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July 16, 2004

Can Of Corn

Open Letter to Commissioner Selig

by Dayn Perry

Dear Commissioner Selig:

In the tedious run-up to the recent 75th All-Star game, I noticed you mentioned in passing to reporters that you're open to the idea of extending your reign as commissioner beyond 2006, when your present term will expire. My hopes that you will not do this are both boundless and without bound.

Listen, I don't think you're evil or stupid. On the contrary, I think you've been remarkably competent at what you've set out to do. I believe, for instance, that you genuinely want to diversify major league front offices. I can quibble with how you've gone about doing that, but the intent is a noble one. But other than that, I believe your prevailing vision for Major League Baseball, which you've executed with ruthless efficiency, has been thoroughly noxious to a game I can't seem to live without.

If there's one thing I'm not, it's a naf. I know the marionette strings of all MLB commissioners (with the exception of Judge Landis) lead straight back to the owners. I also know that when a commissioner does try to assert his autonomy, like the would've-been-great Fay Vincent once did, he's snuffed out on the double. So perhaps it's your grating transparency--or your indefatigable dishonesty, or your fealty to profit maximization that seems to hold sway over a sustainable vision and common-sense ethics--that rankles me. I'm simply not sure about which character flaw of yours raises my ire the most, but I do know that I want you to go away.

You came to power in the vacuum that existed after Vincent. As the point man back then in crafting the new collective-bargaining agreement, you forged a system that redistributed revenue without any sense of responsibility in tow. Teams could pocket the money and, from a cold-eyed business standpoint, weren't behooved in the least to funnel those dollars back into the team. Your failure to demand accountability from your fellow owners has stained the game ever since. Your perfidious claims of near ruin and your insistence that the players foot the bill for expanded revenue sharing led to the most grievous labor standoff in modern sports history. It was one that cost the fans the 1994 post-season and the pleasure of watching a handful of historic individual performances see their rightful culmination.

You've been at the forefront of a heinous trend in this country that's seen us spend more than $2 billion per year in public money on sports facilities. If that's not directly wrenching funds from the public coffers, it's certainly exacting a terrible price in terms of opportunity cost. To foment this scam, you and your sycophants stay relentlessly on message: Certain teams can't compete without these new stadiums, and this unique brand of public-private partnership will most certainly stoke the economic fires of the municipalities in question. And you say this knowing full well that these claims fly in the face of the credible evidence. You perjured yourself before Congress to this end, and you lie to each and every fan of this game whenever the subject is broached (most often by you).

In an effort to position yourself for these handouts, you wail and bleat about how the vast majority of teams can't compete, and you repeat the canard about how escalating player salaries lead to higher ticket and concession prices. Then you wonder aloud why baseball has an image problem.

When anyone--from Forbes to Rob Neyer to the late, great Doug Pappas--countervails the teams' thoroughly spurious financial disclosures, you call their integrity into question.

You've gone so far as to threaten contraction of the Minnesota Twins, even though such a step was untenable at best and a public-relations Chernobyl at worst. You did this to put the screws on the good people of Minnesota to buy Carl Pohlad, one of sport's most well-heeled owners, a place to do business. The fact that you once flouted MLB rules by receiving an undisclosed, related-party loan from Pohlad gave it the stench of quid pro quo. And it probably didn't hurt that the whole contraction nonsense allowed you to concoct a false bargaining chip to use against the Players Association.

As a putatively impartial commissioner, you presided in silence over the Milwaukee Brewers as you orchestrated an unnecessary and even detrimental economic overhaul of the league--one that brazenly benefited your "former" team. That you could force this through while owning 35% of the team that stood to gain one of the larger revenue-sharing windfalls is either brilliant or sinister, and I'm not sure which.

Your habitual temperature-taking has led you to make such short-sighted and ultimately harmful decisions as instituting interleague play, needlessly imbuing the All-Star Game with "meaning" and trotting out the execrable Pete Rose for undeserved adoration whenever it suits your purposes. You minimized the importance and the theater of the regular season by expanding the playoffs, and then you hinted that you might just do it again.

Under your watch, Jeffrey Loria systemically eviscerated the Montreal Expos, a franchise that was once adored and followed feverishly by its hometown fans. Then you rewarded Loria for his loathsome behavior by not only approving his application to purchase the Florida Marlins, but also loaning him the money to do it. Anything to keep the "fellow traveler" bloc of owners intact, eh?

And speaking of the Expos, for two seasons you've allowed them to become forlorn wards of the state, hopelessly adrift while you use them to leverage more public subsidies from the cities that are breathless to lure them. And then you hint that the A's and Marlins, should those fans fail to pony up, may be next to pick up stakes.

Despite how it might sound, I don't have any deeply cultivated animus for you. I think you do what most of those in positions of power do: whatever you can to benefit yourself and those in your immediate purview. I'm far too accustomed to that kind of behavior to get all frothy over it. But this isn't a drywall business we're talking about; it's baseball. And I think you're doing a tremendous harm to this endeavor that means more to me and many others than it probably should.

George Will and his ilk can laughably rhapsodize all they want about how great you've been for the game. I don't buy it, and any objective examination of the record girds my claim that you have, in fact, been the worst commissioner in the annals of the post.

I don't doubt that your and your fellow owners' pockets are now more swollen than ever before. But the game as a whole will reel from your corrupt leadership long after you've stepped aside. My entreaty is that once time is up on your current term, you'll go away and let baseball begin recovering from your misdeeds as soon as possible.

Thanks for your time,

A Concerned Baseball Fan

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