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Monday, July 23, 2012

Salon: How owners are ruining the games we love [Book Review of Dave Zirin’s “Bad Sports”]

The Iraq War never would have happened if there was a salary cap.

How richly stocked is the pond in which Zirin is fishing? Well, former Texas Ranger minority owner George W. Bush doesn’t even rate his own chapter. Zirin, however, does pitch an excellent two-page reprise of the man’s career — just when you’ve maybe found it a lot easier to forget him than you once might have feared would be the case. Made managing partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team on the strength of buying a 1.8 percent share of the team on borrowed money, and the subsequent receipt of another 10 percent based on the value of his celebrity name, Bush pushed the Rangers’ successful effort to get the city of Arlington, Texas to cover $135 million of the $190 million total cost of the team’s new stadium. (Bush bought in for $606,000 and sold out in 1998 for $14.9 million.).

What fascinates Zirin, though, is that when Bush was interested in becoming Commissioner of Baseball, the owners opted instead for Milwaukee Brewers owner and president Bud Selig, who still holds the post, yet they didn’t hesitate to back Bush when he ran for President of the United States. They didn’t want him running their business, but they did want him in the White House, where there’d presumably be other people to sort things out for him. This rumination left me wondering if Selig would have invaded Iraq if things had gone the other way.

 

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: July 23, 2012 at 04:27 PM | 25 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: bud selig, corporate welfare, george steinbrenner, george w. bush, orioles, owners, peter angelos, rangers, socialism, yankees

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   1. Joe Kehoskie Posted: July 23, 2012 at 07:27 PM (#4190245)
George W. Bush might be a lot of things, but "bad baseball owner" isn't one of them.
   2. Accent Shallow Posted: July 23, 2012 at 08:20 PM (#4190299)
George W. Bush might be a lot of things, but "bad baseball owner" isn't one of them.

Wonder if he'd be a better commissioner than Selig . . .
   3. The kids disappeared, now Der-K has too much candy Posted: July 23, 2012 at 08:36 PM (#4190313)
1) agreed
   4. SoSH U at work Posted: July 23, 2012 at 08:40 PM (#4190317)
Wonder if he'd be a better commissioner than Selig . . .


He cast the lone vote against the wild card, so that puts him like seven legs up on Bud right there.
   5. tshipman Posted: July 23, 2012 at 08:59 PM (#4190344)
Wonder if he'd be a better commissioner than Selig . . .


I don't know how to evaluate Selig. On the one hand, the 1994-95 strike, the steroid PR debacle, expanded the WC, interleague, etc. On the other hand, almost 20 years now of relatively blissful labor relations (best record in pro sports currently), a strong game and the best online presence of any pro sport.

Six or seven years ago I thought David Stern was a way better commissioner. Now I think, looking around the other pro sports, that Selig might be the best one around. This confuses me.
   6. Dag Nabbit is a cornucopia of errors Posted: July 23, 2012 at 09:07 PM (#4190356)
Read this book. Very hit or miss, often miss. The parts on Daniel Snyder, making the Sonics the Thunder, and the financing of the Nationals ballpark were very good, though.
   7. fra paolo Posted: July 23, 2012 at 09:16 PM (#4190367)
Now I think, looking around the other pro sports, that Selig might be the best one around. This confuses me.

There is no need for confusion. A perfect parallel is contained in this exchange I always associate with the Three Stooges:
Q. Why are you hitting yourself in the head with a hammer?
A. Because it feels good when I stop.
   8. Walt Davis Posted: July 23, 2012 at 10:23 PM (#4190477)
Depends somewhat on how you define the commisioner's job. If Bud's job was to please me, he stinks. Alas, that doesn't appear in his job description.

Given almost every team has a new stadium largely paid for by taxpayers, it's hard to argue that he's been a bad commissioner. Given baseball attendance has been growing/steady, it's hard to argue he's been a bad commissioner. Given, despite media gnashing of teeth, MLB seems to still get very nice TV payouts, teams still seem to get good local TV payouts and MLBAM is apparently producing money hand over fist, it's hard to argue that he's been a bad commissioner. Given he has managed to maintain sufficient owner and labor peace to get revenue sharing, luxury taxes, etc. it's hard to argue that he's been a bad commissioner for the smaller team owners. And really he's had the union on its back foot since late 2001.

The big teams have some reasons to gripe but generally he's been at least a solid commissioner from the owners' perspective. About the best I coudl argue is whether there weren't a lot of people who could have done most/all of that. I don't know. But he certainly hasn't been a problem.

Negative legacies from the business perspective seem few. He does less of it now but he did a lot of "baseball is doomed" anti-marketing which might have helped win stadiums but I don't think helped build the fanbase and I think influences the media's "baseball is doomed" stance. He really hasn't been good from a PR perspective. The 94 scenario was absurd and risky and the steroid thing blew up in his face nearly as badly as it blew up in the union's face. But he and baseball seem to have survived all of those. And I worry about the watering down of the playoffs and what effect this will have on regular season attendance, etc. -- the attitude of "if you're not in the playoffs, why bother" is a very dangerous one I think. I also think the whole blackout and territory policies are detrimental in the longterm.

