Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sports Teams That Almost Moved

So the Chargers are leaving San Diego after 56 seasons, and returning to the city where they played their 1st season, in 1960: Los Angeles.

They were long San Diego's favorite sports team, but mismanagement, and the constant tease of moving by owner Alex Spanos and his son Dean, have left San Diegans apathetic. Good riddance to bad rubbish, they seem to be saying.

This leaves San Diego with just 1 major league sports team, baseball's Padres. It also makes San Diego what Los Angeles was until this past September, when the Rams returned from St. Louis: The only city with an MLB team, but not a major league football team. (Toronto has the Blue Jays and the Canadian Football League's Argonauts, which is why I said, "a major league football team," and not "an NFL team.")

Now, after 21 seasons with no NFL team, L.A. will have 2 NFL teams that it doesn't really care about. As opposed to San Diego, which had 1 that it did care about, then 1 it didn't care about, and now none at all.

Don't expect San Diego to get a new NFL team, because they refused to build the Chargers a new stadium to replace the Mission Valley facility, previously known as San Diego Stadium and Jack Murphy Stadium, now named Qualcomm Stadium. Nor will they soon get an NBA or an NHL team, since their existing arena, formerly the San Diego Sports Arena and now the Valley View Convention Center, is old, small, and out of the way. (As opposed to The Murph/The Q, which is old and out of the way, but not small.)

The Padres have a nice new downtown ballpark. It was a big question mark as to whether it would get approved by the voters in 1998, but a well-timed Pennant changed that. They're not going anywhere.

Some moves are controversial. The Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1957-58. Baltimore losing the Colts to Indianapolis in 1984, and then taking the Cleveland Browns to become the Ravens in 1995-96. The Minnesota North Stars to become the Dallas Stars in 1993. The Hartford Whalers to become the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997. The Seattle SuperSonics to become the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008. The Raiders to Los Angeles in 1982, back to Oakland in 1995, and now, apparently, to Las Vegas sometime in the next 3 years.

Some moves are not controversial, and happen barely a peep. St. Louis essentially gave the Rams up without a fight a year ago.

Sports Teams That Almost Moved

MLB
1941-42 St. Louis Browns to Los Angeles. World War II prevented that.

1952-53 St. Louis Cardinals to Milwaukee. A new owner prevented it.

1952-53 St. Louis Browns to Milwaukee. The Braves beat them to it.

1957-58 New York Giants to Minneapolis. They got offered San Francisco instead.

1961-62 Kansas City Athletics to Dallas. Charles O. Finley decided the Cotton Bowl was no place to play baseball. He was right.

1963-64 Kansas City Athletics to Louisville. Again, the lack of a proper ballpark stopped Charlie O.

1970-71 Chicago White Sox to Milwaukee. They'd already played 15 "home games" in Milwaukee in 1968 and '69, and were seriously considering it as the 1970 season dawned. But the Seattle Pilots beat them to it, becoming the Milwaukee Brewers.

1973-74 San Diego Padres to Washington. It nearly happened. Topps even printed baseball cards saying, "WASHINGTON NAT'L LEA," since the new name wasn't known. It was soon revealed to be the Washington Stars. Lawsuits tied the move up, and the team was sold instead to McDonald's boss Ray Kroc, who kept them in San Diego. If that hadn't happened, would the City of San Diego have worked a lot harder to keep the Chargers now, saving their status as a major league team?

1975-76: Chicago White Sox to Seattle, and Oakland Athletics to Chicago. Seattle wanted a team. The Allyn brothers, who owned the White Sox, were broke. And Charlie Finley wanted his team close to his home in Chicago. (So why move them to Oakland in 1967-68?) Bill Veeck bought the White Sox, and that was the end of that.

1975-76: San Francisco Giants to Toronto: A new buyer was found just in time to save the Giants for the City By the Bay.

