Gordon Monson: Major League Baseball should look not just at Salt Lake City, but what Salt Lake City can do

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says officials and organizers “like our chances” of landing a big league team when MLB decides to expand.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Items advertising Big League Utah at the Silicon Slopes Summit at the Delta Center, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.

Listening to an eager and optimistic Gov. Spencer Cox, who called recent happenings “good news,” it sure sounds like Major League Baseball could and should be on its way to Utah.

Let’s be clear: He guaranteed nothing. But he said, in so many words, he wants a big league team here, that significant components to make that happen and to make it happen successfully are either in place or will be in place and that Salt Lake City would “crush” the opportunity.

Somebody once famously said, ”This is the right place.”

Baseball fan Cox agrees.

“We think Major League Baseball will look at a two-team expansion,” he said. “… We like our chances.”

He said that last part two or three times.

The actual and authentic good news is that the Tampa Bay Rays have their plans for a new sweet little billion-dollar-plus home field in St. Pete ready and the Oakland A’s have their drawings in hand for a sparkling green cathedral in Vegas, and that commissioner Rob Manfred’s stated intentions for MLB to expand from 30 teams to 32, grinding though they are, are shifting into gear.

Warning: Punch up a pillow and get comfortable. This may or may not happen … you know, while we’re young.

The question sitting on Salt Lake City, like a hitter in the box waiting on a fat fastball down the meat of the plate, is whether its proposal, its location, its lust for baseball, and, most importantly, its money, like the guv said, is attractive enough to current baseball owners to make Utah winning an expansion team real.

Since April, when Gail Miller, along with other notables, got involved in the push for an MLB team here, there have been many articles and accounts written about candidate cities, including Utah’s own, and their individual pros and cons.

Fresh places like Nashville and Portland and Orlando and San Antonio and Charlotte and Raleigh and even treads and retreads like Montreal and Oakland and far-flung possibilities like Mexico City and Tokyo have been sized up like Berkshire hogs looking for the blue ribbon at the county fair. Everything has been theoretically proposed and measured, from guesses regarding the availability of corporate dollars to market size to population growth to support among fans for teams in other sports to past connections to Babe Ruth’s game.

One publication asked current big league players to vote for which city they would prefer to get the nod (Nashville won that poll by a substantial margin, Salt Lake got a mere 2 percent of the vote). Even outfits like bookies.com posted their just-for-fun running odds on which cities are the favorites to gain an expansion team. (Nashville, at last look, was No. 1, Salt Lake City was No. 2, followed by Charlotte.)

The communities under examination all have pluses and minuses. No place is perfect. But the ones near the top of the lists are formidable contenders. Most of them are great cities with great advantages and great reasons for deserving the economic reward that expansion would be almost certain to bring. Expansion in MLB hasn’t happened since 1998, so the opportunity to land a team is rare indeed.

There’s one thing, though, that hasn’t been weighed and articulated much, not weighed and articulated enough, in this whole process. Part of the reason for that is because it’s a difficult thing to accurately gauge.

Another part is because those who eventually will be counted on to cast ballots in the matter — the aforementioned owners — might not want it to be gauged all that thoroughly. It is this: How badly do the organizers, the money players in each candidate city want to win? To what lengths will they go to build a franchise that will annually or almost annually compete, do what’s necessary to compete, at baseball’s highest level? Are they interested in gaining the economic windfall that an MLB team can generate or are they interested in beating every other team’s brains out on the field of competition, out on the diamond?

It’s a question worth asking because if you glance around MLB, in either league, already there are too many teams and team owners who either aren’t particularly interested in winning, not committed or concerned about paying the people and players who can generate winning, folks who are satisfied with simply owning or managing a club and fielding a team and reaping the benefits thereof, or who flat-out don’t care.

Look around the leagues and make your own measurements, your own judgments in that regard. How many clubs are truly competitive? How many make baseball better by way of their existence? How many are there just to suck at the teat of Babe’s grand ol’ game?

Exactly who would own which part of what, who would influence what in Salt Lake City or in any of the other candidate cities and what benefit their acumen and capabilities and motivations and innovations and, yeah, stacks of cash, too, is what I’d look at if I were an owner with a vote. Does Salt Lake have the people in place not just to bring Major League Baseball to this community, but to really challenge other teams, to make the game better? It would take time, as it does for most expansion teams. Is the persistence and patience there?

That’s where so much measuring gets a bit foggy.

Salt Lake bought … err, I mean, brought … the Winter Olympics to the mighty Wasatch a few decades ago, and, no matter what anybody said in that sloppy run-up, what a raging success those Games were. They were fantastic by all accounts.

What can Salt Lake do now for baseball and its owners? It can do them a solid by not just attracting them and joining them, not just by pledging to beat them, but by doing whatever’s necessary to beat them.

Just like in the NBA … well, if Jordan hadn’t pushed off.

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