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Taking Game To The Voters A Tricky Task

Sat., July 29, 1995, midnight

There are several different premises for the building of a new baseball stadium here, but for the moment let’s consider the mythical one:

If you de-roof it, they will come.

Now, myths are cool if they’re not outright fiction - and sometimes even if they are - and we know of no stadium in America that sucks the thrill out of the baseball experience like the Kingdome. The saddest - definitely not the wisest - souls you’ll ever see are the batting-practice hardcores lined up at Gate B at 4 o’clock, willingly surrendering 3 extra hours of Seattle’s spectacular sunshine for the privilege of having Jay Buhner swat 60 mph grapefruits into the their laps.

So let’s get this straight: On Sept. 19, the voters of King County will be asked to approve a 10th-of-a-percent sales-tax hike to fund a new ballyard … with another roof?

One a scale of 1 to 10, well, let’s position it in Mariners annals somewhere between the Kevin Mitchell trade and hiring Maury Wills to manage.

Yes, they’ll be able to crank the new roof open and shut it like a patio umbrella, and 95 percent of the time, Mariners Park at Can’t Win Yards - relax, it’s just a working title - would be an open-air stadium. So why a roof?

Why a roof when it’s the single most depressing feature of the building baseball wants to abandon?

And especially why a roof when it’s probably, what, a $70 million line item in the $245 million blueprint?

Does somebody perhaps want to torpedo this project and send the Mariners sailing off to northern Virginia or wherever billionaire buyers can be found?

Sorry. That’s conspiracy talk. Don’t want to get lumped in with the goverment-is-controlling-the-weather crowd.

Which, of course, is what we’re talking about - controlling the weather. One of the local papers runs a daily feature charting how often this season a retractable roof stadium would have had to have been, uh, unretracted to combat the elements, and the number they’ve come up with is five - though that doesn’t necessarily translate to five rainouts.

But how necessary can a roof be in Seattle when they’re getting along just fine without one in Denver - where men are men and precipitation is an industry measured by the foot?

Perhaps the roof will be lopped off the wish list in a push for votes a few weeks before the election. Perhaps it will coincide with a Mariners win streak of eight or nine games. Perhaps the M’s will someday try something other than left field by committee.

Fact is, the public facilities district concept that has given Spokane its new palace is getting a reception so cool that you’d need more than a retractable roof to keep the joint warm.

It hardly seems to matter that the yearly cost to the average taxpayer would amount to roughly $9 - a night of ramen for dinner instead of Domino’s. It matters a lot that only King County residents are being dinged for this bauble, when season-ticket holders come from Tacoma and Everett and Bremerton, too.

Indeed, if a method could be found to let the pro-stadium spenders from outside the county pay the tab for the nay voters within, you could be haggling over land and breaking ground already.

But mostly it matters that this is hardly the time to be panhandling the public on behalf of baseball, even if Mariners management - after some wrangling - is standing up as the most cooperative partner in a public facility in the sport’s history.

There is enough no-new-taxes momentum to defeat the proposal in the best of times - indeed, that’s why the politicians have handed the risk of losing the last baseball franchise the city will ever see off to the electorate, so that it can’t come back to bite them in future Novembers. This may be the epitome of spinelessness, but you asked for it.

It is just as unfortunate that the players and owners of the game have revealed themselves to be every bit as greedy and blind as the politicians are weak in the knees. But worst of all, baseball’s Bickersons haven’t settled anything yet.

There are bound to be a few voters who go to the polls remembering Mariners president John Ellis warning a year ago that baseball couldn’t survive in Seattle without a salary cap and revenue sharing - neither of which has come to pass.

You suppose they’ll buy the proposition that a new stadium will make it all better?

Sorry. Especially not if it’s an open-and-shut case.

, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.

You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.

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