D.C. fans may feel ripped off, but they still have their cash

Baseball

December 17, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

IT'S SO wonderful to be a baseball city. Look at us here in Baltimore.

The Orioles' owner and general managers professed desire to make the team competitive again and look what happened:

Other owners and other general managers from other baseball cities decide to outspend and overspend by millions and millions of dollars.

So we'll have to raise ticket prices, they say, to rationalize their winter largesse.

The battle to please the fans leads to foolish spending, which means the spiraling cost of fielding a competitive team can't be capped.

Twelve-ounce microbrews will now cost you $9.

Ten bucks at Shea Stadium, for 10 ounces.

But it's good to live in a baseball city.

Antitrust exemptions and territorial rights ensure that if the people want to see baseball, they'll have to pay what we charge.

Gotcha!

Either that or the owners can threaten to move the team.

This is an excellent method of blackmailing concessions out of beleaguered local legislators who are merely trying to fairly represent all their constituents by funding schools and paving rutted roads.

Whatever it takes to win, baby.

Why, here in Baltimore, we're so far gone we're starting to think Carlos Delgado is worth $52 million for four years. Heck, make it $60 million, the slugger's asking price.

In New York, the Mets held a press conference yesterday. The Mets paid $53 million for Pedro Martinez, whose personal egg-timer is set for six innings or 100 pitches, whichever comes first.

After a slight down cycle after Alex Rodriguez sucked $252 million out of Tom Hicks, restraint and fiscal prudence that characterized the past few winter free-agent markets are now officially passe.

When they aren't pleading poverty, threatening lockouts or grudgingly opening cooked books, the poverty-stricken baseball team owners are busy driving the cost of baseball business through the retractable roof.

No wonder baseball fans in D.C. are outraged. Their flirtation with once again being a baseball city feels like a rip-off.

D.C. fans want in on this great Ponzi scheme - no matter the cost or consequence, no matter the despicable, strong-arm tactics used by Major League Baseball.

Does anyone else besides a certain sports columnist here in Baltimore think that maybe commissioner Bud Selig should have at least considered the possibility that D.C.'s foolish deal would not hold up over the legislative process?

What D.C. offered in its initial promise to baseball was nothing more than an act of desperation.

Baseball had its sacrificial sucker in D.C. mayor Anthony Williams, who made a deal with the devil inspired by 33 long years of waiting, waiting and more waiting.

We'll build it. Just come, Williams said.

How a mayor of a city like D.C. could not calculate that the price of a publicly financed ballpark would quickly escalate toward the billion-dollar mark is but one thing:

Living proof that love for the game of baseball will blind the eyes of some very good people.

Now, that D.C. Council chairman, Linda Cropp: The audacity!

Attaching legislation that prods the city to seek 50 percent private financing for a new major league ballpark.

Doesn't Cropp know that if private financing means the new owners have to contribute to the cost of building their new ballpark, then there's less money to go back into the pockets of the other owners?

Why does Cropp have to be so darn pragmatic, ethical and responsible?

Why can't she just roll over, like all those other city, county and state legislators baseball has hoodwinked over the years, from Milwaukee to Seattle, where taxpayers' "no" votes on a stadium funding referendum meant "yes," thanks to legislative rescue units?

Maybe Cropp understands that baseball is counting on a $400 million franchise fee from owners of the Nationals. That sum would take care of losses that baseball intentionally and willingly incurred when it bought the Expos from Jeffrey Loria.

Baseball doesn't want to decrease its payday from the sale of the Expos, not even when a lower sale price in exchange for private stadium funding would mean better financial footing for a newly relocated franchise.

The payday needs of baseball owners are complicated by the fact that baseball has promised to pay the Orioles for revenues siphoned from the Baltimore market by the Nationals. Indirectly or not, D.C. residents are going to pay for that, too.

It seems confusing, but it's really quite simple: It's not the chairman's fault that D.C. is not a baseball city at this moment. It's baseball's fault.

Cropp is just doing her job.

If baseball had done its job better, first by sticking to its timeline for relocating the Expos and then mitigating the monstrous burden of public financing of a billion-dollar ballpark plan, then this situation wouldn't feel like a grotesque emergency.

If D.C. is divided and doesn't become a baseball city because baseball wants D.C. to pony up nearly a billion dollars for the privilege of having a team, then the citizens are lucky.

Unless they think the Nationals should have guaranteed Pedro Martinez $53 million.

The price of playing this game is terrible.

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