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November 7, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Bastard

by Joe Sheehan

Bud Selig is a sniveling weasel.

He professes to have been hurt by the Braves' departure from Milwaukee in 1965, but got his own team by stealing it from another municipality--Seattle--just five years later. Now, he wants to take teams away from two other cities, again re-creating his pain for thousands, perhaps millions, of fans.

Bud Selig is untrustworthy.

He claims to want what is best for baseball, but does more to tear down the game than to promote it. He still approaches it as the owner of a team in a midwestern city, concerned only with how much money he can get from 1) governments, 2) players, and 3) other owners. He is the source of baseball's ongoing "anti-marketing," campaign where entire cities are told to stay away from the ballpark because the local team has no chance to win and the ballpark sucks and the players are greedy.

It was Bud Selig who signed off on the brilliant idea of tying revenue-sharing payments to payroll, a system that incentivized being cheap. The two most likely candidates for contraction are the two teams that took greatest advantage of the flaws in Selig's plan.

And then he calls the places they play "markets that generate insufficient local revenues to justify the investment in the franchise."

Bud Selig is an extortionist.

This isn't about viability, or competitiveness, or any of the other marginally acceptable reasons for ditching a franchise or two. This is extortion. This is about trying to force a city or a state to commit millions of taxpayer dollars to a ballpark that will generate lots of money for private enterprise.

The Minnesota Twins' track record in recent years blows away that of the Milwaukee Brewers or Pittsburgh Pirates:

  • The Minnesota Twins went 85-77 this year. The Brewers haven't won 85 games since 1992, nor have the Pirates.

  • The Minnesota Twins have been to--and won--two World Series since the last time either the Brewers or the Pirates appeared in one.

  • The Minnesota Twins franchise is more than 100 years old. The Milwaukee Brewer franchise isn't half of that.

The issue at hand isn't market size or on-field play, though; it's that MLB has not being able to threaten, cajole, or otherwise get its hands on a $400 million cut of Minnesota's tax dollars. But the Milwaukee Brewers and the Pittsburgh Pirates were able to wheedle taxpayer-funded ballparks from their governments, so they're not in any danger of being contracted, no matter how long they remain uncompetitive.

Threatening to take away a franchise isn't about improving baseball. It's about setting the tone for stadium extortions in the present and future, while opening up a couple of markets for teams to use as blackmail chips going forward.

And it's more than that. By putting forth the idea that there are four teams under consideration, Selig is creating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, most likely in the hopes that a city that feels it may lose its team will kowtow to MLB's demands and cough up nine figures worth of ransom money to get off the endangered list.

Bud Selig is stupid.

Not 72 hours ago, baseball was on a high unlike any since the waning days of the 1998 season. The seventh game of the best World Series in a decade was complete, a fresh set of heroes was crowned, the game had gotten its best television ratings in years.

Today, he gave all of that good will away in one easy motion.

If there's one talent that Selig has proven he has, it's that he can cut off baseball's momentum as well as anyone. No one has the ability to ruin a good baseball moment like the used car dealer from Milwaukee.

Bud Selig is small-minded.

Contraction is going to cost baseball upwards of $400 million, nuke at least two markets and alienate untold numbers of fans. (If you think the damage will only be in the affected markets, think again.)

Given the costs involved, why not consider alternate solutions? Why not take some of that $400 million and use it to fund a new ballpark in Minnesota. If MLB put up $100 million, and billionaire Carl Pohlad put up another $100 million, it would show that MLB is serious about more than extorting money from local governments, that it is willing to invest in its own product, and not merely turn profits off of taxpayer money.

From a business standpoint, this makes tremendous sense. After all, the Twins' primary complaint is that the deal they have at the Metrodome doesn't provide them with enough revenue. They are essentially tenants of the Vikings. In a new, privately-funded park, they would reap all the benefits--parking, concessions, luxury boxes--themselves.

That would be creative, forward thinking. It would also prove what is painfully obvious to many people: ballparks can, and should, be built primarily with private funds. Of course, this is the exact opposite of what Bud Selig and MLB owners want, so it will not come to pass.

I said last week that Bud Selig could do more damage to baseball than anyone since Chick Gandil.

I may have underestimated him.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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