- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

For a sport that fancies itself as "the national pastime," Major League Baseball (MLB) sees no contradiction in the fact that it has boycotted the national capital for three decades. And what an active boycott it has been. While shedding copious tears over the poverty that seemingly pervades the baseball industry, MLB has aggressively prevented any of its money-losing franchises from relocating to the Washington area for years.

Even with 25 of baseball's 30 major-league franchises losing money during the 2001 season, Commissioner Bud Selig cannot bring himself to admit that the supposedly impoverished "national pastime" has been negligent in ignoring one of the nation's most lucrative markets. Not even his own claim that only two teams the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians have generated a cumulative operating profit from 1995 through 2001 could sway Mr. Selig, a former used-car salesman.

Instead, Cadillac Bud recently traveled to Washington to plead with Congress not to revise baseball's antitrust exemption. In 1922, nearly a decade and a half before the arrival of night baseball, the Supreme Court created the exemption under the then-quaint view that baseball was merely a sport and not an industry that qualified as interstate commerce. Today, MLB represents a $3.5 billion annual enterprise not exactly what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes envisioned when his opinion carved out baseball's antitrust preferences.

It is this exemption that Mr. Selig and baseball's 30 owners sought to exploit when they announced within days of the World Series that they intended to contract their industry by two teams before next season. They even refused to identify the teams, although the presumed candidates are the Minnesota Twins and the Montreal Expos. Two well-financed local groups have sought to purchase the struggling Expos and relocate them to the Washington area, but they have been hindered by baseball's antitrust exemption.

Now that Congress is threatening to downsize baseball's exemption, word leaks that baseball is considering the Washington market after all. If the past is any guide, when baseball routinely played one metropolis against another in order to force taxpayers to finance stadiums, baseball's latest gambit may well be just another trial balloon to force taxpayers in Montreal and Minneapolis to ante up. If successful, Washington will again be left in the lurch.

In pleading poverty before Congress recently, Mr. Selig claimed that cumulative baseball operating losses over the past seven seasons have totaled $1.38 billion. But he neglected to mention that a Forbes analysis found that the value of all franchises had increased by nearly $5 billion since 1996, rising from $3.2 billion to $7.9 billion. Nobody is claiming that curtailing baseball's antitrust exemption as it applies to contraction and relocation will solve baseball's financial problems. But doing so will help, and it will certainly return Major League Baseball to the Washington area where any sport claiming to be "the national pastime" belongs.

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