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August 1, 2002

Analyze This

Feeling Bitter

by Derek Zumsteg

I had a girlfriend once who liked to play me off against other suitors--her ex-boyfriend, who was richer; guys she was friends with who were more studly--and who would tell large, relationship-encompassing lies without blinking for the most petty of reasons, like picking a particular movie. That relationship didn't turn out so well, which is for the better since it meant I ended up marrying an honest woman who's also lovely and talented. Lies and distrust are poison.

I'm reminded of this almost every day as a baseball fan. Why, just yesterday:

  • The Expos are going to be contracted next year.
  • The Expos are making trades, or not making trades, because they're looking out for next year's team.

Doug Pappas wrote a lovely article cataloguing Bob DuPuy's lies over the course of just one interview. In a couple of hours, DuPuy told more whoppers than Ari Fleischer can manage in a week, and Fleischer's been at this since 1989.

No one likes to be lied to. Baseball faces an utterly poisoned the relationship with their fans, because its leaders will lie to get stadiums, they'll lie for lease concessions, they'll cry poor as they bleed money from their franchises and they'll tell giant whoppers for purposes of labor negotiations.

This is part of why baseball fans are so deeply pissed off at the sport, and they have every right to be. I got torn up because some hot chick was playing me off other guys for leverage purposes. Entire cities across the country get this treatment when baseball threatens to snuff out their teams, or when teams threaten to move in order to get a publicly-financed stadium. Fans have to listen to owners--some of the richest people in the country--tell them they can't afford that left-handed-hitting outfielder the team desperately needs. Then, if a local favorite is re-signed, they're told that ticket prices will have to go up to support the contract. No wonder people are hacked off.

Bud Selig is the game's public figurehead, and he lies constantly. He lied to Congress. He'll say things that are so ludicrous ("teams won't make payrolls!") that his own lawyer has to come out and contradict him the next day. Selig engaged in collusion, when every owner put their heads together and figured out how to utterly screw baseball and every fan in the country in order to hold player costs down. He's broken baseball rules like taking loans from other owners, and he suckered Milwaukee into building him a stadium when his team was so cash-poor he couldn't come up with the up-front payments he'd promised. He denies he's an owner, when his share of the Brewers is actually in a blind trust run by his pals and his own daughter is president and CEO of the team.

His lies aren't even good lies. Selig doesn't tell his wife she looks good in that dress before they head out to parties; he'll tell her they can't afford that dress, and that even if it was the most flattering dress in the world, there's no way she'd be able to compete with the other women who will be at the party, who are way more luminous than she is.

Baseball fans feel like I did that summer when my love turned into love and hate and then the love died: they've been manipulated, hurt, taken advantage of, fed a steady diet of lies and misdirection, and expected to smile. Selig's intent on taking the game into another labor action.

The owners have a massive investment in the state of the game. A good relationship with their fans means better attendance, more revenue, and increases the value of their teams. The mealy-mouthing of the game has turned fans away from it, and if the owners feel that's fine for the sake of extracting labor concessions, I think that's a bad decision. Like my ex-girlfriend, though, if they're willing to sacrifice you for the sake of getting a dozen flowers a week, so be it.

But when the labor situation is settled, MLB needs to realize that the right people to repair the damage don't include anyone who's been involved in the decade-long debacle since Fay Vincent was fired in September of 1992.

Let Selig go back to lying to people for the sake of screwing them out of money one used car at a time. Baseball needs honesty and an improved, open relationship with the fans they've been abusing, and there is no evidence that Selig or anyone he knows has the faintest idea how to go about it.

Derek Zumsteg is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Related Content:  Montreal Expos,  Bob DuPuy

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Transaction Analysis: ... (07/31)
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Analyze This: Sticky E... (07/05)
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6-4-3: Reasonable Pers... (08/02)

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