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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

An open letter to Branch Rickey, III

Branch B. Rickey, III
Pacific Coast League

Dear Mr. Rickey:

I wonder if you, as president of the league in which the Portland Beavers baseball team plays, are aware of what's been going on with the team in recent weeks. The team's owner, Shortstop LLC, which also owns the Portland Timbers soccer team, has committed itself to (a) buying a new soccer franchise, in the Major League Soccer league; and (b) getting the City of Portland to convert PGE Park, the current home of the Beavers, into a facility that would specifically be unsuitable for baseball.

This means that the Beavers will need a new place to play, and so far the only two Portland sites that have been found that would be suitable for a new baseball stadium have turned out to be unworkable because of widespread resident opposition to changing them from their current uses. There is also major resistance against using city tax dollars that are earmarked for "urban renewal" to build a new stadium for the Beavers, anywhere in Portland. And this type of tax dollars is the only money that the city could possibly muster for such a project.

What this means is that the unless Shortstop changes its current tune, the Beavers will not be playing in Portland after next year (or maybe even after this year) -- and there's no other feasible site for baseball currently on the drawing boards. The municipalities around Portland are presently strapped for cash, just as Portland is, and many do not have the "urban renewal" money pot to play with. Moreover, Beavers attendance, currently less than 4,500 per game for the season, would likely not improve with a move away from the central city.

Many in Portland have suggested that the Beavers should continue to share PGE, which was renovated specifically for baseball not too long ago, with the pro soccer team. Soccer, it has been suggested, could use portable stands to create the "near the field" experience that its fans purportedly demand. But Shortstop has repeatedly rejected this option, asserting that the "major league" soccer organization will not allow it. Of course, Shortstop could build its own stadium using private funds, but it is unwilling even to discuss that as it plunges headlong into a major capital outlay for the new soccer franchise.

What is never mentioned in all the public debate here is how your league sees all this. Is the Pacific Coast League o.k. with the Beavers moving to the suburbs? How does it feel about the fact that once the remodeling of PGE is legally committed, the Beavers will be without any home at all? And has anybody considered that, unlike the situation with previous sales of the Portland baseball franchise, in this case if the Beavers leave PGE, there is a good chance that there will never be a suitable facility in Portland proper for minor league baseball -- ever again?

I look forward to hearing your comments on the situation.

Jack Bogdanski
NE Portland

Comments (27)

Excellent. Can't wait for the response.

Dear Mr. Branch Rickey III,

I would like to know if PCL has clauses with your league as well as contract(s) with Shortstop LLC, that allows the LLC to move the Beavers without PCL approval? Doesn't PCL have to give approval for any moving of the Beavers?

After the $38 Million dollars of Portland taxpayer money for the recent remodeling that primarily was executed for baseball, does PCL have a legal as well as a moral obligation to help pay off that debt? What are the "arrangements" with the City of Portland to pay off the debt?

Thank you for your hopeful reply through this blog. Sincerely, Lee

The major league soccer association has also repeatedly rejected this option, specifically in response to the very question of whether the Beavers could remain at PGE. It's not Shortstop's call.

Well said, Jack. I couldn't have said it better myself.

As to a team moving within its own territory, I don't think any league has a right of refusal. If team wants to build a new building within their territorial limits, they can do so without outside approval. I don't recall Paul Allen asking for permission to build the Rose Garden nor do I recall Major League Baseball or the NFL getting involved in the impending moves of the Oakland A's or 49ers (to San Jose and Santa Clara, if I recall).

And I thought we had some evidence that the MLS mandate for soccer only venues was nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

Absolutely on target. Thank you. Could not agree more.

We need a cartoon of Portlandia on the front steps of PGE Park, pointing down the road, and saying to the dejected Beaver with baseball gear in tow, "Never darken my door again!"

Recall. Recall. Recall.

The major league soccer association has also repeatedly rejected this option

Really, who cares? Paulson and the used car salesmen who run the league will all sing the same tune.

BTW, "LentsOK," I see that you are posting again from the same IP address that "torridjoe," alias Mark Bunster of the Portland Fire Bureau, once used. But the IP address is owned by Arcadis, a major consumer of government pork. Just curious -- are you this guy? Does your company have a piece of the PGE remodel no-bid contract already? Or are you just one of the dedicated soccer drunks -- er, I mean, fans?

No reason to trash the fans Jack. Ya... there are some d-bags in the Timbers Army, and some showed up at City Hall. But the majority of the people at Timbers games are not hooligans. They are great fans. I am on the exact same page as you with this whole stadium debacle. But, no need to say negative things about current Timbers fans. The games at PGE are fantastic, and the Timbers are doing great this year.

I'm sure the Timbers have many great fans. The loudmouths on the stadiums deal, however, strike me as more likely to be the foul-mouthed drunks in the crowd.

