November 9, 2001
The Imbalance Sheet
There They Go AgainHand Bud Selig and the owners of Major League Baseball a loaded gun and they will successfully shoot themselves every time. Some time on Tuesday morning, someone handed Selig an Uzi and several rounds of ammunition. Unfortunately, he survived...and held a press conference.
What we got was even more disgraceful than the worst scenarios any of us had conceived. Baseball made the ultimate coward's threat. As expected, they announced that the owners had agreed to eliminate two teams for the 2002 season--a practical impossibility, but well in line with the previous announcements of the Impotent King, Bud I. But Bud took it two steps further.
If there was any remaining doubt in the minds of fans, the Players Association, or sports journalists as the true motives of the owners, this erased it. It was the act of a coward. And it was a threat.
The primary threat is to the cities and states that have, to date, refused to cave to previous threats to relocate teams the way most government bodies did: by using tax revenues to build a new stadium for the use of the local privately-owned baseball team. Montreal said no. Florida said no, because the Marlins play in a stadium that's just 12 years old. Minneapolis and Minnesota said no, because the Twins received a publicly subsidized stadium in 1983.
Minnesota's governor, Jesse Ventura, has probably shined on this issue more than on any other, repeatedly thumbing his nose at the Impotent King and defending the right of taxpayers in Duluth and St. Cloud and Mankato to have their money used for more productive purposes than further lining the pockets of billionaire Carl Pohlad.
MLB has made the threat clear by implying that if Quebec, Minnesota, or Florida coughs up the cash and builds a new stadium for its team, that team will not be eliminated. When the mob does this, it's called a shakedown--or racketeering--and it's a federal crime. When MLB does it, the media applauds.
There's another threat here, one aimed specifically at the players. The owners have said to the players that they will eliminate 50 jobs, including at least 24 starting jobs and two closer spots, if the union doesn't come up with some other concessions to the owners. The Impotent King needs to behead his royal advisers: the owners have tried this gambit during previous labor wars, and they lost every time.
The owners have made an enormous mistake. Scratch that: they have made another enormous mistake, just one more to add to the list. They have alienated the fans just two days after a widely acclaimed World Series. They have ceded important ground to the MLBPA, allowing Don Fehr to marry the union's position with the interests of the fans. And they have set themselves up for failure, since there's no way they'll get the union's assent and avoid the legal obstacles already coming from Minnesota and other jurisdictions in time to eliminate two teams by the start of the 2002 season.
Time to round up some more bullets so the owners can finish themselves off.
Keith Law is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.