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March 10, 2005

Prospectus Today

Grandstanding

by Joe Sheehan

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It's been a week of travel, capped by a 11-hour odyssey yesterday that took me on five distinct modes of transportation to get from my house in the San Gabriel Valley to a bookstore in Brooklyn, N.Y. I arrived late and disheveled, but was invigorated by a sizable, lively crowd that braved 25-degree weather to talk some baseball.

The signing was the third of what will be more than 20 being hosted by BP staffers over the next few weeks. I'm here in New York to do two more, one Saturday night, one Monday night. As I am on any New York trip, I'm pretty excited; we've never had a bad BP event here, and last night's event continued that streak, as Steven Goldman, Jay Jaffe and I--and Nate Silver in a guest appearance by phone--fielded questions, talked about the book and tried not to spend our entire time bemoaning the Yankees' moves this winter.

I never did write about last week's event in Las Vegas, which was also a success on a different scale. I got a column idea from that trip, and that piece will run tomorrow. Big thanks to Dave Cokin, Mitch Moss and John Hanson for having Will Carroll and I in-studio at ESPN 920 for an hour of baseball talk, and additional thanks to Dave, who made his way to Henderson for the signing and regaled attendees with some great stories. That's a city we'll be going back to.

The travel has kept me from watching what seems to be an explosion of televised spring baseball, a trend that should put a smile on all our faces. Between ESPN's dozen or so exhibition telecasts and regional broadcasts available via satellite, you can watch a game virtually every day between now and Opening Day.

Not all the news is as good. Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, Congress has rewarded baseball's players and management for their new steroid-testing program by issuing subpoenas to seven active and retired players, as well as demanding documents related to the '03 and '04 testing, including confidential results. The House Government Reform Committee, having fixed all the waste, duplication of effort, excessive complexity and outright contradictions in our nation's administrative codes, now turns its laser-like focus to baseball.

I'll be interested to see how aggressive the committee is in its questioning. You may recall that in 2001, Bud Selig and Donald Fehr (represented at the hearing by his brother, Steven), among others, were called to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the game's financial state. Any hope of a productive outcome there was squelched by the efforts of committee chair James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), who rescued Selig from aggressive questioning on a number of occasions.

Regardless of the tone, these hearings are a waste of time, a publicity stunt designed to get names in the papers while avoiding real work. Congress can have no impact here, nor should it. Couching its interest in terms of the public good, the good of America's young athletes or some vague responsibility that Major League Baseball and its players have to those athletes, is a smokescreen that insults the intelligence of anyone capable of reading this.

It's a stunt, and should be given as much--or as little--attention as a bad stunt deserves. If the government really wants to call baseball onto the carpet and use its power to make the game and society better, it can address the massive subsidies of public stadia that have little to no real impact on their cities while shifting millions of dollars from taxpayers to a small cadre of owners. It can address the entertainment-deduction tax codes that, much more than the usual lament about player salaries, have served to price families out of the better seats in most ballparks.

Of course, those issues would require actual work, would be hard to explain to the media, and would be much less likely to produce headlines and cause cameras and microphones to appear. They'd also hurt major donors, which is probably much more germane than anything in the previous sentence.

Congress has no place in this matter, and its grandstanding on it is shameful.

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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