From a fan's perspective ... you've got access to just about every game you could want even if you now have to pay for it (but that would have happened no matter who was commissioner). It probably mainly boils down to whether you like the 3-division and wild card set up, interleague play and the diminishment of AL/NL identity. And of course whether you want your tax dollars subsidizing sports teams (but your target is the politicians not Selig).
   9. sunnyday2 Posted: July 23, 2012 at 11:06 PM (#4190509)
The point is not whether he was a "bad owner." What he illustrates is how the sanctimonious self-important job creators of the world never have any frickin' skin in the game.
   10. salajander Posted: July 23, 2012 at 11:14 PM (#4190511)
From the article:
Besides, Luis Pujols’s wife hadn’t called the St. Louis Cardinals’ five-year, $130 million offer to her husband an “insult” when Zirin was writing the book.

Someone tell Salon's editors that that's not the right Pujols.
   11. Joe Kehoskie Posted: July 24, 2012 at 12:04 AM (#4190523)
The point is not whether he was a "bad owner." What he illustrates is how the sanctimonious self-important job creators of the world never have any frickin' skin in the game.

Bush was heavily invested in the Rangers, both financially and in terms of sweat equity.
   12. silhouetted by the sea Posted: July 24, 2012 at 12:41 AM (#4190538)
Bush was heavily invested in the Rangers, both financially and in terms of sweat equity./quote]

If the book is correct, he invested $600,000 of borrowed money for his financial investment. And as far as sweat equity, I doubt very many members of the ground crew cashed out with 15 million in the bank.
Here is an excert from this article http://www.austinchronicle.com/issues/vol16/issue42/pols.bushstadium.html) about the building of the ballpark.

[quoteBriefly, here's what happened on the Ballpark deal. Bush and his partners in the Rangers convinced Arlington officials to: Pass a half-cent sales tax to pay for 70% of the stadium; use the government's powers of eminent domain to condemn land the Rangers couldn't or didn't want to buy on the open market; give the Rangers control over what happens in and around the stadium; and allow the Rangers to buy the stadium (which cost $191 million to build) for just $60 million. Finally, after 12 years as the sole occupant and primary beneficiary of the stadium project, the Rangers, a privately owned business, can take title to the most expensive stadium ever built in Texas for the $60 million worth of rent and upkeep they will have already paid the city.


Sorry, I can't get the quote button to do what it usually does. I hope this makes sense to readrs.
   13. Joe Kehoskie Posted: July 24, 2012 at 01:00 AM (#4190548)
How does any of that refute what I said? Bush assembled the group that bought the Rangers, he had $600,000 invested in the team, and he was heavily involved in the day-to-day operation of the team for five full years. In his first year with the team, he helped to bring Nolan Ryan to the Rangers, which is still paying dividends for the Rangers some two decades later, and he started the effort to get a new, much-needed ballpark built, a ballpark that transformed the team's image both in the Metroplex and throughout MLB.

Without a doubt, Bush's last name helped him, but he wasn't some no-show trust-funder whose investment grew while he was out playing golf. I don't see anyone bashing Chuck Greenberg for walking away from the Rangers with $20 to $25 million after just six months with the team last year, and Greenberg didn't accomplish much of anything with the team compared to Bush.
   14. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: July 24, 2012 at 08:13 AM (#4190622)
From a fan's perspective ... you've got access to just about every game you could want even if you now have to pay for it


Unless you live in a blackout area, in which case, tough ####.
   15. bunyon Posted: July 24, 2012 at 09:00 AM (#4190641)
And I worry about the watering down of the playoffs and what effect this will have on regular season attendance, etc.

I sometimes share this sentiment but, then I go to games and see that much of the people there aren't what I'd call "fans" of baseball. They're at an event, having a good time, drinking, talking, playing odd games, etc. I think MLB has done a good job making the experience less about baseball and more about party.

I, as an old-fashioned fan, don't like that much but, in terms of attendance, you're less reliant on people like me (and, I believe, us) who would be happy to attend a game with no PA, no between inning games, no flashy scoreboards, etc.


I have no actual idea what the actual data is, of course. Just making the observation that I'm not sure more than 20% of the people at any given game are even aware of what the home team's playoff odds actually are.


