Monday, June 28, 2004

How's this not a conflict of interest?

The Washington Post has a front page story on how Bud Selig has made some questionable decisions that he has proclaimed as "good for the game," but after closer inspection seem to only benefit he and his cronies (and in reference to the title of this post, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks that much of what Selig does isn't a conflict of interest).

First, MLB is the only league that allows commissioners to own teams:
In the National Football League, National Basketball Association or the National Hockey League, even one would have been prohibited. But Major League Baseball has no conflict-of-interest rules preventing the commissioner from owning teams.

Selig had owned the Milwaukee Brewers since 1970. When he was elected commissioner in 1998, he placed his ownership stake in a blind trust, suspended his $316,926 annual salary and announced his withdrawal from the Brewers' day-to-day operations.

Even then, the perception that Selig was still involved would lead to an ugly internal power struggle with the Brewers' president and chief executive officer, who ultimately resigned over the matter last year.
It gets worse:

Selig's relationship with the second team was in many ways thornier. His was one of 29 teams that bought the Montreal Expos for $120 million in February 2002 after legal challenges stopped baseball from shutting down the Expos and another franchise. Selig, as commissioner, had personally appointed Montreal's president, general manager and manager shortly after contraction collapsed.

Now, with the club in limbo, he had to figure out what to do with it.
So now that he has a stake in not one, but two teams (and is still commissioner) helps explain why he's made some seemingly hair-brained proposals (and in some cases decisions) in the last few seasons.

Baseball would offer the Expos to vacant markets such as Washington, Northern Virginia, Las Vegas and Portland, Ore., but at the same steep price he had set to keep Major League Baseball in Milwaukee: a state-of-the-art ballpark that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

With the public paying for the new stadium, private investors would have more money available to pay Major League Baseball for the team. In other words, taxpayers in the bidding cities would be helping the owners, including Selig, recover their Expos investment, which was approaching $175 million.

As he had in Milwaukee, Selig argued that a publicly financed ballpark was the only way to make the Expos competitive. "Is the community's life better [with a new ballpark]? Yes," Selig said. "Can a ballclub build a stadium and survive? No."

Selig's predecessor as commissioner, Fay T. Vincent, was not convinced. "It's hard for me to argue that local governments should be put in position to finance these facilities to help owners who themselves are enormously wealthy," he said. "That's a fairly tough way to run a business. I mean, c'mon."

Selig's strategy depended heavily on baseball's antitrust exemption. Without it, the Expos or another team probably would have simply moved to the District or Northern Virginia. As recently as 1999, for example, Selig had quietly impeded the Expos' then-managing partner, Claude R. Brochu, in his efforts to move to the Washington area, which, excluding Baltimore, is the nation's sixth-largest market.
This Post article is not some unearthing of heretofore unknown information. This is out there -- and has been out there (in the mainstream media) for the duration.

Last week I heard Mike Greenberg mention on ESPN Radio that despite all the negativity, Selig may be remembered as one of the all-time great commissioners. After reading this article, and knowing Selig's motivation (recouping his losses) at the expense of fans and taxpayers (many of whom will never set foot in a ballpark), to think of Selig as anything other than a crook would be misguided. The fact that he owns a stake in two Major League teams (blind trust or otherwise) should immediately be a cause for concern. And don't forget (and this may be the most telling indictment), he called a tie in the All-Star game.