Friday, November 30, 2001

Everyone thinks baseball commissioner Bud Selig doesn’t love our fair city. But he is looking forward to his visit to Washington next week. In fact, he can’t wait to come. He’s coming to testify.

He’s coming to testify how baseball is the worst-managed business in the land.

He’s coming to testify how 30 baseball teams lost more than $500million this year.

He’s coming to testify how baseball’s debt now exceeds $3billion.

He’s coming to testify how contraction will solve all of these problems.

I wonder if the undercoating will be included in this package.

Cadillac Bud will bear witness Dec. 6 before the House Judiciary Committee, and I’m sure it will be an appearance worthy of his former standing in the National Automobile Dealers Association.

The reason for the hearing is to consider doing away with baseball’s valued antitrust exemption. The latest political swipe at the game’s shield comes as a result of the plan to eliminate, or contract in Selig’s parlance, two major league franchises, the latest bonehead play by these icons of American business who have, according to Selig, run the national pastime into the ground:

“When you have an industry that loses over $500million and 25 clubs are in the red, that is a business practice that is not only unacceptable, it is stunningly bad.”

Say it loud, we’re broke and we’re proud.

Cadillac Bud can plead all the poverty he wants, but hopefully committee members (including chairman James Sensenbrenner, Bud’s congressman from back in Milwaukee) will remind the commissioner that the purpose of the hearing is to listen to reasons why baseball’s antitrust exemption shouldn’t be repealed.

Now, even if you buy into the commissioner’s sales pitch of poverty, what does that have to do with baseball’s antitrust exemption? Absolutely nothing.

So when Cadillac Bud shows up before the committee hungry and cold, in tattered clothes, one step away from sleeping on a grate on the streets, the members should wipe the tears from their eyes and say, “But what does that have to do with this antitrust exemption you were called here to testify for today? If you’re losing all this money, it’s not like this special privilege is doing you any good. Do you mean if we repeal it, you’ll lose more money?”

Not likely. Just the opposite. If the game’s antitrust exemption disappears, there will be little to stop a team from relocating to another city if it gets a better deal, which would mean healthier franchises, not ones on life support.

According to Cadillac Bud, this would be a bad thing. “If you take the antitrust exemption away, people can move to wherever they want to move,” Cadillac Bud told the Associated Press. “How does that serve the public good?

Oh, I don’t know. Let’s take a look at the NFL, where franchises have moved without restriction.

Sure, there was a great deal of pain when the Colts left Baltimore, the Raiders left Oakland and the Browns left Cleveland. But the fact is that today there are teams in Baltimore, Oakland and Cleveland, in addition to Indianapolis. There are new teams in Jacksonville and Charlotte. When the Cardinals left St. Louis to move to Phoenix, St. Louis got the Rams. When the Oilers left for Tennessee, Houston got an expansion franchise. After all of the franchise relocation over the past 17 years, the only city that lost a team and didn’t get another one is Los Angeles, and it has only itself to blame for failing to step up to the plate when opportunities arose.

They all got football, and if you believe that these professional sports franchises serve the public good, then the public good was ultimately served by relocation.

Don’t let Cadillac Bud present his dog and pony show and waste the committee’s time. Instead, ask him a few of these questions:

If Minnesota and Montreal built ballparks for their teams, would you still want to close them down? If not, why not? It’s not like they would make any money, right? After all, there are 14 major league teams that have had new ballparks built in the past 10 years (in Anaheim’s case, extensively refurbished), but, according to Cadillac Bud, at least 10 of those teams are losing money. So building ballparks in Minnesota and Montreal won’t make a dent in baseball’s $500million losses.

Do you have a secret deal with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos to keep a team out of Washington? Several years ago, sources said John Angelos was boasting to acquaintances in Baltimore that Cadillac Bud had made his father a promise to keep a team out of Washington and protect the Orioles (if, by the way, the Orioles are losing money, they need only to look at the list of players they are still paying who don’t play in Charm City anymore).

Testify to that, Cadillac Bud.

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