Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Major league baseball: Born Feb. 2, 1876, died Nov. 6, 2001.
What other interpretation can we put on yesterday’s decision to blindfold two clubs and send them before a firing squad of middle-aged men in business suits? Oh, baseball will continue to exist next season, but never again should we regard it as a major sport or one that cares a whit about its fans.
There may have been worse moments in the game’s 125-year professional history, but I can’t think of any.
There may have been more disastrous commissioners than Bud Selig since Kenesaw Mountain Landis first handed down an iron-fisted ruling in 1921, but I’m drawing a blank here, too.
The decision obviously had been made long before an official vote was cast, otherwise one meeting would never have done the deed. This idea has been Selig’s baby from the start, and somehow he managed to convince enough owners that conceding failure in two markets was the best road to success.
During his news conference following yesterday’s daylong meeting in Chicago, Selig vowed that, honest to goodness, he had considered every other option. Yeah, right. After that, I expected him to flap his arms and vow to fly to the moon.
He also said, with a straight face, that there were no stadiums available “in places to move right now.” I guess he thinks that huge building with the sweeping roof at the end of East Capitol Street is the D.C. Jail or something.
The biggest victims of yesterday’s executive carnage, of course, are whatever fans remain in the two doomed cities and isn’t it nice that Selig left them unidentified so that folks in Minnesota, Montreal, Tampa Bay and Miami all can twist slowly, slowly in the wind?
How considerate can you get?
Otherwise, we are the principal victims. Until Selig began babbling about contraction awhile back, our chances looked pretty good for landing a club next season or the year after. Now we appear to be back to Square One, meaning 1972 after the expansion Senators vamoosed to Texas.
Representatives of Fred Malek’s D.C. ownership group and Bill Collins’ Northern Virginia gang have claimed that contraction need not necessarily kill our chances, but it’s easy to hear them whistling past the graveyard. I know Selig said he would be “very sensitive” toward Washington’s desire for a team; baseball’s movers and shakers have said that for three decades. Big deal.
For true-blue fans, the offseason always has been depressing because there are no games. This offseason, which began the day after a truly epic World Series ended, is more like catastrophic. Do you suppose Somebody Up There hates what used to be called the Grand Old Game?
Make that the Grand Old Shame.
Of course, we shouldn’t really be surprised. For at least 28 years, since the American League perpetrated the abominable designated hitter rule, the people who run baseball have done about everything possible to make the game less attractive.
Player salaries soar out of sight, with no cap in sight, and we pay the price every time we buy a ticket, gobble a hot dog or even park our cars.
Games drag on beyond any civilized person’s bedtime, and no rule is passed to limit the amount of time a pitcher can dawdle between deliveries or the number of times a batter can step out to rewrap his batting gloves.
Revenue sharing remains only a token, so the Twins could only hope against all logic that their $25 million payroll would allow them to compete with clubs spending four or five times as much.
Now it may not matter.
It is so stupid.
The people who run baseball are so stupid.
And we are so stupid if we retain our devotion to a sport that bears almost no resemblance to the one many of us played or watched while growing up.
After more than 50 years as a fan, I’m disgusted. As far as caring seriously about baseball in the future … well, Sam Goldwyn’s famous malaprop springs to mind: Include me out.
Many folks I know already have forsaken baseball for other sports or other pursuits. Many young people don’t connect at all with the game that unquestionably was America’s favorite for most of the 20th century.
A few years ago, I visited the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, N.J., where the first game under modern rules was played in 1846. This is one of baseball’s historic sites, much more so than Cooperstown, and a couple dozen young men were playing games there.
Basketball games, that is.
And no wonder.
If the Twins are indeed one of the clubs sentenced to death, the contraction folly will be especially outrageous. This franchise was a charter member of the American League 100 years ago, spending 60 years in Washington and 41 in the Twin Cities. And it may have been a turning point when Twins owner Carl Pohlad said last week that he was willing to accept a buyout after losing what he said was $150 million over 17 years.
Pohlad, like most of today’s owners, is not a baseball man. Can you imagine the ancient likes of Connie Mack and Clark Griffith sitting still while their beloved teams were shot out from under them?
While spinning all his self-serving double talk at his news conference, Selig the former Milwaukee car salesman who now is driving baseball into the ground got off this beauty: “I have to worry about the game.”
Hey, Bud, why start now?

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