Ya Gotta Be a Player

Names change, but the games of the elite go on

Then there's Ballpark Village, the residential and commercial development proposed for just north of the stadium. The dome appears to have had no contagious economic effect on its neighborhood. If anything, the impending switch of part of Columbus Square on Cole Street to subsidized Section 8 housing suggests negative fallout. Smith says that, unlike the Cardinals deal, no "ancillary development" was planned for the dome.

Slay, drinking water as usual, stressed that the penalties are severe if the Cardinal owners don't build the adjoining Ballpark Village.

But the most startling revelation made by the mayor was not his dogmatic support of a new stadium for the Cardinals -- what did anyone expect? -- it was his admission that he has a "small allergy to beer." When he does have the occasional brew, he says, "it's an Anheuser-Busch product." Whew, at least he added that, but the mayor of St. Louis' saying he's allergic to beer is comparable to hearing the mayor of New Orleans assert that he's never sinned or the mayor of New York announce that he's never been rude. Unsettling.

Beer drinker or no, Slay knows politics, and he knows how to get the necessary stadium legislation through Jefferson City: "It can't just be about the Cardinals and St. Louis. Kansas City people are going to say, 'What's Kansas City got in this?'"

The Rams engaged in that type of horse-trading in the mid-'90s, including a side deal with Jerry Clinton, the head of Grey Eagle Distributors Inc., the Anheuser-Busch handler for St. Louis County, which represents about one-fifth of the state's population. Clinton was one of those trying to land a NFL expansion team for St. Louis, an effort that failed when the league picked Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla., over St. Louis.

Clinton had a lease agreement for the then-empty dome but gave it up to the Rams in exchange for $8 million and a free suite. In the Clinton suite during Sunday's game was a mix of characters you wouldn't expect to see in the same room -- maybe even in the same ZIP code. Suitemates included Clinton, former Cardinal outfielder Ray Lankford, St. Louis County Police Chief Ron Battelle and Nelly. Yes, Nelly, described once by St. Louis American columnist Delores Shante as looking "creamy and thugged out," was in the house. In a brief exchange with Short Cuts, Nelly said that he would be in New Orleans. Whew again.

After the game, Bachmann talked about the positive aspects of a local company's putting its name on the local dome. But he skirted a discussion of the economic justification of public subsidies for sports stadiums, pointing to the sizzle, not the steak.

"This is an incredible part of our community," he said. "When you have a great sports team, it lifts people's spirits; it gives them extra confidence and pride in their community. If you're going to be a big-league community, you have to have the team to represent it."

And if a city's "big league" classification begins to fade, sports teams and their high-dollar showcases are a good way to keep up appearances.

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