If you want to appreciate some great reporting and writing while getting depressed about the state of baseball, read Steve Fainaru's three-part series about commissioner Bud Selig's various shenanigans in the Washington Post. The title of the series is "How Baseball Does Business."
How baseball does business is as a cartel, protected by the sport's exemption from antitrust laws. You knew that, but you'll still be shaking your head in disbelief as you read.
The news hook for the Post is Selig's announcement about what will happen to the/les/los Montreal/San Juan/Where Nextpos, which he's said he'll make after the All-Star Game. Washington and Northern Virginia are both candidates to host the woeful franchise.
If I were a taxpayer in Virginia or the District, I would be very nervous right now, since Selig has made it a requirement for anyone who wants to buy the Expos that they have a deal in place for a new, publicly funded stadium. Actually, though, I'm one of that semilunatic fringe that believes Selig has no intention of making any announcements about the Expos for another two years, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires and he can bring up contraction again.
In Part 1 of the Post series Sunday, Fainaru reviewed the story of how Selig, who is both the commissioner and the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, got the state of Wisconsin to pay for Miller Park, something the state of Wisconsin is very sorry about having done these days. (Selig put his Brewers holdings in a blind trust on becoming acting commissioner in 1992, but there's little doubt he still wields the power in the organization.)
Part 2, on Monday, told the story of the famous "bag job," in the words of a Massachusetts official, that resulted in Jeffrey Loria, who as owner of the Montreal Expos had systematically run that franchise into the ground, being paid to take over the Florida Marlins so that Marlins owner John Henry and his co-investors could buy the Boston Red Sox despite not being the highest bidders.
I'm sugarcoating. The story is nastier than that. Loria invested a little over $12 million in the Expos, presided over the franchise's complete collapse, including its removal from local TV and radio, then sold it to baseball for $120 million. That process took about two years. His former partners have filed a racketeering lawsuit accusing him of sabotaging the franchise with an eye toward moving it.
In Part 3 Tuesday, Fainaru details the negotiations over where to move the Expos, especially as those plans relate to the Washington area, and Selig's relationship with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who opposes what he considers an infringement of his territory. That territory is protected by the antitrust exemption. Imagine a local supermarket chain claiming that nobody else can sell food in its territory -- your town -- and you have an idea of how baseball does business.
An amusing Angelos strategy I hadn't known about is deemphasizing the word "Baltimore." It's been scrubbed off the Camden Yards dugout roof and the team's announcers are forbidden from referring to the club by the city name. The idea is to portray the Orioles as a regional team, meaning not just Baltimore but Washington and northern Virginia too, and while we're at it parts of Pennsylvania, and, I think, Indonesia.
There isn't much in the series that's news to people who have been following this sad story for the last decade-plus, but Fainaru does a thorough job of collecting the various threads of Selig's regime and fashioning them into a readable if nauseating narrative.
Readers not familiar with the details of Selig's tenure will marvel at his blatant conflicts of interest, his bald-faced lying and baseball's routine use of the antitrust exemption to intimidate politicians into voting for monstrous public subsidies that amount to corporate welfare for billionaires. This story getting such prominent placement in such a prominent newspaper should open some eyes.
In Part 2, referring to baseball's strong-arm tactics with local governments, former commissioner Fay Vincent sums up "how baseball does business" with this colorful but all too apt phrase: "I mean, c'mon."
What's really amazing is how thorough an indictment of baseball's tactics this series is without even mentioning that baseball's main argument for government ballpark subsidies has been repeatedly shown to be bogus. The argument -- that a new stadium is a boon to a city, county or state, an engine for growth and development, meaning any public money is an investment that will pay dividends -- has never been supported by an economist not in the employ of baseball or some other entity that would benefit from all those taxpayer dollars.
Fainaru was scheduled to discuss the series in a live chat on the Washington Post Web site Tuesday at 1 p.m. EDT.
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