Philadelphians love their Phillies, and now that the season is off to a promising start, it's time to praise the guy most responsible for making this franchise so successful: John F. Street.
That is not a misprint.
It was Street who, as a new mayor, made the deal to build new stadiums for the Eagles and Phillies - a decision roundly criticized as a boondoggle. People didn't like the cost ($394 million from the city) nor the location (the Phils wanted to be in Center City) nor the whole darn idea (why should government subsidize privately owned sports teams?).
Street, with roots in the neighborhoods, could have easily decided that aging Veterans Stadium was good enough. Had he done so, the teams would have had little choice: Each had a lease to play at the Vet through this year.
The Eagles were making noises about moving the franchise unless a deal was done, but the Phillies were pretty much stuck.
Now, imagine if Street had decided to hell with new stadiums and made the Phillies stay at the Vet.
Would we have the Four Aces on the squad? Would we have won the World Series in 2008? What difference did a new stadium make in the life of this team?
The short answer is: a lot.
In the final four years at the Vet, the Phillies averaged 22,865 fans a game or about 1.8 million paying customers a season.
In the last five years at Citizens Bank Park (which opened in 2004), the Phillies averaged 40,862 fans a game, with season attendance averaging 3.3 million.
At an average price of about $36 per ticket, the Phillies gate alone totaled close to $140 million last year.
At the Vet, thanks to lower ticket costs and lower attendance, the gate was closer to $40 million to $60 million.
In 2003, the Phils' last season there, they grossed $97 million through all sources of revenue - tickets, TV rights, concessions, etc. This year, they are expected to gross close to $240 million.
Which is a good thing, because according to Forbes magazine, their payroll for players is $173 million this year, second highest in the majors (behind, of course, the Yankees, at $203 million).
They don't call it money ball for nothing.
You could make the case that if the Phillies had invested big money in players and started winning, fans would have filled the Vet. Rising attendance would have meant rising income. (Forget the fact that you went to see the Phils despite the Vet, while people go to Citizens Bank Park for the experience of being there.)
But let's get real. You have to make money to spend it. You can't use your MasterCard to pay Ryan Howard his $19 million a year or Roy Halladay his $15.7 million a year.
(Despite these big numbers, the Phils' owners don't exactly rake in cash. Forbes says the team averaged a net annual profit of $13 million the last five years - just a tad more than Raul Ibanez is making for playing this year ($12.1 million).
The Phillies' management and owners deserve credit for working to improve their team. For years, it was a major-market team with a middle-market payroll.
But they knew they needed major talent, and that comes at a price. Getting a new stadium was essential to the team. And it is clear that the money the stadium yielded was spent not on themselves but on buying that talent. Take that modern Maverick Ruben Amaro Jr., give him a pile of money, and watch him work magic at the table.
Even so: That money would not have been there were it not for John F. Street.
As mayor, Street took the risk of supporting the use of public money for the new stadiums - though he lost his campaign to build it downtown. He's the one who had to face the questions about why spend on sports teams when the city had so many other needs. (Why not sell bonds to repair police and fire stations?) He fought the lawsuits to stop the projects. He stuck with his original decision that financing stadiums was a good deal for the city. (He was stubborn that way.)
The Phils' transformation into a winner gives credence to the argument of the civic value of such intangibles as quality sports teams, world-class orchestras, good museums, decent parks. They are civic amenities that boost a region's value and define its image (and its self-image).
Economists hate such intangibles because they cannot be measured in dollars and cents; therefore, their value tends to be marginalized.
It's much easier to measure Cliff Lee's contract (five years, $120 million) than the feeling Philadelphians had the day they learned Lee had spurned the Yankees to return to Philadelphia.
Because that is priceless.