Guest Moneyball Posted July 11, 2005 Share Posted July 11, 2005 No runs, no hits, no Arrows 20 years ago, Indy swung for majors By Michael Pointer [email protected] Twenty years ago this summer, Indianapolis was standing up and beating its chest. The former "Naptown" was getting glowing national reviews. "Cinderella of the Rust Belt," Newsweek called it. Downtown's rebirth was hitting full stride. The Indianapolis Colts had just finished their first season at the Hoosier Dome, the facility that jump-started the city's convention business. Conventioneers walking down Meridian or Washington streets might even have seen a T-shirt or two touting the Indianapolis Arrows -- the name of a proposed Major League Baseball team the city hoped to lure. "There was a lot of attention on Indianapolis," said Art Angotti, who headed a group of local investors that wanted to purchase an existing or expansion team. "All the infrastructure efforts were putting Indianapolis on television and on the sports map." Angotti paused. He has remained a successful businessman and venture capitalist in the years since. He heads Artistic Media Partners, which owns 14 radio stations in Indiana. Yet he can't help but feel a little wistful about a time in the city's sports history that has been largely forgotten. "I haven't talked about the Arrows in a long time," Angotti, now 60, said, leaning forward in his Northeastside office chair. February of 1985 brought the name. Officials from Indianapolis Baseball, Inc. -- a group of local investors put together by Angotti and business leader and philanthropist Thomas Binford -- held a news conference to announce the new major league team would be called the Arrows. There was no new team, of course. But there were hopes. A group that included Fred Simon, whose brothers own the Pacers, had reportedly made an offer to buy the Minnesota Twins and move them to Indy the year before, and teams in Pittsburgh and Oakland were also for sale. Plus, new commissioner Peter Ueberroth was hinting baseball would soon expand. To lure one of these teams, the pieces had to be in place. The movement to bring a team to Indy had started three years earlier by a group put together by Mayor William C. Hudnut, but now it was taking on real legs. Indianapolis Baseball, Inc., member Dave Elmore said the group wanted to finalize a lease with the city by the end of that month, preferably at the Hoosier Dome. Angotti said it had reached an agreement with WTTV-4 to televise Arrows games. A list of 11 minority investors was released in June. Angotti said he was able to raise $50 million. The group announced it had accepted approximately 12,000 deposits for season tickets at $50 apiece. Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray was the featured speaker at a rally on Monument Circle in July. "I'll do everything in my power to help get a franchise because I believe this city is where a major league team could really succeed," Caray said. Caray may have believed that more than city officials. Problem: stadium Insiders concede the effort had little chance to succeed. They knew it from the beginning. "I think we thought it was an uphill battle," said longtime Indianapolis business executive David Frick, a former deputy mayor and the city's lead negotiator in talks to bring the Colts from Baltimore. The primary problem was the stadium. In hindsight, Angotti agrees that estimates it would cost only $7 million to make the Hoosier Dome baseball-ready were wildly optimistic. A baseball old-timers game there in August 1984 featured a right field fence only 182 feet from the plate. Angotti remembers Dome officials wincing when balls went into the stands, fearful they would crack the glass on the new suites. He said the Chicago White Sox inquired about playing an exhibition game in the Dome, but workers couldn't install sliding pits. Just beneath the concrete floor were a myriad of electrical wires installed for convention use, he said. Hudnut later said he opposed any conversions to make the Dome baseball-ready because it might cut into its convention business. A proposed stadium in Plainfield at the I-70 and Ind. 267 interchange never gained momentum. Angotti's group looked into buying the Pittsburgh Pirates, but Hudnut told them to stop when Pittsburgh officials threatened legal action should the team be moved. "Reality set in," Angotti said. "I just noticed a real change in the attitude of the mayor (after the Dome conversions were ruled out)." Hudnut also wasn't prepared to press for another sports facility after spending so much political capital getting the Hoosier Dome built. "That would have been a very hard sell," Frick said. Danny Danielson, chairman of the Indianapolis baseball committee, remains convinced Indianapolis was well ahead of Denver and St. Petersburg, Fla. -- two cities that eventually received expansion teams, in 1993 and '98 -- in impressing major league owners. "Once we didn't have a stadium," he said, "we were dead in the water." Veteran baseball executive Peter Bavasi, who served for a time as a consultant to the Indianapolis project, said there was a bigger problem: geography. "When I went to the owners meetings, the first thing they would say to me was, 'It's way too close.' " Other issues Indianapolis is within easy driving distance to major league franchises in Cincinnati and St.Louis and two in Chicago. Angotti said he expected all four to vote against Indianapolis in expansion. Indianapolis would have needed to get three-fourths of the ballots in both the 12-team National League and 14-team American League. As the importance of television markets grew, interest in allowing a nearby competitor shrank. The Indy bid was never put to a vote. "I began to see the light flicker, just because of where we are," Angotti said. Angotti said baseball officials would have preferred an extremely wealthy individual or large corporation to emerge as a majority owner. None did. "It is one thing for the Busch family to own a team with such a strong retail product," Frick said, referring to Anheuser-Busch, the brewery that owned the St. Louis Cardinals from 1953-95. "But for the corporations that were headquartered in Indianapolis in 1985, that would not have been easy to do. Drug companies (such as Eli Lilly and Co.) just don't own sports franchises." The Colts' recent arrival didn't help, either. "The influential people who were making the calls about the stadium wanted the NFL," said Danielson, 85, who still works as a City Securities Corp. vice president. "I don't think there was any disappointment. They were getting what they wanted." Angotti's group had refunded the season ticket deposits by the end of 1985, and he left the group in 1988. He and others encouraged Emmis Communications Corp. head Jeff Smulyan to purchase a team. Smulyan did, but it wasn't in the Circle City. He led a group that owned the Seattle Mariners from 1989-92. "What we realized pretty quickly is the math didn't work here," Smulyan said. The legacy Major League Baseball finally decided to expand in 1990. Indianapolis did not submit a bid. Little has been said of the Arrows or major league expansion here since. "I don't think people realized it had died," Angotti said. "It just kind of evaporated." Many analysts say that isn't a bad thing, including Cleveland State sports economics expert Mark Rosentraub, who studied the Indianapolis sports landscape extensively while a faculty member at IUPUI. "The Indianapolis market could not have sustained three sports teams," he said. "There's not enough wealth. It's just too small." The Triple-A Indians eventually got a new stadium in 1996 -- built at the corner of Maryland and West streets on a site once proposed for an Arrows stadium. Victory Field is considered one of the top minor league facilities in the nation. "It's great, family-oriented entertainment," Frick said. "A lot of us celebrate the success the Indians are having. "This may be one situation in which it worked out well." Angotti understands. But he still takes the occasional peek at the Arrows jersey hanging in his home and wonders what Downtown would have been like on a warm summer night with fans streaming to a major league ballpark. "In the venture capitalist business, they say you always regret the deals and investments that got away," he said. "But you regret even more the investments that should have got away. "Maybe it's fortunate this venture got away. It seemed like this had a lot of economic problems and a lot of other prominent people felt that way." Uni of proposed team Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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