Though the Great Recession has taken a huge bite out of their economies, 2011 has been a great baseball year for the Rustbelt. The big money bi-coastal teams fell early – the Yankees to the Tigers and the Phillies to the Cardinals – or failed to make the playoffs altogether, like Boston’s storied collapse. The World Series that begins tonight pits the St. Louis Cardinals against the Texas Rangers, but three of the four contenders for the league championships – the Detroit Tigers who lost to the Rangers in the American League championship, and the National League’s Milwaukee Brewers, who fell to the Cardinals in the National League – hail from the Rustbelt.
Over the past four decades, during which their economies were ravaged by deindustrialization, these three Rustbelt metros combined for just three World Series Championships—two for St, Louis and one for Detroit. For the most part, the World Series has been a bi-coastal affair during this time, with just three metros—New York, L.A. and the Bay Area (San Francisco-Oakland)—accounting for 16 out of the past 40 crowns. The Rustbelt has fared somewhat better over the long sweep of baseball history with these three metros combining for 15 World Series crowns, led by St. Louis with 10 titles, 4 for Detroit and 1 for Milwaukee (when it was home to the Braves). Still this is less than half the 35 titles taken home by New York franchises, 27 of which were won by the Yankees alone.
The Rustbelt contenders made it as far as they did this year without breaking the bank, like baseball’s bi-coastal (plus Chicago) high rollers. Milwaukee’s $85 million dollar payroll is the league’s 17th largest; Detroit and St. Louis’s $105 million payrolls rank 10th and 11th respectively. The Texas Rangers’ $92 million payroll ranks 13th.
Fans of at least two of those three teams have also been some of baseball’s longest suffering, according to ESPN’s updated “Fan Misery Index”, a subjective assessment developed by Jim Caple. Brewers fans are the country’s third most miserable; only Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians fans have fared worse. St. Louis, which went to the World Series in 2004 and won it all in 2006, has treated its fans much better. The Cards rank second only to the Yankees for the least amount of misery inflicted on their fans (the Tigers rank ninth and Texas tenth, by the way), according to ESPN’s metric.
Milwaukee and Detroit fans fare worse on the more quantitative “MLB Total Fan Misery Index” developed by former Martin Prosperity Institute researcher Patrick Adler, currently a doctoral student in urban planning at UCLA. Like the one we developed for the NBA, his baseball Misery Index compares teams’ wins and losses to their fan commitment, measured as attendance over the past decade. Milwaukee and Detroit sit alone atop this quantitative Misery Index, with St. Louis in tenth place. The Texas Rangers did considerably better by their fans, coming in 22nd of 30 teams over the past decade, besting even the Yankees.
Manhattan real estate may be surging and Wall Street bonuses fat, but there will be no ticker-tape parade down Fifth Avenue this year. L.A.’s entertainment machine rolls on, but the Dodgers are once again toast. The Bay Area continues to be a hot-bed of new start-ups, but the Giants and A's are at home. Same with Atlanta, Philly, Boston, and so many more. For much of the country, baseball may well live up to its moniker as America’s pastime this year. But not everywhere. Much to the delight of their ever-resilient fans, three of the great industrial cities that built America – Detroit, St. Louis and Milwaukee – are among the four that stood strongest this October, with one still in line for the title.