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When it Hits the Fan
by Diamond Lil
Previous Columns

WHAT HAVE THEY DONE FOR US LATELY - 03/13/2001

Early this past season, San Diego Padres president Larry Lucchino said:"Baseball finally woke up and recognized there was an 800- pound gorilla sitting in our living room…Enough is enough."

And so, reigning Commissioner Allan H. 'Bud' Selig said the day he was awarded his "sweeping powers":"The developments of the last two days in any historical context are staggering, inconceivable 10 or 12 years ago". Indeed, no other Commissioner since Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who ruled baseball from 1920 to 1944 when he died, has been awarded as much power as 'Bud' Selig.

Since Landis, the Lords of Baseball have searched for a Commissioner who could accomplish several irreconcilable goals: preserve the game’s integrity and credibility, increase profits, maintain parity, all while placating the owner’s requests and demands.

Seven men have held the Commissioner’s title, with various degrees of power—Senator 'Happy' Chandler, Ford Frick, Gen.William Eckert, Bowie Kuhn, Peter Ueberroth, Bart Giamatti, and Fay Vincent—each with various degrees of success. Nearly all angered the Lords to some degree or another. None of them were able to prevent nor placate the gorillas’ voracious appetite and growth.

Things looked promising in the mid-eighties and we the fans asked then:

What will they do for our game?

Peter Ueberroth was Commissioner of MLB from 1984 to 1989. He built his fortune in the travel agency business. But his name and reputation came when he organized the most successful Olympics in history in LA, 1984.

Right after the Olympics he succeeded Bowie Kuhn as MLB Commissioner. His face and name were all over the news and media when he was named Time's Man of the Year. The Lords were proud of the high profile, strong CEO they had just contracted. All felt that finally the eternally convoluted state of America's pastime was finally going to take a turn for the better.

Unlike the present self-proclaimed "baseball cop", Sandy Alderson, Ueberroth didn't use any smart cliches for media manipulation when he immediately negotiated a settlement to end the umpires strike which was at the time threatening the World Series.

He went about his business with diplomacy but with a keen sense of how to make money only seen in Fortune 500-type CEOs. That was what MLB needed if it was to succeed in the modern world. He knew how to lead and how to make a profit without putting the burden on the fans of the game. As he did when he organized the Olympics, he used and priced corporate sponsorship much higher than ever before, he increased the revenue from memorabilia and merchandising, and he filled the Lords’ pockets like never before when he negotiated the largest MLB TV contract in its history.

But Peter Ueberroth had his first encounter with the harsh reality of who his bosses were when he felt the need to preach "fiscal responsibility" to them. The golden rule of a good business is not so hard to understand by most men used to handling millions of dollars. However, what he preached as "fiscal responsibility" (which meant, "not sign and commit to multiyear contracts" unless they were sure to see a good return on their investment) soon turned into "collusion." The ruling by an arbitrator cost the owners hundreds of millions of dollars.

"The owners mendacity in the 1980s collusive effort to depress the ballplayers' income was in many ways as damaging to baseball as the Black Sox scandal of 1919" the court wrote, referring to the Chicago White Sox throwing the World Series against Cincinnati.

Ueberroth’s other project as the Commissioner was to solve the drug problem which was rampant and consuming MLB in the early to mid-eighties. He tried to implement harsh penalties and institute a drug testing policy, but got shot down by the Players Union.

The Lords were soon eager to get rid of the man who had made them each a truckload of money. Remember that there is one thing MLB fans, media and owners have in common:

"What have you done for me lately!"

So Peter Ueberroth only lasted five years on the job all felt would be the pinnacle of his career. We the fans expected him to finally lead the stewards of our pastime and game we love to salvation. Instead, he stepped down and when was later asked why he didn't succeed, he answered that he was unable to put up with"the twenty-six idiots", his own words. Well, now there are thirty idiots, in my own words.

What have they ever done for us?

Bart Giamatti was in office from 1986 to 1989. He was an educated man and onetime president of Yale University. His love, enthusiasm for the game made him a fan and media favorite until he banned Pete Rose from baseball and died nine days later of a heart attack.

Fay Vincent three-year reign as Commissioner was tumultuous and marked by the Pete Rose firestorm. George Steinbrenner was caught and suspended by Vincent due to his illegal and unethical acts. But what brought his term to an end was the fact that the owners didn't want an honest and love-for-the-game type of Commissioner in office messing with the upcoming labor negotiations. The so-called sacred National Agreement that states a Commissioner cannot be fired was not something the owners were concerned about. Vincent stood firm for awhile, but after a September vote of "no confidence" from the Lords, he resigned. If it was not for the love of game, I would say he really had the last laugh. The labor negotiations resulted into another fiasco. Sandy Alderson with his wonderful descriptions said,"they have invited Kevorkian into the room" in reference to the new Collective Labor Agreement.

What will they do for us now?

Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago White Sox, seemed closer to the truth. The next Commissioner's job, he said bluntly, will be to"run the business for the owners, not the players or the umpires or the fans."

