Could A's talks be 'Mesaball'? - East Valley Tribune: Columns

Could A's talks be 'Mesaball'?

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at

Posted: Sunday, December 4, 2011 10:00 am

Now, I haven't asked him, partly because Billy Beane isn't likely to be one to publicly reveal his tactics anyway. But the general manager of the Oakland Athletics may well be applying some "Moneyball" strategy as the A's mull moving spring training baseball operations from Phoenix Municipal Stadium to Mesa's Hohokam Stadium.

For those of you who neither saw the movie - few men, and I'm certainly not one of them, can say that Brad Pitt portrayed them - nor read the Michael Lewis book on which it is based, Beane is known for defying conventional wisdom and coming up a winner.

You and I may look at Hohokam as not exactly a better trade for Phoenix Muni. Yes, Hohokam is bigger and newer (it was completely razed and rebuilt in 1996-97). But it's also surrounded by residential neighborhoods.

This means that before and after the game, fans are spending their money in places that are not in Mesa and are not giving the team a cut.

But hidden value is, of course, the theme of the movie: Beane, who loses his roster's stars to free agency, starts picking up players for reasons their teams' managements don't see. I won't give away any more other than to say these players each have hidden talents that can be aggregated in just the right way.

According to his biography on Major League Baseball's website, "Beane remains in great demand on the national speaking circuit, where he regularly addresses top companies on his management approach of identifying and using undervalued assets to create and sustain a competitive edge."

Which brings us to Phoenix versus Mesa.

After more than 30 years at Hohokam the Cubs certainly have every right to be counting the days until their 2014 move to a new west Mesa ballpark, training grounds and surrounding mixed-use facilities known as Wrigleyville West.

After being told by city officials that this would put the words "Mesa" and "destination" in the same sentence for tens of thousands of visitors, local voters approved the public financing package.

It's the way of all sports today. That is, the sport itself is merely first among equals. Those equals are sport, retail, restaurants, entertainment-that-is-not-sport ... and a hotel. Add in varying degrees of public dollars, and voila! (Home park name here) ville West.

The likely progenitor of this theory is the Walt Disney theme park. Walt waved a wand at Anaheim, and suddenly there appeared all the stuff in the previous paragraph. And if the Angels weren't already in a baseball stadium that in Los Angeles terms is right around the corner, there'd be a stadium bordering the same parking lot as Main Street USA.

To the Cubs' management - and I'm sure they saw "Moneyball" and likely read the book as well - Hohokam, and the practice fields at nearby Fitch Park, likely do not constitute this style of venue. Which is why they pine for the new Wrigleyville West.

But not everyone wants to turn a baseball park into, well, Disneyland.

As the Tribune's Garin Groff reported: Talks between the A's and Phoenix over improvements to Muni have stalled and Mesa officials - caught off guard as they were expecting a team now training in Florida - are looking to put a permanent tenant at Hohokam.

You don't have to be a baseball genius to recognize a squeeze play. Phoenix and the A's aren't playing ball and Mesa is a convenient possible alternative for the team to flirt with. And Phoenix's new mayor, Greg Stanton, might prefer that his first year in office not be marked by his city's longest-serving spring baseball tenant leaving town.

To be sure, neither Muni nor Hohokam will ever have the high-end retail or restaurants within walking distance that has made Scottsdale Stadium the tourists' park of choice. Then again, that's why Scottsdale remains home to the San Francisco Giants.

It's just as well. Scottsdale appeals to the eclectic San Francisco crowd (around whom one must never utter the words, "Rice-A-Roni"). North-of-downtown Mesa is more of an Oakland kind of place just like it has been a North Side of Chicago kind: Middle class, hard-working, hard-nosed, no frills. Think Raiders fans.

In the film, Beane is shown longing to compete on the same level as the more well off franchises toward ultimately winning the World Series. It's not clear whether moving spring training to Mesa or keeping it in Phoenix will help him accomplish those goals. But it might get him more seats and better spring training facilities wherever the A's end up.

Then, all Beane needs to do is sign up some more of those players with hidden talents.



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