It's Not Nashville

A Good Idea in Principle, but Music City won't be next for MLB

In USA Today yesterday, Bob Nightengale wrote of an effort to bring Major League Baseball to Nashville.

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has more power than anyone in baseball, but he can’t unilaterally implement change.

He can’t force the white owners to hire Black general managers and executives.
He can’t command GMs to hire Black managers.

He can’t make teams sign or draft Black players.

“So all we’re going to ask him to do,’’ said Dave Stewart, the three-time World Series champion and one of only five Black GMs in baseball history, “is to give the city of Nashville a baseball team. That’s all we’re asking you to do. We’re not asking you to do anything more than that.

“We’ll do the rest.’’

Stewart is on the board of directors and advisory committee of the Music City Baseball group trying to acquire a team, either through expansion or relocation, in Nashville, Tenn.

They will be called the Nashville Stars, the first MLB club to be named after a Negro League team, honoring the teams that played in Nashville before baseball's integration.

There is nothing wrong with the idea in principle, of course. Nobody should have a problem with a minority-owned ownership group in Major League Baseball. The additional aspect of naming the team after a Negro League is really cool too. Makes me wish that the Washington relocation project name the team the Grays (after the Homestead Grays, who occasionally played in Washington) instead of the generic Nationals name with a cribbed Walgreen’s logo.

The story also lays waste to serial fabulist Michael Olesker’s rumormongering from a few years back that the Angelos sons would relocate the Orioles to Nashville, too.

The idea of Major League Baseball coming to Nashville isn’t a terrible idea. It’s a growing, affluent city that has already shown it can support major league sports as they have with the Tennessee Titans and the Nashville Predators.

But Major League Baseball is not coming to Nashville any time soon, folks.

Stewart’s group wants to make a presentation to MLB at the 2021 Winter Meetings to convince owners of Nashville’s viability as an expansion market. There are a few problems with that logic:

  1. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has already indicated that expansion is off the table until the situations in Oakland and Tampa Bay are sorted out. And;

  2. The collective bargaining agreement with the MLB Players Association expires December 1, 2021 and issues surrounding the 2020 season have made it obvious that baseball’s quarter-century-long labor peace is about to explode into a labor war.

With expansion off the table, that would lead to the possibility of relocation. But so far (other than Olesker’s dumb rumor) Nashville has not seriously been named as a potential relocation site for any existing MLB team:

  • While Oakland continues to try to get its stadium situation settled in Oakland (with San Jose in the mix), most rumors about the A’s relocation outside of the Bay Area involve them following the Raiders to Las Vegas.

  • Tampa Bay still can’t get a stadium deal done in Tampa or St. Petersburg, with a lease expiring in 2026. The team already has one foot out the door with their proposal to play half the year in Tampa Bay and half the year in Montréal.

  • The third entry to the relocation derby is Arizona, who have kicked the tires on Vancouver twice.

On top of that, Nashville is not anywhere near the top of the list when it comes to the largest metropolitan areas without a Major League Baseball team. Take a look at that list and you realize the largest metro area without an MLB team is: Riverside-San Berardino-Ontario, CA. Of course, that metro area is less than thirty miles from Anaheim and less than 50 miles from Los Angeles. Not that that has stopped MLB from dropping a team in somebody’s backyard before.

If you discount Riverside, which is basically the Los Angeles market, the largest markets without MLB teams are:

  1. Charlotte (#22)

  2. Orlando (#23)

  3. San Antonio (#24)

  4. Portland (#25)

  5. Sacramento (#26)

  6. Las Vegas (#28)

  7. Austin (#29)

  8. Columbus (#32)

  9. Indianapolis (#33)

  10. Nashville (#36)

If you slot in the two Canadian cities mentioned, Montréal would slot in at the top of the list. Vancouver would slot in between Portland and Sacramento.