So the Lords turned to the present Commissioner and one of their own, Bud Selig. A used car salesman by trade, who purchased a bankrupt Seattle Pilots in 1970 and moved them to Milwaukee, the land of the once legendary Milwaukee Braves. The Brewers however have rarely contended for any titles and make a habit of losing most of their good talent to free agency. Selig convinced the other owners he could help them fix what he blames for his misfortune, the sport's labor structure. He has in his resume the way he handled the strike of 1994. He in fact was MLB 'Acting Commissioner', earning a $1 million dollar salary, which by the way is 50 percent higher than any previous Commissioner.

What did he do for us then?

"In the best interest of the game", Bud Selig did what world wars and earth quakes and other natural disasters never did. He cancelled the World Series of 1994. "Buddy", as they call him affectionately, has powerful and greedy allies among the Lordship. He had in particular the ChiSox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Marlins ex-owner Wayne Huizenga as his supporters whenever any reasonable course of action was suggested by any of the other owners. These men are responsible for blocking sale of franchises and relocations, such as the case of the Giants in 1992, or the tabling of a bid by local bidders to purchase the A's in 1998. They hand pick who gets the privilege of becoming a Lord and they have the closest clan with apparently more strength then Bill Gates and his Microsoft. Nobody gets to see their books or gets to mess with their Monopoly...no way. The National Institution of MLB is untouchable with their anti-trust exemption since 1922, when Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared that "a team's business in giving exhibitions of baseball are purelly state affairs."The Supreme Court has upheld this to present date and U.S. antitrust law does not apply to the business of baseball.

What else will they do to our game?

Bud Selig has all of baseball believing that the future of the sport is hinged on the success or failure of what he labels"small-market franchises". Any team that is not profitable enough for their standards is immediately labeled a 'small-market franchise', even if they were once a 'large-market franchise' when they happened to have a good profitable cycle. These profitable cycles, by the way, coincide with good sound management and good ownership. Please see history for changing market labels for the A's, Twins, Cleveland and others...these have all gone from small to large and back to small and so forth... Giants managing general partner Peter Magowan, said in an interview right after Selig's glorious coronation ceremony, "But I have confidence that as the owner of a small-market team, he has the knowledge of what needs to be done, and now he has the support to get it done..."

The master of the 'conference calls' and the 'consensus-builder' (the consensus usually always revolves around money-making schemes), Selig is now preparing for what some call the day of reckoning and the possible Armageddon of our beloved game. He formed and issued the Commissioner's Blue Ribbon Panel report on Baseball Economics. Its report recommends broad and sweeping changes to Major League Baseball's economic structure intended to close the gaping disparity between the game's "haves and have-nots."

What will they do to our game?

Senator George Mitchell, a spokesman for the independent members of the panel said, "Baseball's current economic system has created a caste system in which only high revenue and high payroll clubs have a realistic opportunity to reach the post-season,"... "That is not in the best interests of baseball fans, clubs or players." However, not one member of this independent advising panel is a representative of either baseball fans or players, for that matter. They did not have a representing member of the powerful Players'Union, who must agree to their Collective Agreement, and they did not have a representing member of the fans, who must pay the final price for their collective greed and idiocies.

What are they doing to us fans?

Selig, exercising his 'sweeping power', has instituted a gag order so that their strategy, conference calls and consensus are carried out in secrecy and behind closed doors until the due time. Only Bud Selig speaks, making his rounds, planting threats at different cities. 'Relocation'and 'Consolidation' are now to be considered and common everyday words in cities who carry the label of 'small market' or 'struggling franchise' which simply means, cities who have not built the Lords their new ballparks. The way to become a 'large-market' is not to prosper economically or have the demographics conducive to hosting a MLB team. Instead it is simply to sacrifice the taxpayer and build a ballpark for the Lords to get richer.

Selig has the profitable, 'large market' owners buy into his argument and his plan because they think they can eventually make more money under the envisioned new plan. They are desperate for a labor victory against the Players’ Union, which will be their first, if it indeed happens. They are ready to sacrifice franchises with 100 years of baseball legacy to win this confrontation. They will stop at nothing.

And so Bud Selig, at the end of this 2001 season, armed with his new 'sweeping powers', is getting ready to tackle and slay the "800 pound gorilla" once and for all.

They have a new soldier among them. A smart, intelligent manipulator and tenacious fighter. He comes from a military training as an ex-Marine. They are confident they will win with Sandy Alderson as their front man and they just might do just that...All A's fans know him quite well.

But what will they do to our game?

Lockout...Strike...followed by Relocation... Consolidation...Armageddon... This is what we have to look forward to at the end of this season.

At a recent radio show, an interviewer (trying to score some points with the Giants, the team paying his salary) suggested the relocation of the Oakland A's, alleging they were a struggling franchise. Ueberroth reminded him how successful the A's were when they had a good ownership. An ownership who marketed the team properly and was fan sensitive and proud of their success. An ownership who cared for the fans of the city hosting their franchise. Fans don't have an obligation to pay for the owner's mistakes or greed. Fans are only the paying customers of their product.

The fandom is only as good and committed as the ownership. MLB must prove to us fans that they are the true custodians and worthy stewards of the game we love and cherish. Fans don't owe the Lords anything but their support as a reward for what they might end up doing for our game. A reward forwhat they finally might do for us!


by Diamond Lil