I think GWB not becoming commissioner of baseball in the 90s is one of the greatest tragedies in American history. And that is without even counting the political element.
   16. SOLockwood Posted: July 24, 2012 at 10:13 AM (#4190689)
I don't see what's so fascinating or mysterious about the owners preferring Selig to Bush as commissioner while still preferring Bush to Gore & Kerry (or even McCain & Forbes) as president. It could have been a situation where most of them thought, "George would be a good commissioner, but Bud would be even better." I assume it's a cheap rhetorical trick by the author to insult both Bush and the other owners.
   17. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: July 24, 2012 at 10:45 AM (#4190714)

I think GWB not becoming commissioner of baseball in the 90s is one of the greatest tragedies in American history. And that is without even counting the political element.


I know the unknown is perceived to be better than the evil Seligula, but what do people think Bush would have done differently? The modern Commish is a figurehead for the owners. Maybe Bush was against the WC, but the other 29 owners were for it because it was financially lucrative, meaning it would have happened. And Bush isn't exactly a friend of labor, my guess is he'd have done just about everything policy-wise vis-a-vis the union as Bud did. Bush bilked the taxpayers into building his team a stadium, so no doubt he'd be helping other owners game the system, including bashing A's and Rays fans for not coming out. The only positives I see from Bush being Commish are (a) he does genuinely seem to enjoy the game of baseball and is upbeat about it in contrast with the dour Selig; and (b) he wouldn't be President (at least til he quit MLB and decided to run for President).
   18. zack Posted: July 24, 2012 at 10:45 AM (#4190715)
I think the only way to judge Bud is against other modern sports commissioners. His predecessors are largely too far in the past (and he looks good compared to most of them anyway).

Compared to Goodell, Stern and Gary ####### Bettman, Bud Selig looks like the shining beacon of truth, justice and the american way. At least he learned his lesson from the '94 strike, unlike the rest of those shitheels.

People focus too much on the wild card or the all-star game, which are small potatoes. 20 years of labor peace.
   19. BDC Posted: July 24, 2012 at 10:51 AM (#4190719)
the Rangers, a privately owned business, can take title to the most expensive stadium ever built in Texas

Hell, it's not even the most expensive stadium in that zip code anymore.

I have mixed feelings about both the gentlemen discussed in this thread. Were the taxpayers of Arlington milked and bilked on both our big-stadium deals? Insofar as W was personally enriched by the ballpark tax, possibly. (Nothing says "bold entrepreneurship" like having a municipality pour tax money directly into your pocket :) But on the other hand, that half-cent I've paid, let's say an extra thousand dollars or so in taxes over twenty years, means that I have a quick drive to two great stadiums (in fact, when it's not 95 degrees at game time, a very nice walk). In terms of my personal contribution to Messrs Bush and Jones, I am getting a good deal. I would not be as much of a sports fan if these teams were playing in Irving or Dallas or Northeast Tarrant County, and my life would not be as happy.

The things I like most about George W Bush (and there are few enough) is his genuine love of baseball, and his tenacity as a Rangers fan.

Selig, on the other hand, has reduced my enjoyment of baseball with his stupid gimmicks. But I will say this for him: he has contrived that there be baseball at all, since 1995, uninterruptedly. This has been good for my mental health. He could have done much worse.
   20. zack Posted: July 24, 2012 at 10:55 AM (#4190726)
Also if Bud didn't look like the bastard offspring of Bill Gates and a skeksis he'd probably get a better rap.
   21. Chris Needham Posted: July 24, 2012 at 11:32 AM (#4190760)
[6] I just read a good chunk of the section on Nats park (preview it at google books), and aside from it being riddled with copy-editing errors, it's dead wrong on its facts in a number of places. For one, it talks about the how disgusting it was to build this million dollar playground in the historically black Anacostia section of DC... That's a bit like saying it'd disgusting how the Yankees built their billion dollar stadium while kicking all the African Americans out of Harlem. He calls DC "one of the most impoverished cities in the Western Hemisphere."

Nevermind that 70% of Nats fans come from Virginia, creating a de factor commuter tax. Or that the special business tax (supported strongly by the business community at the time) has produced so much revenue that they're paying the bonds off ahead of time and using the extra revenue for other shortfalls in the city budget.

But sure... let's not let facts get in the way of our ideological rant.
   22. Bob Evans Posted: July 24, 2012 at 01:18 PM (#4190869)
McCain & Forbes

I missed that bumper sticker.
   23. SOLockwood Posted: July 24, 2012 at 01:47 PM (#4190915)
#22: I was referring to two of Bush's significant opponents during the 2000 primaries.
   24. Lassus Posted: July 24, 2012 at 02:29 PM (#4190975)
Also if Bud didn't look like the bastard offspring of Bill Gates and a skeksis he'd probably get a better rap.

Arey you sure you didn't mean "sleestak"?

BTW, I agree fully with #18 as well.
   25. SandyRiver Posted: July 24, 2012 at 04:06 PM (#4191070)
Also if Bud didn't look like the bastard offspring of Bill Gates and a skeksis he'd probably get a better rap.

Now I have to get that image out of my mind - thanks. ;(

Also, first Dark Crystal reference I've seen since the movie was still playing in theaters.

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