That means Nashville would be 12th in population among cities in the U.S. or Canada that MLB might consider for relocation or expansion. It also ranks behind San Juan, PR which has hosted MLB games previously and was considered as a relocation site for the Expos. And a lot of those cities are seeing more rapid population growth

Nashville has a Triple-A team, the Nashville Sounds. The team was third in total attendance in the Pacific Coast League but finishes behind two cities on this list, Las Vegas and Austin (Round Rock is an Austin suburb)

So in my view, this is the ranked order list of cities most likely to get an MLB team next:

  1. Las Vegas: It’s the obvious choice. The city has embraced the NHL’s Golden Knights. They’ve rolled out the red carpet for the Raiders. There is more money in Las Vegas than they know what to do with, and there will be plenty of casino money to build a ballpark and support the team to have something to give to the sharks who make the casinos rich. The Las Vegas Aviators led the Pacific Coast League in attendance at their beautiful new ballpark. The only thing that could derail Vegas as the #1 contender on this list would be the lingering economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  2. Montréal: Montréal got screwed by the owners and the players when the 1994 player strike torpedoed the best team in baseball. The league continued to screw Montréal when they tried to contract the team in the early 2000’s and eventually got the team to Washington. But the city misses their Expos and wants Major League Baseball back. I would have ranked Montréal lower had it not been MLB’s openness to the shared custody arrangement with Tampa Bay regarding the Rays and I’m guessing the long-term, albeit unspoken, plan is to relocate the Rays to Montréal as soon as they can.

  3. Austin: Austin is the most rapidly growing major metro area in the country. You might not even realize that Austin is the 11th largest city in the country by population and will likely pass 1 million residents soon. Austin also doesn’t have a major league sports team to compete with (no, Major League Soccer does not county). The only thing that the team would have to compete for sponsorship wise is with the University of Texas, and there are plenty of people lined up to support that group. If any city in the south gets an MLB team soon, it’s Austin.

  4. Portland: How long has baseball played footsie with Portland? For decades it seems. MLB had Portland on the shortlist of relocation candidates for the Expos in the early 2000’s. The Marlins almost moved there in 2007. For whatever reason, baseball loves the idea of putting a team in Portland. I got to attend a Portland Beavers game in 2010, and it was fine for what is was. The attendance was OK for a 4th of July guy. But that old ballpark has been retrofitted for Portland Timbers soccer now. There isn’t even a temporary facility for a team to play in while the permanent yard is built. I keep Portland high on this list for two reasons; one, Nike money, but second because of MLB’s love affair with stringing Portland along.

  5. Monterrey, Mexico: MLB has long desired to get a team into Mexico, and their efforts have been focused on Monterrey. A dozen regular-season games have been played at Estadio de Béisbol Monterrey and, once again, Monterrey was on the shortlist of cities for potential relocation of the Expos. Monterrey has a lot of things going for it relatively speaking, including being close to Texas and not geographically distant like Mexico City or Guadalajara would be. But the Mexican economy creates all sorts of problems, and we’ve all seen how cross-border relations can sour based on the administration in power.

  6. North Carolina: I lump three separate metro areas in here because only one would get a team. Charlotte tops the above list of areas without a metro team, so that would be the most likely location for a MLB team. Especially in light of their construction of Truist Field. Raleigh-Durham is the 2nd-fastest growing major metro area (behind Austin) and has expressed interest in a team before. And the Triad region almost landed the Minnesota Twins back in 1998. The issue with any of these cities individual is the fact that any effort to land a team will be complicated by the three different regions potentially having three different bids and competing against each other for resources. I can also imagine somebody coming up with a bad idea, like trying to build a ballpark between the Triad and the Raleigh-Durham areas (somewhere like right here) to try to capitalize on the two markets and make nobody happy.

  7. Orlando: The last likely market to be considered. The third most rapidly growing market in the country (behind Austin and Raleigh). Orlando would be challenging market, however. Like Las Vegas, there are tons of competing entertainment interests. Like Las Vegas, the economy is dependent on tourism. Unlike Las Vegas, most of the attendees are families who might be interested in baseball but might also be exhausted from their third straight day at Epcot. Plus, Orlando is only 90 minutes from the Tampa Bay market. The only way I see Orlando as a viable market is either after the Rays leave Tampa Bay, or by just solving the Tampa Bay stadium problem by building them one in Orlando.

Again, I write none of this to dissuade the Nashville group from their efforts. But realistically, Nashville is not getting a team anytime in the near future.