The Worst Kept Secret in the DC Baseball World is finally out–Nats Park will host the 2018 All-Star Game.
Since there’s real baseball happening tomorrow, I don’t want to spend too much time analyzing an exhibition game that’s still three and a half years away. But here are a few thoughts on the first All-Star Game in the nation’s capital since 1969.
1. This took way too long. Major League Baseball is an organization that sometimes does the right thing–after examining every other alternative. In this case, Bud Selig extracted $600 million from DC taxpayers in 2004, and then it took 14 years to award the city with an All-Star Game. By comparison, St. Louis hosted an All-Star Game three years after opening their stadium; Minnesota after four, and Miami five. MLB often uses the All-Star Game as a carrot to convince new cities to fund new ballparks. In the case of Washington D.C., MLB didn’t need a carrot because they had other leverage. If the city refused to build a new stadium, MLB would have kept the Expos from moving altogether. After extracting $600 million from taxpayers, and then $400 million from the Lerners, MLB simply didn’t need anything else from the D.C. community. They were free to withhold the All-Star Game to award to other cities with more leverage. Tomorrow’s announcement in unquestionably a good thing, but let’s not give MLB too much credit.
2. How much did MASN have to do with this? MLB finds itself right now where it hates to be–a courtroom. Peter Angelos dragged the Nationals and MLB into court to fight the latter’s attempt to settle the ongoing dispute over the Nats TV rights fees. Throughout the process, Bud Selig repeatedly warned both the Orioles and Nationals to avoid turning to court. MLB’s fear is twofold: (1) court cases can uncover baseball’s closely held financial information; and (2) put at risk MLB’s coveted anti-trust exemption. There was fair speculation MLB withheld the All-Star Game from Baltimore to punish them for their refusal to accept the MASN arbitration process. It’s equally fair to speculate whether MLB awarded the Nats, who have steadfastly remained an ally through the litigation process. Strangely enough, Ted Lerner cast the final vote to make Rob Manfred Commissioner last summer. Tomorrow’s announcement might be the first evidence it sometimes pays to play nice with the Commissioner’s Office.
3. This is a big thing for DC as a Baseball City. Some people will be cynical about this. They’ll say it’s only an exhibition game and it means nothing. Ignore them. Baseball has steadily grown in the city the past 10 years, but it’s easy to forget how much room it has to grow. By whatever metric you choose (TV ratings, attendance, Opening Day StubHub prices), Washington D.C. is still fighting to become a top tier Baseball Town. This is by no means a poor reflection on Nationals fans, who are just as rabid and educated as other fan bases. It’s just a statement there aren’t as many baseball fans in this area as there should/could be. Nothing will replace time–or more importantly sustained success over time–but an All-Star Game has the potential to be a landmark event in DC’s baseball evolution. It’s not a magical elixir that will turn every Washingtonian into a baseball fan, but it has the chance to be a step forward. Even if it’s a tiny step, it’s worth it.