- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Listening to Bud Selig explain the business of baseball to a congressional committee, it all became as clear as the infield fly rule as interpreted in light of the reserve clause.
To hear baseball's commissioner explain it, nothing could be simpler. To sum up his testimony:
The game needs to stay exempted by law from antitrust law because, with the exemption, it's going broke. And if you'll just examine the certifiably unaudited figures, they'll show that the only franchises making money are in New York and Cleveland. (No need to go into detail or look into the other pocket, where the revenues from television are kept. MYOB.) Major league baseball actually lost more than half a billion dollars last season, which must be why various media conglomerates invest in teams in Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and points beyond. The winningest team in baseball over the past decade, the Atlanta Braves, is really a loser.
Got all that? Then keep in mind that baseball really isn't a business at all but a sport, an "exhibition" rather than commerce, especially not the interstate kind. Then it would be subject to the federal antitrust laws, which it shouldn't be. The Supreme Court said so in 1922, which may explain why only lawyers would believe it. Actually, baseball isn't a business, either, or at least not a profitable one. It's an industry. A failing one, says Bud Selig, and he's got the figures to confuse it.
Whew. Watching the commissioner deliver his report on the fiscal health of baseball with all the cheer of an undertaker, it occurred that nobody has so nonplused a congressional committee since 1958, when the late great Casey Stengel was called on to testify before the Senate Subcommittee on Anti-Trust and Monopoly. (The Hon. Estes Kefauver presiding, poor soul.)
Sen. Kefauver played it square, as he did everything else, starting with his simple request that ol' Case, who never did anything simply, briefly establish his bonafides: "Mr. Stengel," he began, "you are the manager of the New York Yankees. Will you give us very briefly your background and views about this legislation?"
Forty-five minutes later, the intricacies of antitrust law and Mr. Stengel's view of them had been made as clear as the world before it was created. All was void and without form, beginning with Casey's explanation of how major league managers are made and unmade:
"Well, I started in professional baseball in 1910. I had many years that I was not so successful as a ballplayer as it is a game of skill. And then I was no doubt discharged by baseball, in which I had to go back to the minor leagues as a manager. I became a major league manager in several cities and was discharged. We call it discharged because there was no question that I had to leave."
At some point, Mr. Kefauver made a polite effort to keep the witness in the basepaths ("Mr. Stengel, I am not sure that I made my question clear") but was met by an equally polite evasion, much like a baserunner hooking a heel under a slow second baseman's glove: "Well, that's all right, I'm not sure I'm going to answer yours perfectly, either."
Eventually the good senator did steer his witness to the subject of the hearing: "I am asking you, sir, why it is that baseball wants this bill passed."
To which the witness replied in his own opaque way. His words are preserved to this day in the annals of Congress and in the cherished memories of those with a taste for mystical discourse:
"I would say I would not know, but I would say the reason they want it passed is to keep baseball going as the highest paid ball sport that has gone into baseball, and from the baseball angle I am not going to speak of any other sport. I am not here to argue about these other sports. I am in the baseball business. It has been run cleaner than any business that was ever put out in the one hundred years at the present time."
At an understandable loss, the senator from Tennessee finally gave up, and asked the other witness, the celebrated Mickey Mantle, to clear things up. "Mr. Mantle," he pleaded, "do you have any observations with reference to the applicability of the antitrust laws to baseball?"
Mickey Mantle, who was a clean-up hitter by nature, came through splendidly.
"My views," he explained, "are just about the same as Casey's."
Whatever was left of the hearing dissolved at that point, mainly in laughter. Just what Casey's views were of antitrust legislation or of anything else are still lost somewhere in the fog of his splendid if misty rhetoric, which has not dissipated to this day.
I don't believe Casey Stengel was ever again called on to testify before Congress. (Who says politicians never learn?)
But of course there's a difference between Casey Stengel's voluble answers in 1958 and those offered this year by Bud Selig.
Casey didn't intend to be taken seriously.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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