1977-78: Oakland Athletics to Denver. Finley had a deal to sell the A's to Marvin Davis, who was going to put them in Mile High Stadium. (Davis, the basis for the Blake Carrington character on Dynasty, was no relation to Raiders boss Al Davis.) The City of Oakland wouldn't let the A's out of their lease, and the deal fell apart.

1978-79: Oakland Athletics to New Orleans. Finley nearly had a deal to sell the A's to guys who would put them in the Superdome. Again, Oakland wouldn't let them out of their lease. He tried again the next year to sell the A's to Marvin Davis, but, again, the City put the kibosh on it. Finally, he sold the team to Walter Haas, and the A's were saved for Oakland for another generation.

1987-88: Baltimore Orioles to Washington. After the Colts were taken out of Baltimore in the middle of the night, Baltimoreans were afraid that the Orioles' owner, Edward Bennett Williams, the Washington-based "superlaywer" who was once majority owner of the Washington Redskins, would do what Abe Pollin did with the Baltimore Bullets in 1973, and take them down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Instead, William Donald Schaefer, who lost the Colts as Mayor, was not going to make the same mistake as Governor, and got a deal for the Camden Yards stadiums, paving the way for the saving of MLB and the restoration of the NFL to Charm City.

1987-88: Pittsburgh Pirates to Miami. Once Joe Robbie Stadium (now Hard Rock Stadium) opened in the Miami suburbs, it was just a matter of time before South Florida got an MLB team. The 1st team to look into it was the Pirates. But a local group bought the team, built it back into a Pennant contender, and eventually secured the team's future in Pittsburgh with PNC Park.

1988-89: Chicago White Sox to Tampa Bay: The Florida Suncoast Dome (now Tropicana Field) was going to be ready for the 1990 season. White Sox owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn had had enough of keeping Comiskey Park standing, and were so desperate to get out that they were willing to take the financial losses from playing the 1989 season in tiny Al Lang Stadium under the name of the Florida White Sox, if the Illinois legislature voted down funding for a new ballpark. Through typically corrupt Chicago political shenanigans that actually worked in most people's favor, the funding got through, and the new Comiskey Park (now Guaranteed Rate Field) opened in 1991.

1989-90: Minnesota Twins to Tampa Bay. In spite of the 1987 World Series triumph, based solely on the home-field advantage of the Metrodome, Twins owner Carl Pohlad wanted a stadium he controlled, and not in frozen Minnesota. But he never got a deal to move the Twins to The Trop.

1992-93: San Francisco Giants to Tampa Bay. They would have been known as the St. Petersburg Giants. Again, a new buyer was found just in time to save the Giants for the City By the Bay.

1995-96: Seattle Mariners to Tampa Bay. If the Mariners hadn't won the American League Western Division title and beaten the Yankees in the AL Division Series, the bond issue to build what became Safeco Field would have failed, and they might have moved that very off-season. Tampa Bay had already gotten an expansion team that year, to begin play in 1998 as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. But the people of Central Florida would have taken the Mariners (and, with the area's nautical tradition, the name wouldn't have had to be changed), resulting in a new city getting a team.

1995-96: Houston Astros to Washington. Both the Astros and the Oilers wanted out of the Astrodome. In MLB's case, with Denver, Miami, Tampa Bay and Phoenix already satisfied, D.C. was the obvious destination (as the Montreal Expos situation later showed). But the Astros got the concessions they wanted, and fans in the D.C. area had to wait until 2005.

Being the only 2 teams still playing in genuinely bad stadiums, the Oakland Athletics and the Tampa Bay Rays are now the likeliest to move. Most likely, though, they'll move to new stadiums in the same metro area.

NFL
1979: Baltimore Colts to Jacksonville. Bob Irsay didn't necessarily want out of Baltimore, but he did want out of Memorial Stadium. It wasn't generating enough revenue, and it didn't have enough office and storage space for 1 major league sports team, let alone 2 (the Orioles and the Colts). He thought he had an agreement to move the team to the Gator Bowl, but he got some of the concessions he wanted. Thinking he might get the rest, he stayed... for another 5 seasons.

