- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 13, 2002

The Watergate scandal started as a simple burglary and ultimately toppled the presidency of Richard Nixon.
The revelations last week that a firm controlled by Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad lent money several years ago to Bud Selig, then acting commissioner and lead owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, and Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris have started a somewhat similar process but this time on hyperspeed.
Already, Selig has been called upon to resign by a raft of politicians at state and national levels. The calls for Bud's head stem from conflict of interest concerns and the loans apparently violating internal Major League Baseball rules prohibiting loans between clubs without approval from the rest of the owners.
The underlying suggestion by critics of these loans is that Pohlad's Twins are now being considered for elimination by Selig and the owners, allowing Pohlad to receive better than market value for the club and a clean exit from the game, as partial thanks for the loans.
Surprisingly, the one major party not publicly rankled to date over the loans is the players' union, though former union chief Marvin Miller has been an outspoken critic.
"There are as many questions out now as there were [on Dec. 6, when Selig testified on Capitol Hill]. … The plot thickens and this story goes on and on," said Rep. John Conyers, Michigan Democrat. Conyers is Selig's biggest critic on Capitol Hill and will back off his calls for the resignation only if Selig drops his plan to contract two teams before next season, something not likely to happen anytime soon. Conyers will meet next week with Selig's lawyers to press on the issue.
Amid all the bluster and rhetoric, deeper questions remain. Are the loans really a big deal and worthy of the now popular tag of Budgate, particularly Selig's that was paid off in less than 90 days and at above-market interest rates? Is Selig's job status really threatened when the owners just gave him a three-year contract extension? Even as Congress considers rolling back baseball's antitrust exemption, will the owners take any of the objections seriously?
One thing is for certain: Just when Selig appeared over his head in what is arguably baseball's most difficult offseason ever, the commissioner has received yet another blazing fire to put out. And it's in this court of public opinion, where Selig and the owners have the least control and the most problems.
"Despite MLB's assurances to play fair with our national pastime, the shady and self-serving practices of some owners continue to run afoul of the expectations of fans and, now, Congress," said Rep Betty McCollum, Minnesota Democrat.
Selig, for his part, sees nothing wrong with the loans, and several owners, including close friends Jerry Reinsdorf in Chicago and Drayton McLane in Houston, quickly came to his defense.
"This was a short-term loan from a lending institution which was owned by the family of an owner, and was at arms' length and for a commercial rate of interest," Selig wrote to Conyers last week. "The loan was made and paid in full six years prior to any consideration of contraction by the industry."
Selig's letter to Conyers, however, did not address a key point. If rules are to apply to everyone in both letter and spirit just ask Pete Rose why is there no real concern inside the industry here? The spirit of the law, which is to prevent undue influence by one club over another, appears not to have been violated. Despite the suggestion of a backroom deal among Selig, Pohlad and McMorris, the originator of the contraction idea, none has been concretely shown to date.
The letter of the law, which mandates full disclosure to and approval from the owners for intraclub loans, is the problem. With the thousands of lenders in the market who would be more than willing to lend money to baseball the game still has good credit despite Selig's claims of fiscal woes Selig's use of Pohlad's firm is just too convenient. We all use friends and family as vendors on occasion. But baseball plainly requires disclosure and openness on these matters, even if they don't mean much in the grand scheme of the game, and Selig and McMorris didn't do it.
Therein lies the point. It's a lot more difficult to convince anyone who cares about baseball you're serious about cleaning up the game and making it far more balanced if simple written rules can't be followed.
"All I'm asking for is for [Selig] to come clean," Conyers said. "Will the real Bud Selig step forward?"
And will the owners take up this issue during their meetings this week in Phoenix? Not a chance. Even if they wanted to, there are far too many other pressing issues, including the sale of the Boston Red Sox, labor talks with the players, and the contraction effort.
But perhaps there should be an addition to the agenda: managing perceptions. Selig very well may have done nothing truly wrong. But the belief that he did is the prevailing note of the day. And unlike the teflon exteriors of others like Michael Jordan or Bill Clinton, everything sticks to baseball these days like caked-on leftovers.

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