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When it Hits the Fan
Previous Columns

Zitogate just MLB's latest blunder - 07/17/2003

MLB shows no regard for Zito or integrity

As several local and national sports columnists stated this week, the heavy-handed way that Barry Zito was removed from the American League All-Star team Monday was classic MLB. It was a brutal mixture of indecision, arrogance, and dishonesty combined with the clumsy execution of an 11th hour plan that resulted in a PR fiasco. Yep, "Zitogate" had Bud Selig's oily fingers all over it.

But it's just an All-Star game, right? Why get so bent out of shape? Here's why:

It's a scene with which followers of MLB business have become nauseatingly familiar. It was very similar to September, 1999, when a prospective Oakland ownership group led by Andy Dolich and Robert Piccinini were rejected by Selig and baseball's owners. On that day, Selig redefined the term "double-speak" when he announced that they rejected Dolich/Piccinini (the only group that promised to keep the A's in Oakland) on the premise that MLB was trying to keep the team from moving. Huh? Selig also said that day that they couldn't approve any new ownership groups until a Blue Ribbon Panel returned a report on the so-called "underperforming franchises" -- a group that included the A's, Expos, Royals and Twins. It took only three months for Selig to be proved a liar. Twelve weeks after the Dolich group was rejected, a controlling interest in the Expos was sold to Jeff Loria before the Blue Ribbon Panel had finished their report. MLB made no explanation of their abrupt policy change.

Selig and his cronies have lied so often and so obviously, they simply have no credibility left. The Chronicle's David Steele last year compared the owners' accounting practices to Enron's. When Bud Selig appeared before Congress last year regarding his attempts to contract two teams, some members of Congress constantly reminded him that he was under oath -- a polite way of saying, "We know you're lying. Just try to keep your dishonesty to a minimum."

This is the shady way baseball's business is run in the Selig era. Due to the desperate greed that drives the owners, MLB has placed itself in a vicious circle time and again with short-sighted, simplistic solutions to complex problems, which only cause more long-term financial problems when they predictably backfire. Expanding the number of teams to pay for the financial terms of the collusion ruling, and Selig's drive to contract the Twins and Expos last year are but two examples of their penny wise and pound foolish approach.

Or as Ted Turner once said to his fellow owners: "We've got the only legal monopoly in the country and we're f*****g it up!"

This same dynamic created a familiar problem this week with Zitogate: Confusion reigned amidst an unthinkably unfair move -- followed by Selig's mealy-mouthed and factually dubious explanations; a scenario that has followed other bad MLB ideas, such as the failed attempt to contract the Twins and Expos, and last year's All-Star game tie. This year, still stung by criticism of Selig's decision to prematurely end last year's Midsummer Classic, MLB, along with Ed Goren of Fox Sports, were desperate to find a way to get Roger Clemens into the All Star Game -- even though the Rocket's fellow players didnít see fit to vote him in. And while Angels manager Mike Scoscia made comments Monday implying that MLB officials drove Zito off the active squad in place of Clemens, Selig and Sandy Alderson countered that it was the A's decision.

Who was lying? Columnists from New York (Ira Berkow), the East Bay (Neil Hayes), Los Angeles (Ross Newhan), San Francisco (John Shea) and (Jim Caple) all openly questioned Selig's and Alderson's truthfulness in the matter.

The Zito incident also highlights the ineptitude of A's owners Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann because, once again, they've made themselves invisible when the chips are down. They don't stand up for their players, and you can be sure Zito will file it away in the back of his mind come free agency time. Can you imagine someone trying to do this to one of Steinbrenner's players? He'd never allow it. But Schott and Hofmann -- much like Selig -- aren't concerned with the players or the fans or even the state of the game, despite much lip-service to the contrary.

In short, if we can't trust these guys to play fair with a meaningless exhibition game, what wrongs are they committing with the really important issues, such as revenue sharing and relocation?

Why do we care about all of this? Well, Selig and Co. assuredly have their eyes on one day moving the A's out of Oakland. They're on record saying as much. And you can bet that they'll do it just as awkwardly and in as brazenly dishonest a way as they handled the Zito situation. But at the very least, they should know that fans in Oakland see them coming from miles away.

And unlike what happened this week in Chicago, if they ever try to do to Oakland what they are currently doing to Montreal, let's not let them get away with it without a fight.

Column submitted by the Board Members of the OAFC


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