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Buffalo’s MLB team that wasn’t

Jul 10, 2012, 2:31 PM EDT

Buffalo NY

Great article about Coca-Cola Field – formerly known as Pilot Field — in Buffalo.  The ballpark that, back in the late 80s and early 90s, was constantly outdrawing a couple of major league teams every years.

Forgotten now was that the park was built to be expanded, with the specific intent of luring a major league team. But, as Mark Byrnes explains in The Atlantic, it was never to be:

Ownership and the city did everything it was supposed to do. It built spectacular facilities and filled it up each game those first three and a half seasons, even outdrawing two Major League teams. So when June of 1991 came and Denver and Miami were given the two expansion franchises, the city’s pursuit of big time baseball ended as deflating heartbreak to a population just months into coping with ‘Wide Right.’

It was the right thing done at the wrong time, as the economics of Major League Baseball were on the brink of a fundamental shift, and smaller cities without major media and corporate power were no longer welcome at the big boy’s table.

It’s a dynamic that, had it existed earlier, would have kept Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and a host of other cities out of Major League Baseball.

  1. Ben - Jul 10, 2012 at 2:42 PM

    I don’t really know much about the distribution of population in the Buffalo metropolitan area, but can it be much worse than Tampa? I know Buffalo itself is small, but the region is fairly substantial.
    http://bizofbaseball.com/PopulationtoMLBBallparks.htm

    Only 1.2 million people within 40 minutes of the Rays’ park.

    • normcash - Jul 10, 2012 at 3:02 PM

      Actually, the population of the Tampa-St. Pete Metropolitan Statistical Area in 2010
      was 2,750,000 with a growth rate of almost 15% from 2000, while the Buffalo-Niagra Falls
      MSA population was 1,250,000 with a growth rate from 2000 of -4%. The other thing about Buffalo, is that it’s hemmed in by Toronto to the north, Cleveland to the west and Pittsburgh
      to the south, so the market beyond its SMA is limited.

      • Ben - Jul 10, 2012 at 3:08 PM

        All good points–I think the issue isn’t so much the total metropolitan size, but the size within a reasonable proximity of the ballpark. Tampa Bay is so incredibly spread out. I’d imagine Buffalo is too though.

      • paperlions - Jul 10, 2012 at 3:22 PM

        Plus….it doesn’t matter how many people are around if they don’t spend money on baseball or care about the sport. There isn’t any evidence that Florida is good baseball market, regardless of the size of the markets.

    • brian32556 - Jul 10, 2012 at 6:09 PM

      Hey, the Bills play some games in Toronto. Have the Jays come down to Buffalo for a few! The Jays attendance isn’t so great (except when the Yankees and Red Sox come to town). Turnaround is fair play!

  2. SmackSaw - Jul 10, 2012 at 2:58 PM

    Buffalo Athletics has a nice ring.

    • bloodysock - Jul 10, 2012 at 3:06 PM

      I like Buffalo Wings better.

  3. istillbelieveinblue - Jul 10, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    When Victory Field (it replaced Bush Stadium, which was used as a stand-in for Comiskey Park and Crosley Field during the filming of “Eight Men Out”) in Indianapolis was built in 1995/1996 for the Indians (then AAA of the Reds, now with Pittsburgh), the persistent speculation was that the park was built in a way that it could be easily expanded from it’s current capacity of around 15,000 to accommodate a Major League team. To my knowledge this was never more than speculation. The Indy Metro isn’t large enough to support a baseball team under the current economics of Baseball. Any ML team that moved here would also have to contend with ingrained allegiances to Chicagao ( both teams), St. Louis and Cincy.

    • Uncle Charlie - Jul 10, 2012 at 8:02 PM

      The wife and I love going downtown to watch the Indians, but baseball in Indianapolis is a complete joke. 4 batting cages in the whole metro area, one slow pitch facility on the north side and that’s about it. No Indy’s problem isn’t its proximity to Chicago or Cincinnati it’s a city wide ambivalence to anything at all. Look no further than all of the chain stores and strip malls to witness this.

  4. humanexcrement - Jul 10, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    I honestly wish there were fewer MLB teams. What we have now are four extra teams in cities that couldn’t care less about baseball. With one Rocktober exception, the Rockies can be in the middle of a pennant race and people in Denver care more about what’s happening in Broncos training camp. The Rays are an awesome team, but someone had the brilliant idea of building a dome to obscure the view of one of the most beautiful cities in America. They can’t give away playoff tickets. The Marlins are forced to overpay for a frathouse of a team just to attract attention, and the D’Backs have had more uniform changes than winning seasons. Yes, Milwaukee is a small market, but per capita they have a nice, passionate fanbase. But the talent pool is completely watered down by expansion. There are 100 players in the majors who would have been considered AAA talent as recently as 20 years ago.

