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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.

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