The Gray Pages

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Best Laid Plans

The thing is, I really wanted to avoid talking about financial stuff. If there's one thing I hate about sports these days, it's the relentless attention on things that don't happen on the field -- salary negotiations, courtroom manueverings, and, yes, stadium contruction games. As loyal readers of this blog (there are zero of those right now) will learn, there are many things I hate about sports, but enough stuff that I love that I keep following anyway.

No matter. Some people are born into stadium financing deals, and other have stadium financing deals thrust upon them. I am neither. I've got 29 years' experience as a baseball fan, and three semesters of economics behind me. That's it.

Steven Pearlstein's column has received plenty of attention from Kornheiser's radio show and John's blog. Unfortunately, it's a newspaper column, so it gets about 1000 words to make its case. So there's only a brief discussion of the monopoly power of MLB owners' ability to extort stadiums that they ought to build themselves. James Quirk and Rodney Fort's Hard Ball: The Abuse of Power in Pro Team Sports, published in 1999, should have been the last word on this, but it's a little lazy.

I paid for this microphone, so allow me this digression. Think of your favorite restaurant. Imagine it asking the District to buy it a new stove or it would move to Virginia. The Mayor's office wouldn't even take the call. If your favorite restaurant (Bardia's New Orleans Cafe on 18th Street at Belmont) can't make do with its current stove, the city doesn't really care. For the life of me, I can't understand why THE NEW OWNERS CAN'T PAY FOR THEIR OWN DAMN STADIUM, just like Bardia has to buy his own stove.

Yes, I know. Federal Baseball, 1922.

In 1922, the Supreme Court’s Federal Baseball decision unanimously upheld the right of the sixteen franchises of Major League Baseball to exist as a monopoly, rejecting a lawsuit brought by the owners of the Baltimore Orioles of the defunct Federal League. Putting on baseball games for profit was “not trade or commerce in the commonly-accepted use of those words,” wrote Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. The interstate transport of uniforms and players was “incidental” to the business, which are “purely state affairs." John Helyar has noted the ruling “was a piece of fiction, one that would grow sillier with each passing year. But it undergirded everything about the way baseball operated.”

Here's my little fantasy: That businesses pay for their expenses, that governments pay for their public goods, and ne'er the twain shall meet. Crazy, I know.

Jack Evans has correctly said that twenty years from now, we won't remember how the thing got paid for, we'll just be happy that the team is here and wonder why the lines are so long at the bathroom, and when the rocket car will be returned from the shop. Maybe I'm paraphrasing.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Play ball

Yeah, so I've been a little quiet. The thing is, I really believed this was going to work out. MLB wanted to be here, the Council basically wanted baseball. Oh, and there was the little matter of my final exams.

When I worked for the Council, I often bemoaned that Linda Cropp didn't stand up for the Council's prerogatives as a legislative body. Not so much a problem anymore. Structurally, it's important to note that she still didn't really speak for anyone except herself. In the Congress, the Speaker of the House is elected by the members of that body. (Really, just the members of the Majority, but that's irrelevant to my point here.) And the Senate Majority Leader is elected by the other majority-party Senators.

Linda Cropp was elected as an At-Large Representative to the Office of the Chair. I've always thought that the Home Rule Act made a mistake, because she's not empowered to speak for the other members. It's certainly conceivable that the voters could chose a Chair who doesn't believe anything the other members do.

The single-party dominance of the District makes this unlikely, but I've always believed that the Democrats' dominance is self-fulfilling. I mean, if I were a Republican (G-d forbid), I'd still register as a Democrat because all the offices (save 2 at-large seats) are decided in the primary.

Now, all of this has turned out to be rather interesting because if the Council were designed as most legislative bodies are -- electing its own chair -- it seems pretty likely to me that Jack Evans would be the Chair. (Maybe it would have been Kevin Chavous. So sometimes things work out.) At least could have been. He's a great guy, well liked by his colleagues, smart, all of it. (Of course, he's also white, so I'm not sure how the politics would have played out, if members would have preferred an African-American as chair, but that's somewhat beside the point.)

I'm declaring a moratorium on parenthetical for the rest of this post.

Had Jack Evans been elected *by the members*, he would have been able to tell MLB -- no matter how strong his personal support -- the votes were not available for the initial financing package. Linda Cropp never had that ability because she really has no powers beyond the rather important matter of committee assignments, which only come into play at the beginning of the term.

But I digress. Play ball.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

A couple more DC baseball blogs

So, clearly, the title of my first post was not as correct as it might have been. This is really surprising news to me.

And Josh makes five

I'll always be a Red Sox fan first, but the Nationals are destined to be my National League team. I don't know what this enterprise will be like, dividing my loyalties and all. I think it's a safe assumption that I don't have to worry about the Sox and Nats facing off in the World Series any time soon. But I do come into this as a knowledgeable American League fan who's willing to learn. And I do have soft spots for Tomo Ohka and Tony Armas, Jr. Wil Cordero? Not so much.

Fact is, there are about a zillion Sox blogs out there and I really can't give anything to Red Sox Nation that the geniuses at Sons of Sam Horn haven't already figured out. I've found four blogs about the Nationals so far, and I hope I can add something to the chatter. In order of quality, from what I can tell:

I'm not even sure that last one is active.

It was John's post at the aptly named Washington Baseball Blog (dchardball) that got me thinking that I can do this, too. I'm going to start looking at the roster. (No way I'm going through all 40 men there. The starting lineup and important pitchers will have to do.) As Rummy might say, you play the season with the roster you have, not the roster you want. Suffice it to say that Vinny Castilla is not part of the roster I want, but I'm going to start with a clean slate.