1984: Philadelphia Eagles to Phoenix. The gambling woes of Eagles owner Leonard Tose mounted, and he was resigned to selling the team. He found a buyer ready to move them to Sun Devil Stadium. But Norman Braman swooped in, and promised that the team would stay in Philly under his ownership. This saved Tose from becoming the most hated man in Philly sports history -- and, ironically, doomed Braman to become that, although, obviously, not at first.

1988: Houston Oilers to Jacksonville. Bud Adams loved Houston, but he didn't like the Astrodome, and he didn't like the city government. Like Irsay, he had a deal to move to Jacksonville, in case he didn't get what he wanted from Houston. He got enough of it to call the deal off. But not enough of it, and so he moved the team to Tennessee after the 1996 season.

1993: New England Patriots to St. Louis. A new domed stadium was coming to the River City, and James Busch Orthwein, of the St. Louis Anheusher-Busches, bought the team. There were also whispers that the Pats might go to Baltimore. So it looked like that Pats would leave their oversized high school stadium in the suburbs and their status as a joke franchise behind. But Bob Kraft bought the team just a year later, and so St. Louis would have to wait for the Rams. Ironically, the Rams and Pats would play each other in Super Bowl XXXVI.

1999: San Diego Padres to Washington... again. The Padres' 1998 Pennant, with their "YES ON C" banner on the right field fence at Qualcomm Stadium being shown all the way into the World Series, got the bond issue to build Petco Park passed. If it hadn't? Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington was every bit as ready to welcome the team as it had been a quarter of a century earlier.

2001: New England Patriots to Hartford. Kraft, a Brookline native and the landlord at Foxboro Stadium, was committed to New England, but just as committed to getting out of a stadium that was totally unsuitable for an NFL team. He tried to get a new stadium in Boston proper, but failed. In 1998, the State of Connecticut decided to build a 60,000-seat stadium in East Hartford, to be ready for the 2001 season, offering it to the Pats and the University of Connecticut. Kraft loved the idea: It was still in New England, and just under 100 miles from downtown Boston. But the Commonwealth of Massachusetts stepped in with funding at the last minute, and Kraft was able to build what's now Gillette Stadium next door to the old stadium, which he demolished for the Patriot Place Mall. The East Hartford stadium, named Rentschler Field, was scaled back to 40,000 seats, about the right size for UConn.

2006: New Orleans Saints to San Antonio. This may have been the one that came the closest to happening -- because it did happen. Hurricane Katrina ruined the Superdome, forcing the Saints to play their home games on the road. Their season opener against the Giants was simply switched to the Meadowlands. They played the rest of their games at LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge and the Alamodome in San Antonio. For a while, it looked like the Alamodome would be the permanent solution. But the Superdome got the necessary repairs, and they've stayed put.

With the Rams and Chargers having moved to L.A., the next team to move is probably the Raiders. Now, L.A. is closed to them, but they've already taken the first few steps toward moving to Las Vegas. They still have to get a stadium built, though: Sam Boyd Stadium only seats 35,500.

NBA
2001: Charlotte Hornets to Memphis. George Shinn's name had become mud in the Carolinas, and he had to get out. Memphis had the Pyramid Arena, with a deal to build a better arena, now named the FedEx Forum. But the Vancouver Grizzlies beat him to it, and so he moved the Hornets to New Orleans a year later.

2006: New Orleans Hornets to Oklahoma City. Like the Saints to San Antonio, this one happened in the short term, as what's now the Smoothie King Center is next-door to the Superdome. Being a smaller building, less needed to be done to fix it, and it was able to reopen late in the 2005-06 season. But the Hornets ended up playing 38 of their 41 "home games" at what's now the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, making the Oklahoma capital a viable NBA market. The Hornets ended up staying, although they gave the name back to Charlotte and became the New Orleans Pelicans. And OKC got the Seattle SuperSonics in 2008, as they became the Oklahoma City Thunder.

