Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

5-7 Immigration and Major League Baseball

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Arizona's immigration law will likely have much the same effect on Major League Baseball as its rejection of Martin Luther King Day had on pro football.
Here's the history. When the St. Louis Cardinals relocated to Arizona, in 1988, the National Football League wanted to hold a Super Bowl in Phoenix as soon as possible.
In 1989, the Arizona Legislature approved the state's participation in the Martin Luther King federal holiday. But opponents of the holiday collected signatures to put the matter on the 1990 Arizona ballot.
In early 1990, NFL owners met to decide on the location of the 1993 Super Bowl. Arizona was the odds-on favorite but NFL players, a large portion of whom were black, became edgy about that referendum.
So a delegation of state leaders, including Sen. John McCain, flew to the meeting to inform the site selection committee that it would do all it could to win that election.
Arizona was awarded the 1993 Super Bowl. But several months later Arizona voters rejected the King holiday. NFL owners met again and moved the game to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA.
A citizens committee was formed to work toward another referendum for a King holiday during the 1992 election. That effort, plus the loss of $350 million in convention business and a Super Bowl, resulted in a referendum victory.
A few months later, the NFL awarded the 1996 Super Bowl to Arizona.
Back to the present. The 2011 Major League Baseball All-Star Game has been awarded to Phoenix. Demonstrations in major league cities have demanded that the all-star game be moved and teams that hold spring training in Phoenix move to Florida.
It is a case of very unfortunate timing once again. Just as Arizona got its tail in a crack with the black community 20 years ago, a black dominated sport decided to move its premier game. Now the same thing happens with an Hispanic dominated sport.
In the long run, Arizona spring training may be hurt worse than losing the all-star game. As of this year, Arizona has now lured exactly half the major league teams to its state. Arizona's Cactus League and Florida's Grapefruit League both have 15 teams.
As of next year, all Cactus League teams will train in the Phoenix area. But by 2012, Phoenix could lose at least one team to Florida. The Chicago Cubs, baseball's highest-drawing spring training team, want a new stadium in Mesa.
Mesa offered to renovate Hohokam Park but the Cubs want a new facility like so many other clubs enjoy. And of course, they want taxpayers to build it.
Other communities, including Indian reservations, in the Phoenix area are interested but Mesa talked them into holding off and working together to get the money out of the state Legislature.
Arizona's budget deficit makes New Mexico's look like small change. Its Legislature adjourned two weeks ago with no action on a ball park and no desire for a special session.
The Cubs agreed to wait until July 12 before talking to other cities. Naples, Florida is reported to be anxiously awaiting. Meanwhile pressure from the Hispanic community is building to move the team out of Arizona.
Ironically, the Cactus League got started in the late '40s because of racism in Florida. Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck moved his spring training to Tucson and convinced the San Francisco Giants to hold spring training in Scottsdale. The Cubs followed soon after. Veeck also had a ranch near Tucson.
I have long wondered if Veeck might have had an additional motivation. Also in the late '40s, the Cleveland and Chicago mafias were looking fondly at New Mexico and Arizona to build Las Vegas-style casinos.
And what could have made the mob feel more at home than to have their hometown teams playing in Arizona? It didn't work out. The mob nervously departed after the 1949 Cricket Coogler murder in Las Cruces.
But during the 45 years Cleveland trained in Tucson, the Indians gained many fans in southwestern New Mexico.
FRI, 5-07-10

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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