OK, I've heard a lot of comments on this issue so far, and in general the
consensus seems to be:
- The Tigers need a winning ballclub to fill its new ballpark all year in
- Juan Gonzalez needs to have a huge year for the Tigers to fill its new
ballpark all year in 2000.
My contention is that the new ballpark will basically fill itself up, mostly
because it's a new ballpark, and the actual team and players on the field is
much less a factor in first-year ballpark attendance.
I've think I've compiled enough statistical evidence to back up this
contention, which I have attached in the form of an Excel spreadsheet table
(saved down to version 4.0 for Windows).
This table looks at the six teams who have moved into brand new ballparks
during the 90s, excluding expansion teams. Those teams are (new park's
first years): Chicago White Sox (1991); Baltimore (1992); Texas (1994);
Cleveland (1994); Colorado (1995); and Atlanta (1997).
The table compares for each team, between the first year in its new park and
the last year in its old park: ballpark capacity; total attendance; # home
games; % capacity of parks filled throughout the year; team record; finish
in standings; and "marquee player" and his stats. (I must admit upfront that
my definition of marquee player is a little loose, based on my
interpretation of which one player on each ballclub could be considered him
whom the fans "came to the ballpark to see". I invite anyone to correct me
if they think I chose the wrong player as the "marquee player", but I
included this kind of comparison to analyze the idea that that's what the
Tigers "need" to fill their new ballpark.)
A lot of you don't have Excel on your machines. Let me summarize the table
- The six new ballparks averaged -20% less seating capacity than the old
ballparks, but averaged +18% higher *total* attendance. This overall
comparison includes two of the six ballparks (Texas, Cleveland) opening
their seasons in strike-shortened 1994, despite Cleveland having lower
actual attendance. (One team, Colorado, played a season in their last
ballpark in 1994 -- and opened their new ballpark in strike-shortened 1995.)
- Capacity of ballpark filled went from 55% of total in the last year to
85% the next year. Lest you think the capacity stat is spurious because
Cleveland and Denver had huge capacities in their old ballparks versus their
new ones, I removed them from the equation and found that average seating
capacity for the remaining four clubs dropped -7% for their new parks -- yet
total attendance still went up +29%, and capacity filled went up +48% as
- Every single club experienced at least a +24% increase in total capacity
of seats filled for the year. Here's an interesting stat: New Comiskey
Park, widely excoriated as the last of the crappy new ballparks, and Camden
Yards, the first of the widely-praised new "retro" ballpark, experienced the
exact same capacity-filled increase: +74%.
- The records of the teams in the new park averaged a .547 record, vs. .507
in the old. Four of six teams in the new ballparks had better records in
the new park than the old park. An argument could be made that a new
ballpark puts a team in a better frame of mind to play. However, the two
teams with worse records (White Sox and Texas) still experienced substantial
increases in attendance. In fact, Texas had the best home record of any AL
team in its last year at Arlington Stadium -- and STILL experienced a large
increase in attendance.
- Teams did tend to be more in contention their first year in the new
ballpark versus last year in old. Two of four non-1994 teams (Atlanta,
Colorado) in new ballparks were either in first place or within four games
of first (keeping them in contention through the last week of the season),
and the two 1994 teams were within the same shouting distance on 8/12/94
(Cleveland, Texas). The two teams that were out of it in their new years
were White Sox and Baltimore -- the same two who experienced the +74%
increase mentioned above.
OK -- so I think I've sufficiently demonstrated that regardless of record,
and regardless of status of division title contention, all teams experienced
a huge run-up in attendance for the first year in a new park versus the last
year in the old one.
Now -- how about that marquee player argument? The one that says that the
Tigers need Juan Gonzalez to fill that new ballpark of theirs in 2000?
Let's take this on a team by team basis:
- Atlanta: Had many marquee players on both the team in the old park and
the team in the new park. +19% increase in attendance, +24% increase in
capacity. Marquee Player factor: none.
- Baltimore: Cal Ripken was the marquee player in 1991, but slumped badly
in 1992. Mike Mussina became the marquee player in a monster 18-5/2.54
year, but only went to the mound every fourth or fifth day. Mike Devereaux
had the best offensive stats for the 1992 Orioles -- but marquee player?
Not. Marquee Player factor: none.
- Chicago White Sox: Bobby Thigpen set the MLB saves record in 1990 with
57, so he was trotted out there a lot, and the Sox fans went wild over him.
The 1990 White Sox had not marquee offensive players, but the 1991 Sox sure
did: it was Frank Thomas' first monster season, and he played every single
day, not just when the Sox were winning in the ninth inning. The Sox had
the same basic record both season. Marquee Player factor: slight.
- Cleveland: Albert Belle had a monster year in Municipal in 1993. Albert
Belle had a monster year at the Jake in 1994. Same diff -- plus the strike
robbed Cleveland of a pennant in 1994 that they didn't experience in 1993.
Marquee Player factor: none.
- Colorado: Andres Galarraga had the only really great year for the Rocks
in Mile High in 1994. He was on his way to a 50-HR season. In 1995, a lot
of Rock had great years: Big Cat, Larry Walker, Vinny Castilla, and of
course Dante Bichette. However, Colorado was also in a tight pennant race
in 1995, which always spikes attendance. Between one single marquee player
and a pennant race, I would have to say: Marquee Player factor: none.
- Texas: Juan Gonzalez won the first of his two MVPs in the last year of
Newly-acquired Jose Canseco picked up the pace a bit in 1994, although he
didn't have quite the season Juan had. Bottom line: Rangers already had a
marquee player in the old park -- they didn't have to pick one up. Marquee
Player factor: none.
So there you have it -- my case for my contention that the Tigers did NOT
*have* to pick up a marquee player to fill the new Comerica Park in 2000.
They would have done so with the same exact team on the field.
Regardless of record and regardless of the players on the field, every
single one of the six teams who moved into new ballparks in the 1990's
experienced substantial increases in attendance versus the prior year.
> Every baseball writer I read refers to the Tigers' alleged need to pick up
> high-profile superstar like Juan Gonzalez to fill the new Comerica Park as
> given, without a second thought or a moment of reflection on the notion.
> Why does everybody take that for granted? With a new ballpark and the
> talent they have in hand (they don't really suck -- it was a combination
> underachieving and youth), wouldn't that have been enough to fill a brand
> spanking new 40,000 seat ballpark, generate some revenue, and go big into
> the lucrative FA market after the season?
> Does everybody think the Tigers need Juan Gonzalez to fill the new