Could a Major League Baseball franchise potentially be coming to Nashville?
That’s the scuttlebutt after an advisory team has been put together to lure MLB to the Music City. The team is headed up by John Loar, a 59-year old businessman originally from the San Francisco Bay area. Loar’s chief business has been real estate, but he’s also been highly interested in professional sports. Another group led by Loar made an unsuccessful bid to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012.
Now Loar has his sights set on Nashville, and he’s cobbled together a group of brawny advisors that includes former MLB manager for the Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals Tony La Russa, former A’s pitcher and Arizona Diamondbacks General Manager Dave Stewart, current Vanderbilt head baseball coach Tim Corbin, and local music executive Steve Hodges.
Loar first met La Russa in the 1980s when he was living next to Oakland A’s pitcher Dennis Eckersley. Since then, the two men have maintained a friendship over more than 30 years.
La Russa won three World Series championships as a Major League manager, one with the A’s (1989) and two with the Cardinals (2006, 2011). He now holds an executive position with the Boston Red Sox, focusing on player development. That, he says, is “99 percent” of what he does. Part of the other 1 percent is focusing on bringing Major League Baseball to Nashville.
“We had just always talked about, since I left the Cardinals…that Nashville and what’s happening in that town as far as the growth, the excitement, what’s happening with the football team and the hockey team, it’s a natural for baseball,” La Russa recently told The Tenneseean. “And that’s where we are.”
La Russa was part of Loar’s team that made a run at the Dodgers in 2012. Now he hopes the expansion route will be more fruitful than his first attempt to purchase a club.
Last July, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred talked expansion, listing six cities that were potential landing spots for professional baseball. Nashville made Manfred’s list, along with Las Vegas, Portland, Charlotte, Montreal, and Vancouver. Currently there are 30 teams in Major League Baseball, and because the historic trend is to add two franchises at a time, baseball will probably bring another pair into its ark when it decides to expand again.
The last expansion occurred in 1998, when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks were added. Five years earlier, baseball welcomed the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins. Other expansion franchises include the Los Angeles Angels, New York Mets, San Diego Padres, and Seattle Mariners.
Nashville has added three professional sports teams to its market within the last 22 years, Tennessee Titans football in 1997, Nashville Predators ice hockey in 1998, and most recently in December 2018, Major League Soccer soccer, which has yet to hit the field. The city has become an attractive venue for professional sports due to increasing population, media coverage, and the financial ability to support a team.
The population in Nashville continues to soar at around 10 percent per decade, and now sits at 691,243 residents with a metro area of almost 2 million. The city boasts the 10th fastest growth rate of all major metropolitan areas in the U.S.
Raising money for a stadium will always present an obstacle, and Nashville just recently approved a $91 million construction of First Tennessee Park, future home of the AAA Nashville Sounds. And while Nashville Mayor David Briley is “flattered” that his town is considered for an MLB expansion franchise, his concentration will be pushing funding for a yummy $275 million soccer stadium through city government.
The other possible route for Nashville to acquire a MLB franchise is relocation. The ailing Tampa Bay Rays would be a potential suitor for this type of move, but those discussions have remained casual.
In the meantime, Music Row patiently waits. And if Loar and La Russa are successful in their bid to bring Nashville a Major League franchise, that will be one more thing for the city to sing about. H&A
Cover photo: Tony La Russa | Courtesy St. Louis Cardinals