- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 18, 2004

It is difficult to determine what will happen in the war between Linda Cropp and her D.C. City Council cronies and Major League Baseball because it is nearly impossible to figure out what Cropp and her clowns will do next.

However, a viewing of the Marx Brothers’ political satire “Duck Soup” might offer some insights.

As ruler of the mythical kingdom Fredonia, Groucho (Rufus T. Firefly) is set to prosecute Chico (Chicolini) for treason:

Groucho: “Lieutenant, why weren’t the original indictment papers placed in my portfolio?”

Lieutenant: “Why, I didn’t think those papers were important at this time, your excellency.”

Groucho: “You didn’t think they were important? You realize I had my dessert wrapped in those papers?”

Just what was wrapped up in the ballpark financing plan Cropp came up with late Tuesday night? A ham sandwich, perhaps.

A good place to gain perspective on what motivates the men who run baseball — baseball commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig and club owners — is John Helyar’s book “Lords of the Realm.” It shows just how illogical these men can be at times.

In one strategy session during a 1980 labor dispute, Washington lawyer and Baltimore Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams was attempting to steer his fellow owners away from hardline positions he believed were damaging the game. One owner agreed with Williams, “but many more lashed out in frustration at the players and [union chief Marvin] Miller. The group dynamics dictated that they flaunt their manhood.”

What is the group dynamic in Major League Baseball’s offices right now after being challenged by Linda Cropp?

Successful and powerful men buy baseball teams for ego. Helyar noted how former Montreal Expos owner Charles Bronfman once spoke with another rich man who wanted to buy a sports franchise. Bronfman, who was struggling to make the Expos work, asked why. The man replied, “I’m rich, but nobody knows it.”

So if anyone thinks either side’s decision-making process in the battle over the Washington Nationals is rooted in logic and reason, guess again.

One side is driven by politics. If Cropp had her constituents’ interests — and not her mayoral ambitions — at heart when she disapproved of a fully funded, publicly financed ballpark, why didn’t she speak up in January 2003 when Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf told city officials they were looking for a ballpark totally paid for by the city?

The other side is so incensed it is being driven by … well, that flaunting manhood thing Helyar referred to.

Both will lose if they don’t make a deal before the Dec.31 agreement between the city and MLB expires.

Baseball will be a laughingstock if it pulls the team out of Washington, but it doesn’t seem to care. Shame and embarrassment have been associated with the sport’s leaders so long that such traits have been retired.

Yet even though baseball owners might be egomaniacs, they are devious egomaniacs. They have more than one option if they decide to walk away — and, remarkably, one of those options might be a revived effort in Northern Virginia. That bid seemed dead because the state law for the ballpark funding plan expires Dec.31. However, Loudoun County officials have been working behind the scenes to capitalize on the District’s foul ball. And apparently at Gov. Mark Warner’s birthday party Wednesday, talks began to determine a way for the state to get back into the game.

If the team leaves Washington, the city will lose the business reputation it rebuilt in the last 15 years. Small business owners who are upset with the gross-receipts tax as part of the city’s ballpark financing plan should consider that it is necessary to have people with money invest to ensure growth. Or do people forget what large chunks of downtown Washington looked like 20 years ago?

Queen Cropp vs. the Lords. At stake — whether Washington, the Washington not defined by the federal government, but a city with its own identity — is a major league city or Fredonia.

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