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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Capitol Follies!

or, Mr. Selig goes to Washington!

I'm back online this week after suddenly being forced to live life without the internet for a few days. For those of you with cable modems, you know what I'm talking about. For those of you who don't, suffice it to say that a bankruptcy forced those of us who have them to either scurry for other internet access or to wait for our cable companies to find an alternative way to get access to the internet.

This lack of access kind of stole my thunder as both George Bova and Dan
Helpingstine decided to write about the topic that was dearest to my heart, the public statements by Lenny and George (aka Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf) that the Sox were not looking to make any deals during the off-season and that Jose Valentin will once again play out of position.

On the other hand, this week also was filled with news that showed that the rest of baseball apparently views the fans with just as much contempt as the management of the White Sox. The only difference is the forum. While Sox management uses the local media to expose themselves for the screw ups they are, Major League Baseball uses a larger forum, the hallowed halls of Congress. And the biggest goof of all turns out to be none other than Commissioner Bud Light (aka Selig).

Of course the rest of the owners aren't blameless in this fiasco. They were the ones who decided to put their longstanding anti-trust exemption in jeopardy by voting to contract MLB by eliminating two teams. But they were simply following the lead of Commissioner Light.

In his prepared testimony, the former used car dealer (now there's a guy I'm going to think of as credible) stated that MLB had suffered operating losses of $232 million dollars in the last fiscal year. That number escalates to an incredible (and I use the word literally) $519 million when interest payments and depreciation are thrown in. Then in an equally incredible statement Selig placed the blame on escalating salaries.

In a world in which a used car dealer can run the National Pastime, it only appropriate that the person sitting next to him at the table was a governor who is a former professional wrestler. Interestingly enough, it was Gov. Jesse "The Body" Ventura who exposed the emperor as having no clothes.

"I have a hard time believing it, Mr. Selig, that they're losing that kind of money and still paying the salaries they're paying," the Minnesota governor said. "That's asinine. These people did not get the wealth that they have by being stupid."

And of course he is right. Ventura then continued, "Mr. Bonds is going to get over $100 million, no doubt. Mr. Jason Giambi, they've said he'll go well over $100 million. The problem out there is they're paying their employees too much money."

Now there is a novel concept. The owners are responsible for paying the
exhorbitantly high salaries that the players are receiving. This was a point that Selig had dodged in his prepared testimony in which he simply said that the financial structure of the game had gotten out of hand without even making an attempt to trace the history of how it had gotten that way. If Selig had been honest he would put the blame right square on the shoulders of the owners. But that would expose them as the ones who are completely responsible for any financial problems the sport is suffering. Most of the blame can go to three franchises, the New York Yankees who have a payroll larger than the Gross National Product of many third-world countries, the Texas Rangers, who have one player, Alex Rodriguez whose guaranteed personal income is larger than the payrolls of some teams, and even the Chicago White Sox, who started the latest round of escalating salaries after the 1994-95 strike by signing Albert Belle for what was then a record salary.

Ventura wasn't the only fish who wasn't biting on Selig's troll line, either. Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) didn't buy the figures Selig presented. "The summary information they have turned over to us is meaningless in the absence of learning details concerning related party transactions, salaries and fees received by the owners and their families, and the impact of stadium acquisition loans by stadiums," Conyers said. "In essence, what they have told us is, 'We lose money, but we can't trust you with the details.'"

Baseball has never opened its books to outside scrutiny. If they did, the little games the owners play to make it look as if they aren't making money hand over fist would be revealed. Logic would dictate that if baseball were in such a precarious state, more owners would be opting out. As it is, the owner of the Montreal Expos is being offered ownership of the Florida Marlins after his team is eliminated.

It also doesn't help the owners cause when the figures that they present to Congress show the Chicago Cubs earning only $24 million in broadcasting
revenue while the White Sox earn $30 million. Supposedly the Cubs have two deals with WGN television, one for local rights and one for national rights. The Cubs are taxed for games on the superstation , and that money goes into a central TV fund to be divided up among all the players. The Cubs supposedly get about thirty percent of this money.

There are two flaws with this whole scenario. First, the Cubs aren't the only major league operation in town that appears on the WGN superstation. There is a team on the South Side that does, too. One would have to assume that they would have the same tax to pay. Secondly, more and more Cubs games are appearing on Fox Sports Network Chicago and WCIU (produced by WGN). Are they making less than the Sox from those outlets? If so, Andy MacPhail should be fired on the spot. Of course, he won't be.

Perhaps the strangest moment in the testimony came when Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) asked Selig if the Florida Marlins were safe for the forseeable future. Selig's answer was downright bizarre. He said, "We're there now and let's hope it all works out."

Well, maybe it wasn't so bizarre. I can picture myself reporting this sometime in the '60s, "When asked if the used car the customer purchased would make it out of the lot, Selig replied, 'We're there now and let's hope it all works out.'"

At any rate, Rep. Wexler sat there in stunned silence. Committee chairman
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner asked Wexler if he was speechless. Wexler
responded, "With all due respect, if fans are going to get those kinds of
nebulous responses from the commissioner of baseball, there's almost a compelling reason from the whole lot of us to support the legislation so we can get some direct answers."

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here. Perhaps when you're summoned to testify before Congress, you don't bring in doctored books and you don't give nebulous answers. If there is any justice in the world, Congress should demand that the owners bring in all of their books and allow them to be examined by experts. And if any of the information the Commissioner presented under oath to Congress was false, then it's simply a matter of letting the chips fly where they may.

Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and Buster T. Beagle. The views expressed by Hal are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, wife Lee, or Buster T. Beagle.

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