August 10, 2002


JAIL FOR COMMISSIONER BUD?: People who hate George W. Bush (like Jonathan Chait here) have two standard arguments for why, which in a sense contradict one another: On the one hand they consider him a clueless moron, but on the other they claim he's calculating and evil.The job Bush really always wanted, it has been said, was not President of the United States but rather commissioner of baseball and now, ironically enough, the same too-incompetent-to-be-corrupt argument is being bandied about in relation to the man who got the job Bush wanted, Bud Selig.
Ever since Selig's bogus "Blue Ribbon Panel" gave a series of recommendations about the game's financial health, the press and the players' union alike have argued, with some merit, that the owners' "massive losses" were, with the help of creative accounting, pretty much a figment of their imaginations, a shell game played with an eye towards the next labor agreement. But this was before Enron, et al, back when such "accounting tricks" were something to be joked about, rather than the reign of terror that has ruined thousands of lives and sent the economy into freefall. And don't forget- baseball has long relied on Arthur Anderson for its accounting work But now it's not just the union and the media who are going on about the phantom numbers- owners are doing it too.
A former Anderson auditor and Selig man, Robert Starkey, was hired by the commissioner to conduct an "independent" appraisel of the New York Mets franchise, in order to determine the price for which Mets owner Fred Wilpon will buy out his longtime partner, Nelson Doubleday. When Starkey came up with the almost comically low $391 million figure for a team in the nation's largest market (the baseball equivilant of Dr. Evil asking for "one million dollars"), Doubleday -a longtime owner, and one who has always been rather hawkish on labor matters- accused the commish of manufacturing "phantom losses" in order to improve their position in the current collective bargaining. Adding to the trouble for Bud, he was sued last month under federal racketeering statutes by a group of former Montreal Expos minority owners, who claim he conspired with former owner Jeffrey Loria to dilute the franchise's value and systematically destroy baseball in Montreal. The implication is that Bud improperly (and possibly unlawfully) interfered with the Mets' appraisel and the domino-like sales last winter of the Expos, Florida Marlins, and Boston Red Sox.
Last time I heard anyone talk about RICO lawsuits, it was Tony Soprano and Uncle Junior. But Bud, of course, is no Tony Soprano. On the stupid-or-evil question, I'd say the 9th commissioner has quite a bit in common with the 43rd president: he's not an especially intelligent man, but he is incredibly persuasive, and that's how he's able to get his cronies to go along with what he wants. The difference is, Bush is using his limited intellect and winning charm to prosecute a worldwide war against terrorism, whereas Selig is using his skills to "keep salaries down," with the goal of restributing large sums of money from millionaire players to billionaire owners. The Harken scandal may be old news, but it nevertheless ties Bush to the corporate greed scandals- just as the Expos/Doubleday accusations connect Selig to the accounting fraud.
We could conceivably have a scenario in which Selig, the Vince McMahon of baseball, is prosecuted by the feds the way Vince was back in '94. Will Bud Selig eventually suffer the same fate as Sam Waksal? Those of us who truly love baseball can only hope...

Posted by Stephen Silver at August 10, 2002 01:31 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?