Friday, November 9, 2001

Somebody slap Rep. John Conyers. He seems to have lost perspective as regards what’s important and what’s not, and somebody needs to remind him why he’s in Washington.

Understand that Mr. Conyers, Michigan Democrat and ranking minority member of the House Committee on the Judiciary, is meddling with Major League Baseball. Angry that owners voted 28-2 on Tuesday to contract two struggling teams, Mr. Conyers is threatening to introduce legislation that would yank Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption. “Anytime 30 of the wealthiest and most influential individuals get together behind closed doors and agree to reduce output, that cannot be a good thing for anyone but the monopolists. I will do everything in my power to see that this ill-considered decision does not stand, including introducing legislation to ensure that the full weight of the antitrust laws applies to this anti-competitive decision.”

While the nerve of this joker is simply remarkable, his take on the baseball owners’ decision is hardly surprising. This is, after all, the same John Conyers who questions the antitrust settlement between the Justice Department and Microsoft, and the same John Conyers who has vowed to reintroduce legislation on reparations for U.S. slavery until he gets his personally desired results. It’s as if he doesn’t care about other things including lagging judicial nominations (which he needs to nudge his Senate counterparts on), tougher anti-terrorism laws, tighter border controls and stricter anti-drug laws.

I mean, here you have a ranking member of Congress on one of the most important committees on Capitol Hill worried about businessmen doing what businessmen are supposed to do that is, worry about their respective bottom lines.

What really gets me up is that Mr. Conyers uses such threatening language as “everything in my power” when his “power” could be put to better use not just politically, but for humanity as well. Moreover, there is all this chatter about a sport that I don’t particularly care for (give me football and basketball or give me death).

My feelings aside, what should really burn you up is that Mr. Conyers and others are crying foul in the name of one or two things: the consumer, as in the consumer loses when businesses try to make money; or victim, as in Mr. Conyers probably would have made a lousy defense attorney. Can you imagine, him pleading a defendant’s case by espousing the bad-childhood syndrome? Spare me.

Did Mr. Conyers and other members of Congress who are critical of the owners hear the facts and criteria as laid out on Tuesday? Here, in part, is what Commissioner Bud Selig said: “[There] exists no prospective market that meets the desired requirements for fielding a stable, competitive and economically viable franchise for next season.” He also said owners will be “sensitive” to Washington “as time goes on.”

Now, short of Mr. Selig donning an apron and slathering mustard on kosher dogs for one and all, what, pray, did Mr. Conyers really and truly expect? Surely, neither Mr. Conyers nor Virginia’s congressional delegation anticipated Mr. Selig announcing the relocation of, say, the Montreal Expos or Minnesota Twins to Washington. Or apologizing for Washington losing the Senators.

If anything, the events of this week raised the same lingering questions: Is Washington a viable market for a Major League Baseball franchise? Would a franchise in the nation’s capital threaten the Baltimore Orioles? Does America care?

Indeed, lots of folks seem to think America should care perhaps because baseball is America’s pastime, perhaps because the issue has absolutely nothing to do with September 11.

So, let’s feign interest for another minute or two as I try to explain why Washington is interested in baseball.

The city has not has a Major League team since 1971, when the expansion-team Senators packed their bags, headed to Texas and changed their name to the Rangers. Ever since then, fans and investors have been trying to lure baseball back to Washington. Also, a group of investors from Northern Virginia has been trying to do the same. Meanwhile, critics on the northern end of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway say a D.C. team would unfairly draw Orioles fans and dollars. One of the most outspoken critics of a Washington team is Orioles owner Peter Angelos who, by the way, made a point on Tuesday of saying that only one market can supports two teams, and that one market is New York, N.Y.

So here we are. Businessmen cutting their losses, congressmen threatening legislative action, attorneys general in several states pondering legal actions and yours truly singing don’t take me out to the ball game. Please, somebody, inform Mr. Conyers that Washington can lay constitutional claim to a lot of things, including being called the nation’s capital. But it does not have a constitutional right to the Montreal Expos, or any other Major League franchise.

Wake me when it’s over.

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