2011: Sacramento Kings to Anaheim and...

2012: Sacramento Kings to Seattle. What's now the Sleep Train Arena is in the middle of nowhere, not close to downtown Sacramento. The Kings wanted a new arena, and weren't getting one. Moving to Seattle and becoming the new SuperSonics made sense; moving to Anaheim, way too close to the Lakers and the Clippers, made none. But both deals came very close to happening. Finally, after the 2011-12 season ended, the City of Sacramento approved the Golden 1 Center downtown, and the Kings' future in California's capital is secure.

The NBA team most likely to move next? Hard to say. The Milwaukee Bucks looked like a candidate, but they're now building a new arena. The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Denver Nuggets appear to be suffering from market saturation, but have made no moves toward moving. Nobody has a convincing reason to want to move.

NHL
1983: St. Louis Blues to Saskatoon. St. Louis-based Ralston Purina sold the money-losing Blues to Billy Hunter, the founding owner of the Edmonton Oilers, who wanted to build a new arena in Saskatoon, where they would be known as the Saskatchewan Blues. He got the deal for the arena and 18,000 commitments for season tickets. But the NHL Board of Governors knew Saskatoon was too small a market, and rejected the deal. Hunter sold the Blues to Harry Ornest, who kept them in St. Louis. Hunter did get his arena, now named the SaskTel Centre, home to the minor-league Saskatoon Blades.

1997: New Jersey Devils to Nashville. With what's now the Bridgestone Arena being built to be ready for the 1997-98 season, the City of Nashville offered it to Devils owner John McMullen. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who hated the fact that cold-weather New York had 3 teams and that there were still several Sun Belt cities that had none, encouraged the idea -- and was subjected to boos and "Bettman sucks!" chants during the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals. McMullen apparently scared New Jersey officials, because negotiations to build a new arena began. Although a site next to Hoboken Terminal was suggested first, the better idea was the downtown Newark site, and the Prudential Center was built.

2007: New York Islanders to Kansas City. And...

2007: Pittsburgh Penguins to Kansas City. The Sprint Center opened in downtown K.C. in 2007, and both the Isles and the Pens needed new arenas. Both eventually got them: The Pens opened what's now PPG Paints Arena in 2010, and the Isles began sharing the Barclays Center in Brooklyn with the Nets in 2015.

2007: Nashville Predators to Hamilton. And...

2007: Nashville Predators to Kansas City. Predators owner Craig Leipold reached a deal to sell the team to Jim Balsillie, who wanted to move the team to his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario. But both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres invoked their territorial rights, and put the kibosh on the deal. So Leipold thought about Kansas City and their new arena. But Leipold ended up selling the team to a group that kept them in Nashville.

2009: Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton. And...

2011: Phoenix Coyotes (back) to Winnipeg. And...

2012: Phoenix Coyotes to Quebec City. Strangely, the team now known as the Arizona Coyotes has never seriously approached Kansas City, which is still looking for an NBA or an NHL tenant for the Sprint Center. But the Yotes' bankruptcy has led to 3 near-moves, sidetracked by the Leafs and Sabres again saying no to Hamilton, and the Atlanta Thrashers preventing the original Winnipeg Jets from going back home. They now have an agreement to build an arena adjacent to Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, to open for the 2019-20 season. Right, because moving from Winnipeg to downtown Phoenix, and then from downtown to suburban Glendale, worked so well...

With Quebec City having built a new arena, Hamilton still trying to get around the Leafs and Sabres, and Seattle looking to build a new arena to lure an NHL team and an NBA team to take the place of the Sonics, it seems likely that another NHL team will make a serious bid to move in the next few years. The likeliest is the Florida Panthers, and then the Carolina Hurricanes.

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