WASHINGTON -- Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) used to own part of a major-league baseball franchise. He has two teams in his state. Yet for the past two years, Metzenbaum has been a staunch opponent of major-league baseball's antitrust exemption.
"I have consistently opposed antitrust exemptions. I fought the insurance industry that has an antitrust exemption. I lost, but I keep on coming back," said Metzenbaum, who held congressional hearings on baseball's exemption in December 1992. "This isn't new with me on baseball."
As chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Monopolies and Business Rights, Metzenbaum, 77, does not speak highly of baseball owners.
"I think the owners are really not a very commendable crowd," Metzenbaum said last week from his Senate office.
Metzenbaum should know. After making his money by owning the world's largest airport parking lot company, Metzenbaum put up $100,000 in 1972 to become a part owner of the Cleveland Indians.
"I didn't have anything to do with running the Indians," said Metzenbaum, who was elected to the Senate in 1976. "I didn't go to many Indians games. I don't think I went to any of them. I thought it was good for the community, and it was good for me. I made money."
Metzenbaum's former ties to the Indians haven't stopped him from going after the exemption. This summer he proposed a bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee that would have taken away the exemption as it relates to labor issues. But on June 23 the committee defeated it, 10-7.
Metzenbaum said his efforts fell victim to owners and lobbyists for Major League Baseball.Some of his traditional allies who have major league franchises in their states, such as Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), voted against it. So did others, such as Sen Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), whose states are clamoring to get teams.
But Metzenbaum, who is not running for re-election, has not given up. He is co-sponsoring a compromise bill with one of his longtime political opponents, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), that removes the exemption until the strike is settled. Metzenbaum plans on bypassing the committee process by introducing it on the Senate floor. He has a surprise for whoever raises an objection.
"Then I would stand up and point my finger and say, 'You're going to take the responsibility that no more baseball is going to be played this season. In your entire political history, that will never be forgotten.' " Metzenbaum said.