Cubs Spring Training Site Search Update: Why Naples Is The Wrong Choice

Today on cubs.com, Carrie Muskat posted this long article interviewing two of the major players trying to get the Cubs to move to Florida. Craig Bouchard is the co-founder of Esmark, Inc., who lives part of the year in Hinsdale and part of the time in Naples and Gary Price is a city councilman in Naples, Florida.

Both seem earnest and almost idealistic about their chances. But it was this passage that caught my attention:

Why would the Cubs leave the Valley of the Sun for the Sunshine State? Check the stats.

"The best answer I can give you," said Price, a Naples city councilman, "is I got the feeling from the meeting we had with the Ricketts family and Crane was that they want to win a World Series. Sixteen out of the last 19 World Series winners train in Florida."

Think about that, Cubs fans.

"I'm a numbers guy," Price said Tuesday. "If 16 out of 19 are World Series winners that train in Florida, that's a compelling argument. There are a lot of esoteric reasons behind why they'd be in Arizona or Florida, but if I'm starting from the beginning -- and I look at it this way for the Cubs is that, 'We have a tremendous history in Arizona for 40 years. What does the next 40 years look like?'"

Price speaks like a true politician. "I'm a numbers guy," he said. Okay, Gary -- let's look at the numbers.

Going back 19 years -- let's say he included this year, although he wasn't clear -- the only World Series winners who trained in Arizona were the Diamondbacks (2001), the Angels (2002) and the White Sox (2005). Sounds like a landslide, right?

Not so fast, Mr. Councilman. Keep in mind that until 1998, only eight of the then-28 teams trained in Arizona. So just on sheer numbers -- you're a numbers guy, right? -- 71% of World Series winners should have come from Florida training camps. And it's true that not until after 1998, when there were more teams moving to Arizona, did the World Series winners start coming from there. So maybe we should make the cutoff 1998, when the White Sox and Diamondbacks increased the Arizona contingent to 10 teams. Since 1998 -- 12 years -- three World Series winners from Arizona spring camps.

In fact, it won't be until spring 2010 -- next March -- that for the first time, an equal number of teams will train in Florida and Arizona. And why is that? Because teams have been making an exodus from the East Coast to the Valley of the Sun. The Indians, who left Arizona in 1993, returned last year. Why do they do this? Because the March weather is consistently better in Arizona than it is in Florida, and the teams are in much closer proximity to each other. After the Diamondbacks and Rockies finish up their final season in Tucson in 2010, every Arizona spring training camp will be in metropolitan Phoenix -- an hour's drive or less for every team. I've mentioned this before, but the closest spring park to Naples is the Twins' Hammond Stadium, 30 miles away. Next closest is the Red Sox' City of Palms Park in Ft. Myers -- 35 miles away. After that you're talking about Bradenton and the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, up to three hours' drive each way.

Why would you want to subject your players to that?

But in reality, let's talk not about the World Series winner -- because we all know that once you get into the playoffs, it's a crapshoot -- but instead, how many playoff teams trained in Arizona as compared to Florida in recent years. Let's limit this to the last 15 years, since the current playoff structure began, 1995-2009. That's 15 seasons, 120 playoff teams. I count 38 of 120 (32%), and given that the Arizona teams were only 29% of the total from 1995-97, 33% of the total from 1998-2002, 40% of the total from 2002-2008, and 47% in 2009, that sounds about right. Also consider that 23 of the 120 qualifiers were the Yankees and Red Sox, 19% of the total, although the Yankees and Red Sox are only about 7% of the total MLB teams. Point being: it is just as easy to train a playoff team in Arizona as it is in Florida.

That's another issue the Cubs should consider. They are currently the jewel of the Cactus League, the #1 draw. If they go to Florida, they become #3 behind ESPN's favorite teams. Is that really what new ownership wants? To become third banana?

The Cubs have trained in Arizona since 1952, except for a one-year detour to Long Beach, California in 1966. They are part of the fabric of life in Mesa and the Phoenix metro area. The Florida people may have been told that an offer would "be considered", as Cubs President Crane Kenney told Bouchard. But when push comes to shove, I believe the Mesa people will meet or better the Florida offer. The Cubs have made the playoffs three of the last seven seasons training in Arizona, and look like they're on track to become a perennial playoff contender. The Cubs belong in Arizona.

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