Changes at the Bottom
Tight pennant races continued in all four divisions last week, but it was a couple of noncontenders who made the big news, announcing changes that could alter the baseball landscape for years to come. Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan (Domino's), on the verge of selling the Tigers to the Detroit Red Wings' owner and fellow pizza magnate Mike Hitch (Little Caesars), began the transformation of the organization by gracelessly firing chairman of the board Jim Campbell and club president Bo Schembechler. Bob Lurie, owner of the Giants, topped that by firing his town. He accepted a reported $110 million offer to sell his team to a group of investors who want to move the franchise from San Francisco to St. Petersburg.
The fact that Campbell, who spent 43 years in the Tiger organization, was not retained even as a transitional consultant shows how insensitive Monaghan is and suggests just how anxious the Tigers are to make a complete break from the past. Schembechler, who was brought to Detroit in 1990 by his "friend" Monaghan, didn't even receive the courtesy of a face-to-face adios. He was canned by fax. He has threatened legal action, claiming Monaghan promised him a position with the Tigers for at least 10 years.
Should the sale to Hitch go through as expected within the next few weeks, it will be a positive step for the Tigers. Ilitch is a man who knows marketing. He has turned the Red Wings into one of the more successful and entertaining teams in the National Hockey League. Monaghan, meanwhile, has never exhibited great business sense in running his baseball team. In trying not to be overinvolved in club affairs, he has ended up being too uninvolved.
Campbell's laissez-faire style didn't help matters in Detroit. He was so conservative, so old-fashioned in his ways, that he didn't react to the marketing changes of the 1980s and '90s. His philosophy was simple: Open the gates, and if we win, we'll draw. Little else was done to make a trip to Tiger Stadium attractive for fans. That will have to change.
Through Sunday the Tigers were 52-61 and barely holding off the Indians to stay out of last place in the American League East. They also had the second-highest ERA in the major leagues—only the Mariners' was worse. "Whoever takes over has a lot of work to do, an awful lot," says Detroit manager Sparky Anderson, referring to the fielding of a better team. "In the last four years we've averaged about 23rd or 24th in baseball in pitching. For us to even get to .500, we have to get to 15th or 17th in pitching." Asked if the Tigers are capable of winning before 1995, Anderson said quietly, "I don't know, I don't know how. The new owner might grab four or five free agents."
Because Detroit has struggled the past four seasons, attendance is down drastically. In the last two years the Tigers have explored options for a new ballpark that might lift the size of their crowds considerably, but those plans were put on hold indefinitely when Monaghan said he wanted to sell.
A new stadium was also the key to Lurie's decision to sell the Giants. In four separate elections in recent years Bay Area voters have refused to authorize the issuing of bonds to build a new stadium that would allow Lurie to move the Giants out of inhospitable Candlestick Park. Finally last week he threw in the towel and sold out to the investors from Florida.
But to complete the sale Lurie needs 75% of the National League owners and a majority of American League owners to approve the move of the team. Some American League owners have already objected to the idea of the National League's having two teams in fast-growing Florida—the expansion Marlins open in Miami next season—before the American League has one. However, one American League owner said, "I don't think there will be a big fight over it. I don't think it's as big an issue as people think."
Why? Well, if the Giants abandon San Francisco, the Bay Area would be left to the A's, which would almost certainly help their attendance. Also, when and if the American League expands again, there's always Orlando, which is growing faster than any Florida city.