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December 7, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

The Hearing

by Joe Sheehan

I probably shouldn't admit to this--there's a book publisher who would rather I be spending my time in other ways--but I spent a good chunk of Thursday following the House Judiciary Committee's hearing, starring His Dishonesty. It was entertaining, to say the least.

For those of you who didn't see it...well, I can understand that. It was televised on C-SPAN 3. C-SPAN 3? There's so much demand for coverage of our government that we need three C-SPANs? What's next, C-SPAN Classic? "PoliticsCentury: Daniel Moynihan", "Classic Floor Fights", "Impeachment!" with Strom Thurmond contrasting his experiences at the trials of Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson?

I digress.... The hearing's location on the dial probably reflects its relative importance in the national discourse. The way in which the subject matter was treated by the committee members would certainly make it appear that way. Few had a grasp of the issues involved, often preferring to make silly statements alluding to their fandom, their state's team, or their favorite baseball memory. The representatives who did ask intelligent questions that addressed the issues were frustrated by Selig's demurring, and all too often cut short by the five-minute time limit on each questioner.

The examples of this that best stand out are the two congresspeople who pressured Selig to allow the MLBPA--represented at the hearing by Steven Fehr--to rebut MLB's claims of financial distress. With MLB having made its data available, the MLBPA believed it should now be allowed to publicize its own conclusions. MLB has threatened to sue if they do so, and the issue came up on a few occasions.

  • Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., asked Selig if he would allow Fehr to elaborate on the Association's findings. Selig was non-responsive, and after a few moments of furious throat-clearing, was saved by committee chair James Sensenbrenner.

  • Following a brief recess, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. brought up the matter again, this time in a more confrontational manner. Waters, in fact, referenced Paul Beeston's famous quote about how he could turn a $4 million profit in to a $2 million loss using generally accepted accounting principles. Selig managed to state management's position that the union would be subject to a lawsuit if they revealed their information--drawing a sharp rebuke from Waters--before being rescued again by Sensenbrenner.

    Sensenbrenner, by the way, is a congressman from Wisconsin. I'm just sayin'...

This is now the central issue. MLB, via Selig, has made its case for a half-billion dollars in losses, the need for radical change to the system, the need to keep its anomalous exemption from antitrust law.

And then they've said, "You can't hear any side of the story but ours."

That's wrong. Waters, Weiner, and Rep. John Conyers Jr. D-Mich., are to be commended for pressing the point with Selig, and I hope they continue to pressure him and MLB. The figures presented by MLB to Congress are no more convincing than any of MLB's previous claims of poverty. Until full, unfettered access to the financial records of every major-league team are made available--not just summary data that hides more than it reveals--no conclusions about the viability of MLB or its member franchises are valid.

To see Selig's performance, to see him stutter and dodge and weasel and deny, is to know that he is hiding something. Maybe Congress will succeed where fans, the media, and the MLBPA have not.

Godspeed.

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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