With investor John Loar heading an effort to bring Major League Baseball to Nashville, it’s timely to point out that Nashville, believe it or not, once simply said no to an MLB franchise.
When Phil Bredesen was mayor of Nashville, he was approached by a big-league baseball team about moving to Music City. Bredesen said no thanks.
The refusal ran largely under the radar at the time.
As Bredesen neared the end of his second term as mayor in 1999, the city was basking in its ability to actually attract an NFL team, the Tennessee Titans, and remarkably having an expansion franchise in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators.
Years before, the idea of having those teams in Nashville seemed preposterous. Bredesen was the principal figure in Metro government for making both teams happen, including the construction of the NFL stadium on the East Bank and a new downtown arena that eventually housed the hockey team.
As told in the 2016 book, Nashville: The South’s New Metropolis, by Karl Dean and Michael Cass, Bredesen felt adding a big-league baseball team would be biting off more than the city could chew.
Bredesen never identified which baseball team approached him. He said he felt at the time that having just added two big-time sports teams was enough.
“We needed two successful teams and not three struggling teams,” he said to the authors.
He also said he was criticized heavily for the decision, ironically, by people who had originally scoffed at the notion that Nashville could be an NFL city.
“Some of these same people were just reaming me out,” Bredesen told Dean and Cass. “It sort of marked for me the change from ‘That’s the stupidiest idea I ever hear of’ to ‘What do you mean, we can’t have three teams?'”
Bredesen told the same story to the Nashville Scene in 2011, as he was leaving the governor’s office after two terms. He told the story again in 2015 to Weston Wamp, a radio talk show host on ESPN 105.1 in Chattanooga.
Other groups have tried for years to bring a Major League Baseball team to Nashville.
When the arena push had been under way and Nashville had no team, Bredesen actively pursued the Minnesota Timberwolves of the NBA.
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred created a buzz in 2018 in an interview with Fox Sports when he listed Nashville among potential expansion cities.
“We have a real list of cities that I think are not only interested in having baseball, but are viable in terms of baseball, places like Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Nashville in the United States, certainly Montreal, maybe Vancouver, in Canada,” Manfred said. “We think there’s places in Mexico we could go over the long haul.”
One of the numerous 2019 preseason baseball publications, Street & Smith’s Baseball Yearbook, published a story on possible expansion. It polled 108 writers and editors “to asssess the desirability of 20 potential sites.” Their top five potential expansion locations, in order, were Montreal, Portland, Nashville, Charlotte and Las Vegas.
Street & Smith’s brief description of Nashville said, “The economy is vibrant, but this region has a smaller population than every current MLB market except Milwaukee.”