The Un-Watched Pot

The Expos

Baseball needs to move a team to DC or Northern Virginia and do it now.  By dragging their feet, they are making it less and less likely that the local governments will pass a stadium issue.  It's not because there is a substantial opposition, though.  It's because the people who want to bring a team to Washington are growing increasingly annoyed with the double talk and backpedalling from the people who run baseball.  Baseball wants the financing in place for a stadium before they award a team to any new city, but no local government will ever get approval to do so because of what baseball did to Tampa back in the 80s: Tampa built the Suncoast Dome to house the White Sox who were supposedly on the move, only to see them stay in Chicago and leave Tampa with an empty dome for a decade.  The longer Selig and friends continue their indecision, the more likely nothing will get done and everyone will lose out.

There's still the possibility that the Expos will move to San Juan, Puerto Rico next year and remain there until they are folded after the 2006 season.  But how smart is that?  A team in San Juan will draw from a population that is predominantly blue collar and makes low wages making pharmaceuticals and clothing.  There is little or no local television revenue to speak of and unless baseball takes a more aggressive approach to growing the economy there, little chance that the locals will be able to afford ticket prices much longer.

A team in Washington or Northern Virginia will draw from a population that is white collar and essentially has an endless supply of money.  There are over 1000 law firms in the DC area, which is enough to fill 200 luxury boxes and still have a waiting list.  When you include the dozens of Fortune 500 companies and the political interests that are centered here, one could almost build a stadium comprised entirely of luxury boxes.  Add to that two of the wealthiest counties in the US are in the DC metro area and that it's a major media market, and baseball could make money hand over fist with a team there.  If the lords of baseball were seriously interested in making money instead of complaining about how little they make all the time, they would put a team in Northern Virginia or DC immediately. 

Speaking of not making money, how is contraction not a bad idea?  If you remove 2 teams from the league, that's 80,000+ fewer seats you have to fill each day and 2 fewer local television markets you no longer have.  It's also 324 fewer games you can broadcast nationally.  How can you make as much money - forget about actually making more money - by offering less product?  Ticket prices go up regardless.  Are they gonna drive them up even farther to compensate for the loss of two teams?  Won't that simply make fans more angry and drive them away in greater numbers?  You certainly won't gain the lost revenue back in player salaries because the players who will lose their jobs to contraction will be the ones making minimum salary anyway. 

The fact of the matter is that if baseball contracts, they will make far less money than they are making currently, and even the expansion fees they'll charge to re-expand won't make up for the lost revenue in the intervening years.  In essence, the lords of baseball want to charge more money for less of the same lemonade that they continue to tell you isn't as good as it used to be.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but that doesn't seem like a good way to do business.  Is baseball doing everything in it's power to become the sporting equivalent of the railroads?  Do they expect if they continue with their current not-for-profit business plan that the federal government will step in and bolster their fortunes with a healthy subsidy?  Do they realize they've been giving the finger to that same federal government for the last 30 years by not putting a team in the Washington DC area?

Pete Rose

Recently, ESPN hosted a mock-trial of Pete Rose to determine, in a way, whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame.  The most persuasive arguments for his induction came from Bill James and Bill Lee. 

James stated that there have been numerous occasions where stars were banned for gambling, but were re-instated and eventually made the Hall of Fame.  While it's true that Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were banned after their playing careers were over, they were banned for associating with a casino, not for betting on games in which they were involved.  And both rescinded their allegiance to the casinos before they were re-instated. As for Alex Karras and Paul Hornung in football, that argument is useless: football hardly makes distinctions between who was great and who was merely good as they induct just about everyone who played more than 5 seasons - they put 5 or 6 players in every year.  Their Hall of Fame simply does not have as high a standard as the baseball hall.  Regardless, both players admitted their guilt and moved on.  Pete Rose has not.

Lee's argument was that there are plenty of bad people already in the Hall of Fame and Pete Rose should not be excluded because he was too.  However, the correct solution is not to admit more unworthy people in there, but to remove those who unfairly got in.  No one will miss Charlie Comiskey, the owner who gave his players a reason to seek compensation from gamblers during the 1919 World Series by not paying them fair wages. In fact, there are a fair number of people in the Hall who probably don't belong; why not just clean up the mess?  There is an agent available for this effort already: the Society for American Baseball Research.  You will not find a group of people more passionate about the integrity of baseball, nor a more knowledgeable group who understand the players'/managers'/owners' contributions within the context of their era.  Kick out the losers, put in the folks who got shafted - at least baseball will have consciously gotten one thing right.

Look, I whole-heartedly agree that betting on baseball, in the context of real life, is not as bad an offense as some of the things other players have been accused of.  But in the context of baseball, there is only one capital offense and it is re-stated an infinite number of times to everyone involved in the game: if you bet on baseball games you are involved in, you will be banned permanently.  Whether the Dowd report was a fact-finding mission, or as Bill James maintains, the effort by an angry attorney to discredit Rose, there is enough evidence to conclude that Pete Rose bet on baseball games in which he was participating.  Not just once or twice, but 412 times.  For some perspective, that would be 405 times more than Steve Howe got second chances for doing drugs.  That would be 411 times more often than Orlando Cepeda got busted for marijuana, an offense that kept him out of the Hall for 25 years.  That's at least 380 more times than Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb combined got fined or suspended for abusing umpires and fans.  If you added up the number of times all of the Hall of Fame players combined got suspended for doing something wrong in baseball, it might still not add up to the number of times Pete Rose allegedly bet on baseball.  And doing what he did just once merits the lifetime ban. 

Rose was not someone who would fall on his sword if there was nothing to hide.  This was a man who wrote himself into the line-up for the last 3 years of his career in order to break Ty Cobb's record, despite a below average producer for his position.  In fact, in 6 of his last 7 years, he was below average.  So if he really felt that there was no evidence against him, it is highly unlikely he would have ever signed off on a life-time ban.  He would have fought it tooth and nail, just like he did every other obstacle in his life.

Some suggest that if Rose were to confess, it would shorten his sentence.  How about this: Rose and baseball agree to set aside the previous agreement where there was no official finding, take this to trial and have it decided by a jury of his peers.  No, not people like you and I, but by a jury of baseball players and managers... Hall of Famers and All-Stars.  If there's no evidence, as Rose and his supporters maintain, then he shouldn't have anything to worry about and baseball will finally get to embrace "it's best ambassador", as Rose refers to himself.  And regardless if he's convicted or not, we can all stop this non-stop cycle of nonsense that surrounds him, deal with him appropriately and stop giving black eyes to the game.