A third team in Florida? Not gonna happen

Must have been a slow day in the political world last weekend when Florida congressional candidate Armando Gutierrez spouted off about plans to build a privately financed stadium in the Orlando area and bring a Major League Baseball team to central Florida.

Wishful thinking?

That's being kind.

Pressed on the particulars of his proclamation, Gutierrez quickly became the cat in a litter box, looking to scratch up enough sand to cover the mess he produced. He said he couldn't name the potential investors, but claimed "two of them are multi-billionaires." He waffled on where the stadium would be built.

He also overlooked one crucial element -- there is no current franchise available for relocation and there are no plans to add any teams anywhere.

For all the ongoing debate, baseball has proven to be the most stable of professional sports. While the NFL, NBA and NHL can move without consent, baseball has never had an ownership group push through a move without the endorsement of the other teams.

Only 12 times since 1900 has a major-league franchise moved into a new market, and 10 of those transfers took place in the 20-year period from 1953 through 1972, mirroring a major population shift in the United States to the West, underlined by the Dodgers and Giants moving in 1958 to California, which now has five major-league franchises, the only state with more than two.

Neither Gutierrez nor any of his baseball business partners have even approached Major League Baseball to inquire about availability of a team. If they had taken a few minutes to make a call they could have saved themselves a lot of time they might waste trying to fulfill a franchise, and they could have alleviated a lot of angst for those facing questions about the stability of the franchise in their region.

"They have had no contact with any one in central baseball," said Commissioner Bud Selig. "We are very pleased with our situation right now. Obviously, the economy is a factor, but that's not something unique to baseball."

The irony is that a television station which "broke the news" went so far as to suggest a potential team would be the Milwaukee Brewers. Yeah, right. That's Selig's team, even if he can't own it anymore. After the Milwaukee Braves had moved to Atlanta, after all, it was Selig who led the crusade to get baseball back in his hometown, which led to the expansion Pilots, after one year in Seattle, settling into Milwaukee and becoming the Brewers in 1970.

Selig also orchestrated a public-private funding arrangement for the Brewers new home, Miller Park, in which the team not only has an investment stake, but also has 20 years remaining on a lease. And, it should be added, since moving into Miller Park the Brewers have moved into the top 10 of major-league teams in attendance.

While Houston owner Drayton McLane has admitted he will listen to offers for his franchise, and there are continuing murmurs in baseball boardrooms that Arizona could be had, although the Diamondbacks vehemently deny such reports, neither of those teams is a candidate to be moved from its current location.

With the move of the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C., for the 2005 season, and the opening of Nationals Park in 2007, the three teams that have been looking for help are Florida, which finally received approval for a new stadium that is now being built; Tampa Bay, which found that even a trip to the World Series couldn't lure people to Tropicana Field, which has replaced the since-imploded Kingdome as baseball's dullest facility, and Oakland, which has been a second-class citizen on the Bay Area sports scene ever since Charlie Finley moved the A's from Kansas City in 1968.

And that's the kicker.

Two of the three teams with problems are the two teams that expansion awarded Florida – the Marlins, who came into being along with Colorado, in 1993, and Tampa Bay, which joined the AL while Arizona was joining the NL in 1998. The last thing baseball would even think about doing is setting itself up for a third strike in the Sunshine State by moving another team into a lesser market than the ones that already have come close to failure.

The Rays do continue to work with city officials to find support for replacing Tropicana, which came under fire most recently with this month's release of a study committee's findings that for the Rays to endure in the Tampa Bay area they will need a new stadium.

It's not out of the question that if the Rays don't at least find some kind of sympathy for their plight they could opt to move to the Orlando area, where two years ago they did play a regular-season series against Texas, but there is no indication at all that the current ownership group would be willing to (1) sell nor (2) provide private funds for a new stadium.

Oakland, meanwhile, continues to explore possible relocations in the Bay Area, showing no signs of even using a move to try and strong-arm locals into coughing up funds necessary for a new stadium.

The other franchises are pretty well entrenched, either enjoying relatively new stadiums thanks to the financial support of local governments or playing their games in what locals consider to be historic shrines.

Consider that Colorado moved into Coors Field in 1995. When the Marlins' new digs are finished, Coors Field will be the third oldest stadium in the National League. Only Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium are older.

MOVING ON

Relocations of current franchises:

2005: the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals.

1972: the 1961 expansion Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers.

1970: the 1969 expansion Seattle Pilots became the Milwaukee Brewers.

1968: the Kansas City A's became the Oakland A's.

1966: the Milwaukee Braves became the Atlanta Braves.

1961: the Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins.

1958: the Brooklyn Dodgers became the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the New York Giants became the San Francisco Giants.

1955: the Philadelphia A's became the Kansas City A's.

1954: the St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles.

1953: the Boston Braves became the Milwaukee Braves.

1903: Baltimore Orioles became New York Highlanders and then the Yankees

1902: the Milwaukee Brewers became the St. Louis Browns.