- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Listen to baseball commissioner Bud Selig talk about the moral obligation of baseball to the country in a recent interview with the New York Daily News about the game's role after the Sept. 11 tragedies in New York and Washington:

"I have a strong belief that baseball is a social institution, and with it comes a social responsibility … watching all the national anthems, crowd reactions, 'God Bless America.' I hope that in our little way, and we should never overestimate our importance, ever, we've helped bring the country back."

How dare Bud Selig wrap himself and baseball in the flag at a time when our nation's symbols mean more than any other time in recent memory and then weeks later toy with the feelings of Americans by playing the typical labor negotiating tactics, this time with a new, ridiculous twist shutting down major league franchises.

The concept of contraction reared its head yet again yesterday with reports from a Canadian newspaper that baseball intends to shut down two franchises, the Montreal Expos and the Florida Marlins.

There are many doubts about the validity of that, but there is little doubt that it is being used as a bargaining hammer to hold over the players union. Baseball is faced with the expiration of the existing labor agreement with the players when the World Series ends.

Selig has done little to dispel the notion. "A year ago I would have said that contraction is not a viable option," he told the Toronto Globe and Mail. "It is unquestionably today a viable option."

How dare Bud Selig consider the idea of doing away with teams when the capital of the United States of America does not have a baseball team.

That's what a group of legislators from Northern Virginia pretty much told Selig's representative studying franchise relocation, Corey Busch, in a recent meeting. They let Busch know that patience is starting to wear very thin in the wait for baseball to come to the Washington area, and that now with the area suffering from the blow to the Pentagon would be a particularly significant time to bring it back.

Hey, Selig can't use the flag when it's convenient for him. If baseball is a social institution with a social responsibility, then that responsibility should begin at home, and home for the country begins here in Washington.

"We made the same case that we have in the past, that we would have the attendance to support a team, and it would do very well here economically," Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf said. "But this area has been hit hard, and there is an opportunity for baseball to come here now. It is a glaring omission, and baseball has an obligation to come here. It's the capital of the United States of America."

I still doubt very seriously that baseball will fold franchises. Jeffrey Loria, owner of the Expos, and John Henry, owner of the Marlins, didn't get into this to make a quick buck and leave. Most people own baseball teams for ego, not money. There are other ways to make money. It's a tough club to get into, and it's unlikely that either one would go along with such a plan without a fight.

That's nothing compared to the fight baseball would get from the two ownership groups in the Washington area Virginia Baseball, headed by Bill Collins, and Fred Malek's group who have been led to believe that they should pursue efforts and spend money to bring baseball back here. In particular, the Collins group, which backed off its purchase of the Houston Astros six years ago in deference to baseball, would seem to have a strong case, stronger than the one that cowered baseball into putting a team in the Tampa Bay area. That was a good idea, wasn't it?

And then there is the firestorm that would hit in Congress if baseball contracted without putting a team in the Washington area. Virginia legislators joined by Florida lawmakers, if the Marlins were folded would fall over each other to be first in line to call for the repeal of baseball's antitrust exemption. The furor wouldn't be limited to Congress, either.

Baseball in the Washington area has a friend in the White House in George W. Bush, a former owner of the Texas Rangers. He was partners with Malek in Texas, and both Malek and Collins are very well connected in the Republican Party.

But what finally might make this the most opportune time for baseball to come here is the weakening of what has been perceived as the only roadblock to the return of baseball to the Washington area since the Senators left for Arlington, Texas, after the 1971 season the Baltimore Orioles, specifically owner Peter Angelos.

The case has already been made in studies by both the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority and the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission that a franchise here would not significantly impact the Orioles.

But all the data in the world won't be enough to keep Angelos from doing all he can including the threat of legal action, though it is unclear what grounds he would have to try to stop a franchise from moving here.

How, though, could Peter Angelos come out now, of all times, and say, no, I am opposed to the Washington-Northern Virginia area getting a franchise, and I will do all I can to stop it? How could he do that at a time when the area is still reeling from the effects of the Pentagon bombing, the problems resulting from the closing of Reagan National Airport and anxiety over the future of the region?

He can't. He can't risk the public relations fallout. His patriotism would be called into question.

A stretch?

Not if you buy into Selig's notion that baseball is a social institution with a social responsibility.

Now, who wants to be the first one to step up and say they are opposed to putting baseball this great symbol of our country in the capital of this great land of ours? Peter Angelos? Bud Selig?

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