(Fact: When Nero fiddled, he was in a luxury box at the Colosseum.)
New York, the most sophisticated sports town in Sports Nation, brings us two spectacularly expensive new stadiums this month -- rent-free and property tax-free for the Mets and the Yankees -- largely subsidized by public money on city-owned land.
The Mets' new Citi Field, a.k.a. Belly-Up Ballpark, cost $850 million.
The new Yankee Stadium -- boy, that old Yankee Stadium was a real stinker, eh? -- cost $1.5 billion.
Amazingly, in a city faced with myriad budget problems, the Mets and the Yankees not only successfully solicited public financing, both clubs came back with their hand out a second time -- and got more money.
Schools? No money.
Subway? No money.
Stadiums? How much do you need? Thank you sir, may I have another.
During the seventh-inning stretch at the new Yankee Stadium, they shouldn't sing Take Me Out of the Ballgame, they should sing, Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
As it turns out, George Steinbrenner is a welfare mother with a sugar daddy. His name is Michael Bloomberg, he's the eternal mayor of New York City and he hands out tax-free bonds like Kit Kat Club flyers.
The Yankees got $1.2 billion in tax-exempt bonds and $136 million in taxable bonds; the Mets got $697 million in tax-free bonds.
In addition, it will cost tens of millions of taxpayer money just to demolish Shea and Yankee Stadiums. Geez, Amy Winehouse would've done it for free.
Once again, we are front-row witnesses to public money gone mad. I don't say this as a backseat driver in the wake of a brutal economy; I would say this if money were growing on trees. For when you spend public dollars on play things rather than real needs, when your priorities put entertainment dollars ahead of education dollars, you are destined for doom.
(On a related note, I'm still boycotting my wayward hometown of Washington, D.C., whose congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, failed to file a tax return for several years and whose City Council member Marion Barry, the former mayor, also failed to file a tax return for several years while actual tax dollars recently paid for the city's unnecessary new baseball park where, undoubtedly, Norton and Barry can attend on the public's dime any time.)
In New York these days, there's a Starbucks -- and a stadium -- on every corner.
The NFL's Jets and the Giants are getting a new home to share next year and the NBA's Nets are looking to build a new arena in Brooklyn by 2011. Heck, if The Met had a hockey rink, New York would probably get a new opera house by winter.
Paris is the City of Light, New York is the City of Stadium Blight.
Of course, with the pricey new facilities -- Yankee Stadium II is the most expensive sports venue in history -- come pricey new customer costs. Simply put, taxpayers footed the bill for a stadium they cannot afford to get into.
The average price of a non-premium Yankees ticket is $72.97, up 76 percent from last year.
The priciest ticket -- it's called a "premium seat" -- is $2,625. Granted, it is a very good seat, but for $2,625, you should be able to fill out the lineup card, ride in the bullpen car and take A-Rod home.
Repeat: It's $2,625 for a single ticket. For a family of four, that's $10,500, plus parking.
(Or you could stay home, watch American Idol, hire Emeril to cook a six-course feast and probably save two grand.)
Meanwhile, the Yankees boast that 80 percent of the seats at the new Yankee Stadium are $100 or less. And, indeed, you can still get a $5 ticket to a Yankees game; of course, it's an obstructed view, a vantage point most of America should be used to by now.
Q. So you think Isiah Thomas can take Florida International to the Final Four within five years? (Mark Olson, Milwaukee)
A. Final Four? When Thomas ran the Continental Basketball Association, the league filed for bankruptcy; I doubt he can run FIU out of business, but by the time he's done, the school might be a junior college.
Q. Anheuser-Busch InBev is looking for a buyer for its Rolling Rock brand. Because you switched beers, do you feel their sales declined? (Mike Corso, Lombard, Ill.)
A. Rolling Rock is dead to me -- I won't even allow its name in the main body of the column. In fact, I'm drinking PBR in a can as I write this answer.
Q. Is it too late to report my 2009 Washington Nationals season tickets as a loss on my taxes? (Tyler Bunch, Herndon, Va.)
A. Smart reader, a buck-and-a-quarter richer.
Q. If Yankee Stadium is the House That Ruth Built, is new Yankee Stadium the House That Ruthlessness Built? (Rick Ryan, South Charleston, W.Va.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.