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September 14, 2011

The BP Broadside

In Which the Commish is Eviscerated

by Steven Goldman

Note: I’m going to get political here. As Kevin says in his podcast posts, don’t say you weren’t warned.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised by an ineffectual tantrum from the Commissioner after his pathetic, money-grubbing minions were called out by the Mets after they were banned from wearing caps honoring first-responders on the ten-year anniversary of 9/11.

In a story first reported in the New York Post, it was revealed that Selig was apoplectic that the Mets had told the truth:

A red-faced Bud Selig called the Mets on Sunday night, the commissioner of baseball irate that the organization had thrown his office "under the bus" in divulging MLB was responsible for the decision that banned players from wearing caps honoring emergency services workers during the 9/11 game at Citi Field.

"[Selig] got embarrassed by it," a Mets official said before last night's 3-2 loss to the Nationals. "The game got moved into prime time because of 9/11, and [MLB] ended up getting embarrassed."

It takes real chutzpah to cry foul over a self-inflicted wound. Meanwhile, MLB’s Grandfather of Discipline/Umpire-Coddling, Joe Torre, attempted to turn the Nuremberg defense on its head, claiming that he wasn’t just following orders:

"Nothing was ordered," Torre said. "I think they were sent a memo, but in no way was it heavy-handed. I don't think money was ever an issue or they were ever threatened with a heavy-fisted fine. If that's the case, I have no knowledge of it."

Someone in the MLB offices is a very limited thinker, and I don’t think that was Selig, at least not before the fact. His being outraged after shows limited thinking, but not of the kind that created this PR disaster. The MLB policy was perverse in that it was counter to MLB’s own interests and would inevitably lead to the League looking bad; Selig should not be angry at the Mets, but at whatever idiot in his own offices sanctioned a petty policy that made MLB look disrespectful of those emergency workers.

Many years ago, a colleague of my father’s became Johnny Carson’s financial manager. My father has often recalled how the colleague lost that job. You might recall that Carson was divorced three times, and the proceedings were often bitter. As one of the divorces was in progress, the soon-to-be ex-wife called the financial manager and said that she needed an insignificant amount of cash for some small purchase. Thinking he would please his boss, the financial manager sent her away without a dime. As it turned out, Carson was irate. “She’s suing me for millions of dollars and I’m groping for an amicable settlement,” he shouted, “and you’re giving her grief over a hundred bucks?” He fired the guy on the spot.

Whoever gave the Mets grief over wearing the caps should suffer the same fate, and for the same reasons.  

But let’s not dwell on that, because it’s obvious. I would instead like to focus on something else: the War against 9/11. As ESPN reported in its story on the hat fiasco, “Players on Sunday wore the official 9/11 Mets cap, with a small American flag adorning the side, during the game.” Let us just pause for a minute and admire the concept of an “official 9/11 Mets cap.”

Yes, a great national tragedy has been commoditized and made available at shop.mlb.com for $36.99. Baseball has wrapped itself in 9/11 as if it had something to do with closure or healing or anything else that came out of the Pearl Harbor of our time. Look: when the Yankees and Mets embraced the victims, the police, the firefighters, the EMTs, it was a nice thing. It was what any responsible member of the community should have done, particularly one as superfluous in a war as baseball. They helped with morale. It was a gesture, a good one. It was also wholly distinguishable from sainthood. Saints don’t spend nearly as much time patting themselves on the back for doing the least they could have done under the circumstances.

As for closure, ain’t nothing closed, and darned little has healed. Everything about politics and government has changed since then, the country having become ever more of a national security state. Even the economy has been debauched by the vast expenditures of treasure on two wars that resulted from the events of that terrible day, only one of which needed to be fought. If we still had the treasure we sank into the desert sands, we would have more flexibility to address our own economic problems here at home. We are living in the United States that 9/11 made, and the changes that have been wrought show no signs of receding. We now live in a country where one president condones torture and another doesn’t, but it’s a question of policy, not legality, in the same way one administration might support more environmental regulation and the next one less. In this matter alone, we are almost unrecognizable from who we were on 9/10/2001.

The war in Iraq probably wasn’t the first example of 9/11 being turned into a prop for someone’s unrelated agenda, but it is certainly the best. Saddam Hussein was a bad man, but he wasn’t in cahoots with Osama Bin Laden.  The two were calculatedly roped together so that a war of choice would sound like a war of necessity, with some non-existent weapons of mass destruction thrown in to sweeten the bait. The nearly 3,000 dead were victimized once more by those who used their tragedy for their own purposes.

However misbegotten the Iraq war, however dishonest its advocates, at least its planners were pursuing a policy they thought was a good one for the country. They were positively noble compared to those who would reduce the anniversary of 9/11 to an occasion to sell baseball caps. Sure, Baseball will claim that it can’t have a double-standard when it comes to uniform codes, but since there can be only three teams that can claim a first-hand connection to 9/11, a targeted exception for one more “least we could do” demonstration of cap-wearing hardly constitutes league-wide chapeau anarchy.

The Mets were correct to expose such a cynical—or at the very least anal—policy. At best, someone in the Commissioner’s office needs to learn something about flexibility. At worst, the whole rotten group needs to understand that a few $36.99 cap sales aren’t worth insulting people whose contributions on and around 9/11 vastly dwarf a little Derek Jeter glad-handing. Unfortunately, such thinking about 9/11 long ago became commonplace. It is no longer a tragedy but a symbol to be manipulated in service of any number of unrelated agendas—in this case, selling hats, but only the hats that MLB deemed the right hats, the ones that Baseball has for sale. As for caps that say, “NYPD” or “FDNY,” forget them—there is no profit in good feelings, or acknowledging that there are people and events that are bigger than your transient, petty concerns about the bottom line.

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

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