Baseball Economics, Connecticut Style

Baseball fans may remember that this year will mark the 60th anniversary of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ historic underdog victory against the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series. Although the teams faced off five previous times for the championship, 1955 marked the first (and only) year that Brooklyn emerged victorious.

Two years from now, though, hardly any one in Brooklyn will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Dodgers’ decision to move to Los Angeles. It was the first time ever that a successful team, one that enjoyed extensive hometown support, opted to move to a new location in pursuit of a more profitable economic deal.

Dodger owner Walter O’Malley received 315 acres of prime city land from the city of Los Angeles for making that move. Although he remains reviled in New York as the villain who stole the Dodgers from Brooklyn, other owners of professional teams — such as Robert Irsay, who moved the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in the middle of the night to avoid public reprimand — have subsequently engaged in such moves as well.

A similar event occurred in Connecticut last week, when the owner of minor league baseball’s New Britain Rock Cats broke ground on a new ballpark in Hartford. Despite enjoying a history of thirty years in New Britain, and a ballpark that was custom-built for it with city funds, the team is now decamping for Hartford.

Who is paying for the new Hartford ballpark? Hartford taxpayers are footing the bill, of course. The structure is a core component of a new municipal development initiative known as Downtown North, or DoNo.

The plan is somewhat similar to Bridgeport’s Steel Pointe Harbor development initiative. That project complemented the public funding of a ballpark for minor league baseball’s Bridgeport Bluefish, a team that was recently criticized for making a “cheap and tawdry joke” out of Brian Williams’ NBC News suspension in order to improve its “sagging attendance.” Steel Pointe, itself, finally appears to be attracting some real estate development activity after stalling in the early 1980s.

Meanwhile, the Rock Cats are finding that the shift to Hartford is not bringing a flood of new corporate support. “The problem with the Rock Cats is the organization is moving 10 miles,” said Oz Griebel, president and CEO of the Metro Hartford Alliance. “You have a lot of hurt feelings from New Britain that need to be addressed even as the team looks for new partners in Hartford.”

So it remains to be seen whether the Hartford relocation will prove to be a successful decision, or whether the team will simply abandon one fan base without ever being embraced by another one. And although Brooklyn has recently luxuriated in newfound economic prosperity without its Dodgers, the future may not be as promising for the forsaken city of New Britain.