Commentary: Oh Bob, where art thou?
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb 9, 2012 - A friend claims to have spotted Baton Bob in a crowd shot from the pregame festivities in Indianapolis last weekend. Imagine that: local talent makes his national TV debut at the Super Bowl.
For the uninitiated, I should explain that Baton Bob is a fairly good-sized, middle-aged black man who used to dress up like a drum majorette and march around the Central West End here in St. Louis.
Though Bob's life calling was admittedly unusual, there was no hint of spoof in his act. His jaw set with the grim determination of a Marine Corps drill instructor, he'd high-step down Euclid Avenue, knees and baton in perfect synchronization, proudly leading his invisible marching band as it played music that only he could hear.
Needless to say, Bob didn't exactly blend in with the crowd. Outside of New Orleans, grown men in sequined tutus rarely do. But he was harmless enough; and in the live and let live atmosphere of the CWE, he was accepted as a colorful feature of the local landscape.
Bob left town some time ago in something of a huff. If memory serves, he'd been denied permission to march in one of the city's St. Patrick's Day parades. Seems organizers felt cross-dressing threatened the family ambiance of the event in a way that properly attired drunks do not. Predictably, some of Bob's supporters cried racism.
Though I disagreed with the decision to deny Bob his moment in the spotlight -- after all, the poor guy practiced year round -- I have to defend parade officials against racist charges. I'm pretty sure that a white guy in a similar get-up would have been equally unwelcome.
That said, Bob's exclusion struck me as narrow-minded and unnecessary because any hazard he might pose to impressionable youth could have been easily neutralized.
[Q: "Daddy, why is that man dressed up like a lady?"
A: "People act silly in parades, honey, that's why parades are fun to watch. Here, have a sno-cone..."]
At any rate, Bob split for greener pastures in Atlanta and has now reportedly been sighted in Indianapolis. Of course, any viewers who discovered Bob at the Super Bowl would understandably mistake him for a Hoosier, thereby denying our city the reflected glory due it.
One way we could reclaim Bob is to host a Super Bowl of own. A global audience focused on his home town should provide an irresistible lure to a guy who clearly isn't averse to attention. Unfortunately, there are a couple of hurdles in the path of that facile solution, not the least of which is a certain league bias against St. Louis.
In the continuing soap opera of NFL politics, we tend to play the role of home-wrecker. In 1960, we had a chance to get in on the ground floor of the old AFL. Rather than incorporate a charter franchise in the new league, we seduced the Chicago Cardinals to relocate here.
Flash forward to the early 1990s. The feckless Cardinals had already flown the coop and we had a chance to secure our own homegrown expansion franchise. After internecine warfare killed that prospect, we paid the Rams to abandon their venerable domicile in LA and set up shop on the banks of the Big Muddy.
Of course, franchise relocation is hardly unique and is usually quickly forgiven by fellow owners. The Colts, for instance, played for decades in Baltimore before they got a better deal in Indianapolis.
What really put St. Louis in the NFL doghouse was a lawsuit filed to renege on the $60 million relocation fee the Rams had agreed to pay the league for permission to move. Though that effort was shot down in federal court, it dropped the city several places below Baghdad on the list of potential Super Bowl sites.
Now that Stan Kroenke has become the majority owner of the team, old grudges should soon be forgotten. He's reported to be popular with the other owners and is unlikely to be held liable for his predecessor's missteps. The more pressing concern presently is the prospect that our mail-order bride may be planning to move back home to LA.
By terms of the original lease, the dome has to qualify as a "first-tier" NFL facility in 2015 or the Rams are released from further obligation to play there. What constitutes first-tier has never been clearly defined but everybody seems to agree that the existing stadium doesn't measure up.
The Convention & Visitors Commission has submitted a plan to the team that purports to bring the place up to par. That proposal was surprisingly detailed in terms of construction specifications and correspondingly vague on how to pay for them. Given the economic and political climate, tax dollars do not seem to be a viable option.
As a season ticket holder it pains me to say it, but the only equitable way to raise money for stadium improvements is to tax those who use it. A $10 per game surcharge would raise the price of a season ticket $100 per year. If each home game were a sellout, that fee would raise $6.6 million annually -- more than enough to service the debt on the public portion of the proposed improvements.
Of course, the CVC's opening bid is not likely to be accepted as the final solution. To sweeten the pot, then, give Kroenke the Bottle District. He's a real estate developer by trade and should thus be able to convert that fallow turf just north of the dome into a lucrative parking lot/entertainment complex -- a sort of real-life Ballpark Village.
If my plan seems extravagant, remember that the alternative is grim: If we can't lure Bob back with a Super Bowl, we may have to let him march in the St. Patrick's Day Parade.
M.W. Guzy is a retired St. Louis cop who currently works for the city Sheriff's Department. His column appears weekly in the Beacon.