    • paperlions - Jul 10, 2012 at 3:26 PM

      There are far more people playing baseball now than 20 years ago. The global talent pool is much deeper than it was 20 years ago, and more than makes up for expansion. Just go back and look at some rosters and stats from any era….you probably see that the gap between the best and worst player hasn’t changed much, if anything, it has probably decreased over the years.

    • card0109 - Jul 10, 2012 at 3:42 PM

      I agree with that completely. Living in Denver now, it drives me nuts that the Denver Post has a specific section of their online paper devoted to the Broncos year round, while the other four professional teams around this city still have to compete for headlines with other Broncos articles in the sports section.

      • paperlions - Jul 10, 2012 at 3:44 PM

        That may drive you nuts…but they probably are just catering to what people want, no?

      • card0109 - Jul 10, 2012 at 3:45 PM

        As I just reread your comment, however, I realized that I disagree that there should be fewer MLB teams. I love having professional baseball so near to me. Maybe we should take it upon ourselves to try and educate more people on how to appreciate and enjoy baseball

      • paperlions - Jul 10, 2012 at 3:57 PM

        Remember, the baseball markets in NY, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, and Philly didn’t grow overnight. Those fan bases were generations in the making, and didn’t have the support of the team in Denver for decades. It isn’t reasonable for baseball to expect people to suddenly become rabid fans of the new local team just because they expand or move a franchise….but teams aren’t generally willing to wait for the required time for there to be generations of fan indoctrination.

    • chill1184 - Jul 10, 2012 at 6:31 PM

      With Denver, it’s obvious that the Nuggets, Rockies and Avalanche will always play second, third and fourth fiddle to the Broncos and even more since they have Peyton as their QB. In addition the Broncos have been around the longest.

      The Rays problem is that the Trop isn’t exactly easy to get to in and out of and yes the case can be made that Baseball interest isn’t as much as football (both pro and college).

  5. braddavery - Jul 10, 2012 at 3:37 PM

    I really wish that Buffalo would have gotten a MLB team. : (

  6. dremmel69 - Jul 10, 2012 at 4:07 PM

    The biggest missed opportunity was for headline writers.

    – Marlins ask taxpayers to fund new stadium – Threaten to ‘Shuffle off to Buffalo’

  7. mybrunoblog - Jul 10, 2012 at 4:08 PM

    Could you imagine playing post season games in Buffalo in October? Snow, freezing temperatures. April would be no picnic either. Might not work.

    • card0109 - Jul 10, 2012 at 5:27 PM

      Welcome to Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins… Beautiful park, but whoever decided that we really didn’t need a roof didn’t think about the beginning and the end of the season.

  8. florida76 - Jul 10, 2012 at 5:59 PM

    One minor correction should be noted to Craig’s story. The economic factors he alluded to might have been a factor in whether a city like Milwaukee ever had MLB several decades ago, but Pittsburgh’s been in the National League since the 19th century, so that’s a completely different situation. Pittsburgh was a hub of industrial growth with a growing population, so it was a natural fit for MLB. Smaller cities like Louisville, where the Pirates acquired Honus Wagner, were the type of cities which weren’t suitable for MLB.

  9. ashoreinhawaii - Jul 10, 2012 at 6:56 PM

    Wow, I wish all “Comment” discussions were this intelligent and civil.
    Good job, folks!

  10. baddorange - Jul 10, 2012 at 7:13 PM

    St. Pete is the worse city to have MLB. Crappy bridges from Tampa and the growing areas. St. Pete is nothing but old people and a ghetto like Harlem

  11. raysfan1 - Jul 10, 2012 at 7:40 PM

    @chill–
    True enough about the location of Tropicana Field. However, I don’t really agree with the idea that there is insufficient fan base. There are obstacles though–for one thing, the majority of Floridians were born elsewhere and often remain loyal to the team from their original hometown. Another issue is the Grapefruit League creates pockets of fans for other teams (plus the weather is great then and the tickets cheap). This last point is especially true with the Yankees, who cultivated relationships in Tampa 20+ years before the Rays ever existed (with George Steinbrenner seen as sort of a favorite son as well). It also has to be remembered the real estate crash and the economy hit Florida particularly hard.

  12. ccmf69 - Jul 11, 2012 at 2:47 PM

    Would you guys like to hire a proofreader/editor?…I find more goofs here than on that, “I dropped out of school in the second grade” website…

    • kiwannabee - Jul 14, 2012 at 2:36 AM

      Dear Grammar Nazi,

      You have an extraneous comma in your sentence after the word “that.”

      Please take your services elsewhere.

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