Washington Senators to Minnesota Twins. Just as the Senators were getting to be better than at any time since the close of World War II, Calvin Griffith moved them out. Did he not know that District of Columbia Stadium – later named RFK – was being built and could have been the team’s home? Did he not see that he had Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Jim Lemon, Camilo Pascual, and a skinny kid named Jim Kaat? Did he not realize, after seeing the 1965 World Series, and the ’69 and ’70 Playoffs, what that could have meant in D.C.? Certainly, the Old Senators/Minnesota Twins would have been more competitive from 1961 to 1971 than the New Senators/Texas Rangers were. Griffith wasn’t just cheap as hell, he was dumb as a post.

1. 1958 New York Giants to San Francisco. Forget for a moment the Giants’ problems with Candlestick Park: This was dumb for two very big reasons. The first is the stadium that Robert Moses wanted to build in Flushing Meadow-Corona Park, the one that became Shea Stadium. If Horace Stoneham really wanted to get out of the Polo Grounds that badly, he should have gotten on the phone to Moses or Mayor Robert Wagner – a self-proclaimed Giants fan – in 1957 and said, “What can we do?”

What we knew as Shea could, theoretically, have opened by 1960, and can you imagine Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Jack Sanford and Billy Pierce pitching there? Willie Mays having that big center field to run around in? Willie McCovey. Orlando Cepeda. The Alou brothers. Even with the Dodgers on the other coast, assuming that still happened, the Giants would have been so much better off staying in New York and moving into Flushing Meadow – which, of course, might have had New York superlawyer William A. Shea, himself a Giants fan even though he worked for a time for the Dodgers, as a season-ticket holder, but it wouldn’t have had his name on the place. In 1969, the Giants finished 2nd in the National League West; staying in the East, they could have been the New York team that benefited from the Chicago Cubs’ collapse and performed the Miracle of ’69. There would have been a Subway Series with the Yankees in ’62, and, who knows, maybe more, if playing in New York (and in the NL East) could have altered the NL standings from 1996 onward. And maybe, with the acclaim of New York, Barry Bonds wouldn’t have felt the need to try to match the cheers for Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and maybe he wouldn’t have taken steroids, and might still have hit over 600 home runs as a New York Giant.

In 2009, the Giants could have christened Citi Field as their new home, possibly as the 1969 (and others?) World Champions, and as a still-beloved New York institution.

Instead, Stoneham listened to Walter O’Malley, and moved to San Francisco, and while the Giants have been competitive more often than not, they’ve never won a World Series in that city, and have suffered in comparison – not just to their rivals in Southern California, but to the team that replaced them as New York’s National League entry. Face it, if you’re being compared with the New York Mets, historically, and the comparison does not favor you, you’ve got a problem.

1 comment:

NoLandGrab said...

Since you already have it that Bruce Ratner is a "lying megalomaniac," why would you believe the dual myths that (1) Atlantic Yards is in "Downtown Brooklyn" and (2) on the same site that Walter O'Malley wanted to build a new ballpark for the Dodgers?

Ratner's retail eyesore, the Atlantic Center Mall, was built on the site that O'Malley coveted in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.