Pride of Ownership 

Getting to first base with Larry Schmittou

Getting to first base with Larry Schmittou

Is it possible, as one recent report suggested, that Larry Schmittou is actually thinking about selling the Nashville Sounds to the San Diego Chicken? Is he serious about leaving the baseball organization he built? What’s happened to his dream of bringing major-league baseball to the city? Why did he change his mind after publicly announcing his intention to buy Oilers PSLs?

All of these questions have been open to speculation lately. But why not let Schmittou answer the questions directly? He faced them head-on during a leisurely, two-hour conversation in his Greer Stadium office. Here are some frank questions—and some frank responses:

Are you actively trying to sell the team?

Any business in Nashville is for sale if the price is right.... You never say never. If the right person with the right offer came along, that probably would be the best. Today, it is probably best for any owner of a sports team never to stay longer than 10 years [in one place]. The times have changed.

About the end of last March, I had some meaningful dialogue with some people who have proven they have been good owners, good stewards of the game—the Chicken was not one of them, incidentally—and they have had varying degrees of interest. I would say the chances of anything materializing would be less than 50-50.

What do you foresee as the future of minor-league baseball in Nashville?

In the short term, I think baseball will be hurt, as will all other sports in Nashville, by [football]. In the long term, I think [major-league football] will be a plus for baseball, because baseball will remain the market for those who can’t afford those $50 and $60 tickets. What’s already a bargain will appear more a bargain—especially since we don’t go in the same season.

What I see as the best of all worlds would be the mix that [exists in] other cities the size of Nashville. Take Salt Lake City, an almost identical market to Nashville. They have the Jazz and they have just built a brand-new AAA baseball facility.

I think certain mid-size cities need to realize they can’t support all four [big-league sports]. I wish baseball had been the one that came in first. I really think, with the NFL here, Nashville ought to take some lessons from other cities and give the city a little time to absorb that huge expenditure of money before any other team—NHL or baseball or NBA—is brought here.

Have you given up on bringing a major-league team here?

Well, I’ve given up on it. I’ll say this: The future of major-league sports, period—this has nothing to do with Nashville—is very fragile right now in all cities. As players make more and more money, the price of tickets goes up and up and up, and you talk about $50 tickets. I just don’t see that here. I question the long-range success of any [major-league sports venture] until they can get their finances in order and stop giving all the money to the players.

Could pro football or pro hockey make it more likely that major-league baseball would come here?

I think it would make it less likely. Some of the big cities can’t support one of everything. If the NFL is coming, they ought to make that the most successful.... I’m not a big believer in this NHL thing, I’ll tell you real quick. I’m glad it’s someone else’s money.

How disappointing is it to have put so much energy into bringing major-league baseball here and then to see the city go in another direction?

The only thing that has disappointed me is the sense of fairness.... I would have thought that the city administration would have said, “Hey we want [football], but we also want to keep what we do already have,” whether it be the Nashville Knights or the Nashville Sounds.

The city has to go with whatever ownership group can bring major-league sports. I think that, if a major-league baseball owner had walked into the mayor’s office and said, “I’ve got a baseball team—will you build me a stadium and give me X million dollars to move here?,” I think the mayor would have said, “Fine, let’s dance.” I don’t think he chose football [over baseball]. I think the opportunity presented itself, and I have no problem with that.

You have said that you might leave the Sounds within the next couple of years.

I’ve chatted with people about two very high-ranking jobs in baseball. I know I can go to work at the major-league level on the marketing side because I’ve done that, but I don’t really think I want to do that again. As far as what I’d like to do with my body and my time, I would enjoy something I did a long time ago—scouting. My roots are in scouting, and I’m pretty good at it. I’d like to be out finding good ballplayers for somebody.

What would happen to the Sounds if you left?

The main thing we’re selling is the baseball game. I don’t think that many people come—or don’t come—to see Larry Schmittou. I’ve never used that as a promotion. (He laughs.) I try to put on 72 good baseball games each year. Another person can do that as well as I can. Certainly, whoever it is would be more politically correct than Larry Schmittou.

What advice would you give someone who succeeded you and tried to bring major-league baseball to Nashville?

Don’t do it. It’s not the right time to try to even think about major-league baseball. My advice is to have the best AAA facility and team you can possibly have and keep affordable prices and promote like heck, and then wait and see what happens over the next few years.

Can Nashville remain a AAA market without a new stadium?

It’s gonna be tough. [The fans] probably will have to pay a bit more. What would be best would be to have a new Indianapolis-type stadium that makes sense for the city taxpayers and for the baseball operator. Your attendance would go up 40 percent and, by the same token, you could pay meaningful rent to the city.

What are the chances of a new AAA stadium being built?

Zero. Let me say, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Greer Stadium—other than the fact that everybody else in the league is building a brand-new one. What’s wrong with Riverfront Stadium for the Reds? Nothing. But Cleveland built a new one, so [the Reds] have to keep up with the competition.

Why did you change your mind about buying Oilers PSLs?

When I received my application, I sent in my $3,000. But after I had conversations with people about my future, my plans changed. So I wrote Dick Lodge a personal and confidential letter and told him that I didn’t believe I was going to be in Nashville [in 1998].

Would you do all of this again?

I would have never done it in the first place if I’d been making enough money at Vanderbilt [as baseball coach] to support my five kids.

Did you like coaching better?

I don’t know. I’ve never done anything I didn’t enjoy. And when I quit enjoying it, I looked for a different challenge. I don’t enjoy this now as much as I once did, but I think that’s just me. I don’t think it has anything to do with the game.

I would do things differently now. I would never build a ballpark again. By the same token, if I hadn’t, it wouldn’t have gotten done. So it probably meant I wouldn’t have done it.

Do you feel underappreciated by the community?

Not by the community. By the administration, for sure. But it doesn’t bother me. I don’t hold any grudges. I never have been one to try to win a personality contest. I try to fight for baseball. If that steps on some people’s toes, so be it.

How it looks from the La-Z-Boy

Florida 63, Kentucky 6

South Carolina 23, Mississippi State 13

LSU 34, New Mexico State 10

Arkansas 38, Northeast Louisiana 13

Notre Dame 24, Ohio State 20

UNC 17, Florida State 16

Texas 27, Virginia 21

Colorado 20, Texas A&M 14

Michigan 28, UCLA 17

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