Once again: The 2000 remodel was not done for baseball; it was primarily for seismic and ADA reasons. As an example, the concourse on the west side was lowered to remove the stairs that were formerly between the west side stands and the concourse level.

That said, the rest of the remodel was not handled well. Building luxury suites behind home plate was, shall we say, overly optimistic. The other concourse renovations were poorly thought through, and we ended up with a stadium that has an effective capacity of about 10,000. There are not enough restrooms and concession stands to handle crowds larger than that. Installing portable seating on the east sideline does nothing to resolve those problems.

Roger, the city is fully capable of funding the upgrades to PGE Park to address the issues with concourses, bathrooms, and concessions. These issues do not require a permanent east side stand, which would make it impossible for the Beavers to play at PGE Park.

The Beavers play 72 games every season. The city taxes the tickets and concessions from these games, and that revenue goes into the Spectator Facilities Fund. This Fund is used to pay off the debt from the previous renovations in 2001, and it will be used to pay for the new upgrades for the MLS team.

Why should we delete 72 revenue-generating events from the Spectator Facilities Fund while simultaneously going into more debt for the pleasure of doing so? It makes no sense.

We can keep the Beavers at PGE Park, pay for all the upgrades that you pointed out, use a portable grand stand on the east side for the Timbers games, and have money in the Spectator Facilities Fund to pay for it all. Everybody wins, nobody loses.

Dear Portland Lover,
You are not getting a Major League Soccer club in a stadium that also holds the Beavers. Plain and simple. No matter what you and Jack think Garber is not awarding a franchise to a city that has to play in a baseball stadium.

PGE Park does not have to be a "baseball stadium". With the new upgrades, it can be a very nice and modern soccer stadium with the capability of converting to a suitable configuration for the Beavers.

"I wonder if you, as president of the league in which the Portland Beavers baseball team plays, are aware of what's been going on with the team in recent weeks."

Not very long ago the PCL owned and operated the Beavers and Timbers, as well as managed PGE Park. So yes, he's more aware than just about anyone.

Well then Garber can suck it. I love the Timbers as they are now.

Gazza-- Do you really think Garber is in the position to turn away $35MM in franchise fees?

Cam'ron- Without moving to MLS the Timbers won't exist in 2011. They can operate now under an acceptable loss with 2011 in mind but the travel costs will be too large to maintain after that date. I love them as they are now as well and I want them to exist in 2011.

Brian- Garber is in a perfect position to turn away Paulson's $35 million in franchise fees since Joey Saputo in Montreal has "rethought" his position on paying the franchise fee since Garber told him to toss off when he tried to negotiate a lower fee.

so...now that the US team has beaten Spain in South Africa, does this mean that soccer will be popular in little old Puddletown, OR?
All together now...wave the magic wands.

"Garber is not awarding a franchise to a city that has to play in a baseball stadium."

YOu mean like in Oakland?

Dear god, why is everybody so frightened of displeasing the Great Garber? He jerks City Cuncil around like a dog on a short leahs and no wants to stand up to him?

Roger, if you research all the media attention on the past PGE Park remodeling and the remarks made by "The Family" and CoP officials, the remodeling was mostly for the retention of baseball. The concourse, the bathrooms, the skyboxes, the concession stands, the list goes on.

When a remodeling project (presently I believe 25%) reaches a certain level of facility value, then seismic updates are in most cases required. There are exceptions. What came first was Glickman and Gardner's inside deal with Vera to make PGE Park look and work better primarily for baseball, that was the first priority. It is somewhat similar with ADA requirements, a certain expenditure requires ADA upgrades.

PPS and PSU wasn't asking for any upgrades for PGE Park. They were honored to be able to play in this kind of facility compared to most venues that similar schools play in.

Then Portland Family Entertainment went bankrupt in some of the best economic times. Your picture is misleading.

The 2000 remodel was not done for baseball; it was primarily for seismic and ADA reasons.

Complete and utter malarkey. They added luxury boxes for minor league baseball and bush league soccer. Seismic, my eye.

Check out this poll on OregonBusiness.com:

"What should Portland do about the Beavers?"

So far the leading answer (65 votes) is "Let Merritt Paulson pay for his own #$*& stadium." In 2nd place (40 votes): "Absolutely nothing."

The name Branch Rickey is primal for me, having read a lot of books about baseball growing up overseas. I recently went over his life story again and it's just amazing.

The notion that we have that same name involved here - I don't know... it makes me nostalgic for a lost America.

I suppose someday Portland historians could talk reverentially of the great man, Merritt Paulson, and all the drama that ensued as he struggled to put his vision in place.

Maybe soccer will go on to mean as much to the United States as it does to England or France. Maybe Merritt will generate his own names like the Gashouse Gang, Dizzy Dean, or Stan the Man Musial - names that used to fire up my imagination as a kid. Maybe they'll be legends like Enos Slaughter and all those great baseball names developed in the minor league farm system that Branch Rickey invented.

