The most appropriate way to honor the memory of the impact of the most significant Brooklyn Dodger of them all would be for Fred Wilpon to take the money and run…to the bottom line of any contract for stadium naming rights.
It is Walter O'Malley, not Jackie Robinson, who shaped the baseball world we live in today. Bless Jackie and his courage and his accomplishments, but there would be no Mets without O'Malley.
O'Malley left town. Took Stoneham with him. If that hadn't happened, there's no Faith and Fear in Flushing. I'm writing Hope and Hell in Harlem while Jason is blogging Bats and Balderdash on Bedford. On a personal note, we owe those who skipped out on New York a debt of gratitude.
Bigger picture, O'Malley not only saw California but knew it was a gold mine in waiting. Why let some puny expansion team put down stakes when he could establish the Dodger brand name in a burgeoning market? If selling naming rights to his new stadium there struck him as a good business opportunity, he would have come up with it. Selling the Dodgers to Southern California was a better investment.
Walter O'Malley made baseball a big-money game. He figured out that installing water fountains in the ballpark might keep people from buying soft drinks, so he held off on the fountains. He decided putting just enough games on free television was better than none or all, so he only aired a few. He built an operation that was the first to usher three million through the gates, the first to regularly top two million. He found his audience and he cultivated it.
If Walter O'Malley were still around and he was presented the chance to make money off the name of a new stadium, Walter O'Malley would set new records for windfalls.
The people noisily campaigning to name Shea Stadium's successor after Jackie Robinson are people who are not going to pay their way into the ballpark. They are well-meaning people, sentimental people, semi-informed-at-best people. As decent (as in human decency) a point as they make on behalf of the Robinson legacy, they are misguided both on how these things get done and why these things get done.
The National Tennis Center's salutes to Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King, held up as our examples to follow, are outstanding. Ashe and King are synonymous with the best of American tennis. When we have a National Baseball Center, by all means name it for Jackie Robinson, synonymous with the best of American baseball. If I'm looking for the best of New York Mets baseball, however, a search for Jackie Robinson yields no matches.
The field is where baseball takes care of those we really care about. We're outside the park for a few minutes. We're inside the park for hours. Jackie's 42 gets more face time everywhere, not just in New York, the way it's set up now. The field is for players. 42 belonged to a great man who displayed his great qualities while being a great ballplayer.
Quick, how many Major League ballparks are named for ballplayers? Ebbets? Shibe? Comiskey? Jacobs?
We may celebrate Willie, Mickey & The Duke, but our fathers and grandfathers didn't directly hand them six bits for a ticket. Those went to Horace, Del and Walter. The owners are the owners. The ballplayers are the employees. It's a very proletariat-paradise concept that their name should be on the factory gates, but it's a fantasy. The only player, besides Pro Player, who got a stadium was Bill Shea. And he wasn't a player. He was a Player.
If you're not honoring yourself — I'm guessing the Wilponarium isn't on the table — or somebody or some group (like Veterans) overwhelmingly deserving of a tribute, you're probably making a business decision. What will make people want to come here?
1970: Do we need to let people know it's by the Three Rivers? We do? Then I've got just the name for our new multipurpose stadium here in Pittsburgh.
1994: Is the ballpark in Arlington? Sure it's not Dallas or Fort Worth? Well, we better make sure everybody understands the ballpark's in Arlington.
1912: How are we going to get some pub for this Fenway section of Boston?
You don't get that reasoning much anymore, so the business angle is now a straight cash deal. You give us a lot of money and we'll plaster your name all over our building where tens of thousands of your potential customers come 81 times a year. Strikes me as a sucker arrangement. Did Phillies fans dig their savings (compiled from all those years of not having to buy playoff tickets) out from under their mattresses and put it in a Citizens Bank? Have all White Sox lovers dumped their Sprint plans in favor of U.S. Cellular? Is there a single Padre fan who won't buy cat food at the supermarket because “I gotta support my team”?
The Mets need to take the O'Malley tack and take the money. Find a reputable sponsor and hook up. Something that sounds right, something that will still be here in its present form in 10 or 20 years. Avoid Chico's Bail Bonds. Pass on GoDaddy.com. Think twice before signing with Azek Trimboards. This is New York. There's bound to be a company or two that will meet the requirement.
Then squeeze 'em for all it's worth, get every cent out of 'em and go buy us a good player with the pure profits. If there's anything left over, erect a statue outside of whoever those who don't pay their way into Mets games insist we must honor next.