- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2003

The self-anointed Grand Poohbahs of Major League Baseball (MLB) have deigned to grant local elected officials an audience sometime next month to measure just how desperate D.C. politicians are to attract a big-league baseball franchise. The poohbahs' unit of measurement, as it has been in every other city, is the dollar bill. Specifically, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and his fellow extortionists want to know how many hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds D.C. officials are willing to provide his multibillion-dollar industry in order to build a state-of-the-art stadium where players earning nearly $2.5 million per year will ply their trade.
Make no mistake. As baseball once again plays its all-too-familiar hard-to-get game for D.C. officials, the erstwhile national pastime is playing hardball. So, it's time to fight fire with fire. It's time for Washington's powerbrokers to play hardball as well.
We're not talking about the mayor and a few council committee chairmen. We're talking about the Big Boys who can wield the Big Stick. We're talking Congress. Specifically, we're talking about repealing baseball's cherished antitrust exemption insofar as it relates to the league's total veto authority over franchise relocation.
It's time for the Washington region to reverse positions with big-league baseball. Instead of having various area ownership groups (aligned with their respective governmental jurisdictions) competing among themselves by offering baseball gigantic taxpayer-financed stadium subsidies, why not encourage the numerous struggling MLB franchises to compete among themselves for the right to relocate to the Washington area, the world's greatest untapped baseball market? Take away baseball's total control over franchise relocation, and faster than Bud can say, "How much willya gimme for this used car?" the Washington region will be in the driver's seat.
When you want to get a male donkey's attention, you wallop the jackass alongside its head with a 2-by-4. Nothing would get Selig's attention faster than congressional action to delete the relocation provision from baseball's antitrust exemption.
No other professional sport's antitrust exemption has such a provision. Meanwhile, causing little, if any, damage to their leagues, dozens of franchise relocations have occurred in other major sports since the Senators left Washington after the 1971 season, baseball's last relocation. In fact, since the Senators departed, there have been seven franchise relocations in the National Football League (NFL), a trend that clearly has not prevented professional football from blowing past baseball as the nation's No. 1 spectator team sport.
It's been 30 years since Washington powerbrokers exercised their considerable might against a professional sports league on behalf of their own self-interest and the interests of the local hoi polloi. Back then, the NFL told President Nixon, an avid Redskins fan, to take a hike after he asked the league to lift playoff blackouts in 1972 so that local fans could watch their Super Bowl-bound Redskins. Rubbing salt in the wounds of diehard Redskins fans unable to watch their team's perennially sold-out home games on the tube, NFL poohbah Bob Cochran, the league's broadcast coordinator, criticized Washington stalwarts for being "spoiled" and gratuitously enforced the blackout of Washington games on Baltimore stations, which were accessible in the District's outer suburbs.
Well, the Democratic-controlled 93rd Congress and Dick Nixon didn't tolerate such insolence from a bunch of gameplayers. The Washington power structure reacted with unusual swiftness. On Sept. 13, the House passed the Sports Anti-blackout Bill of 1973 by a 366-37 margin, the Senate passed the measure minutes later by voice vote, and President Nixon signed the bill on Sept. 14, in time to lift the blackout for all Sept. 16 opening-day NFL games that sold out 72 hours before kickoff. Indeed, so swiftly had the powerbrokers of 1973 acted that former NFL quarterback Jack Kemp, who voted against the bill, was overheard complaining that "only the [1964] Gulf of Tonkin resolution moved equally fast."
Yes, yes. We can hear you clamoring, "But President Bush was a former owner and he might not sign such a bill." To which we say: Send it to him with the veto-proof margins that the 93rd mustered, just in case.
Repeal baseball's relocation antitrust exemption now. Then, sit back, while the owners come to us with their plans to privately finance a stadium in which to showcase their instantly revitalized franchise, whose value will soar the second it is selected to mine baseball gold in the D.C. market.

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