Who knows? Maybe they'll even be an event with major cultural impact: a Jackie Robinson moment, unforeseen now by us all.

It could happen, I suppose. If the US ever wins the World Cup, we could look back on today and say that US win over Spain - that was a sign of tremendous things to come.
Little kids in far-off lands could stay up late reading about the mighty Timbers of the MSL.

But I really doubt it. I've felt for quite a while that this stretch in Portland was historic as an allegory for the decline of America. I mean it's all there.

Every time you look for another detail, one pops up more colorful than the last. Having someone named Branch Rickey involved is deep, because it points out how shallow our civic discourse has become. Beau Breedlove? Randy Leonard? These are our names? These are our legends?

America is becoming something unrecognizable to a lot of people. I'm not talking about the right wing accusations of socialism - I think it's cultural - maybe even driven by electronics.

Maybe I'm getting old but when did everyone become such intense phonies? When did the news here in town become dominated by a crew of mediocre clowns whom you wouldn't want running a frat house, much less a great American city?

There's something profound in the name Branch Rickey on the day the city council told his descendent that the Beavers were being tossed out of PGE Park. All so a Goldman Sachs brat can have a gated community to keep his new toy in.

Our freshly exonerated mayor can't even say what's really happening. The Beavers aren't being tossed out of their old ballpark. They're just in the process of becoming a "regional team."

Sam, why not say it in that phony language you love so well? Baseball is being repurposed. A "regional team"? Wow, another stinking little pile of spin. Is anything real anymore?

It's hard to believe the same country that produced Branch Rickey could come up with a clown like Sam Adams. And tougher still to think that we actually put him in charge.

Garrett-- I am not sure I follow your post but I admit that I am not familiar with the Montreal case. Help me understand how Montreal's owner renegotiating his franchise fees puts Garber in a better position to turn away future Timbers franchise fees?

Side question: Couldn't Merritt have bought one of the underperforming MLS teams in the $10MM range and relocated them to Portland with enough cash saved to remodel PGE himself?

With franchisees renegotiating/dictating franchise fees it doesn't sound like Garber is driving this bus or that he has any leverage to collect.

Either way, I love soccer more than most but that doesn't blind me to the fact that this is an awful business deal. It's not really a business deal because those footing the bill, taxpayers, don't get to participate.

Don't forget to CC his brother, Lime.

"Garber is not awarding a franchise to a city that has to play in a baseball stadium."

You mean like in Oakland?

Posted by Steve.

Steve: First of all Oakland doesn't have a team. Secondly, the San Jose Earthquakes play at Santa Clara University's Buck Shaw Stadium in a soccer only facility. They played 2 games this year at the Alameda Colisiem for the Beckham games which backfired because Beckham didn't play. A strategy that has cost them tons of revenue and at least 8,000 season ticket subscriptions.

If Portland doesn't want an MLS franchise Montreal will be more than happy to take them and pay the $40m, so would Las Vegas, St. Louis and hell Toronto would love to have a second club.

That's the point. The league is so unpopular we don't even know where they play.
I do know about Real Salt Lake.
The name was so ridiculous I couldn't forget it.

All true soccer fans know what time it is: 45 minutes 'til Brazil plays.

I am really getting tired of these Timbers Army people spin everything. They are not to be trusted to be truthful or frank about this deal. And I am a Timbers fan since 1975, so it's not like I am anti-soccer. I just get tired of the Timbers Army idiots.

First they say that if we don't kick the Beavers out of PGE Park, there is no possibility to have the Timbers play in the MLS. Then when you show them that a portable east side grand stand will work, and why it is important that we retain the 72 game dates of the Beavers because that puts money into the Spectator Facilities Fund, they come back with made up numbers about how the Timbers in the MLS will make more money than the Beavers. They ignore that we can have both revenue streams.

And now they are claiming that Montreal is going to "take our place". Please read this article from ESPN. It states that Montreal is egging to join the league in 2011 along with Portland and Vancouver, not as a replacement for Portland.


"But Courtemanche didn't rule out the possibility that Montreal could join the league, along with Vancouver and Portland, which will become the 17th and 18th MLS clubs, for the start of the 2011 season. That is an apparent about-face from comments Garber made in March saying that MLS would not expand again until 2012 at the earliest. The league's 16th team, the Philadelphia Union, will debut in the spring of 2010."

These Timbers Army idiots do not understand one thing. Why would the MLS turn away an expansion fee? That's money in their pocket. This is not some kind of one or the other proposition. The MLS can get all these expansion fees, and apparently Montreal says they won't even need an expansion draft. How does this put Portland's bid in danger? Why would the MLS turn away Portland's expansion fee, when it can have both Portland and Montreal?

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