Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Bad (MLB) vs. the Ugly (DC)
The main thing to remember is, there are no good guys in the Washington Nationals DC baseball stadium foofaraw. Clearly Major League Baseball (the bad) is a bunch of shyster tax-dodge lawyers (Bob DuPuy) fronting for used car salesmen (Bud "Invertebrate" Selig) and real estate speculators (Jerry Reinsdorf.) Meanwhile the District of Columbia (the ugly) would have the most dysfunctional local government in the country if it weren't for Trenton NJ, New Orleans LA, Providence RI, Ocean City MD, Gary IN, San Diego CA, and the Lakota Sioux Indian Reservation SD.

You'll notice that all the MLB dudes are crawling with money (except Bud, whom they doubtless let in out of pity) and almost all the sick governments are crawling with poor people. A coincidence, no doubt, but a significant one when vast amounts of public coin are being clinked together.

Sovereign governments, even sick ones, are not used to being told what to do by anyone other than the local magnates who own them -- the law, accounting, real estate and consulting firms, the transportation companies, the utilities, the banks, the foundations, the media, retailers and industry generally. MLB forgot to get aligned with anyone who owns DC because it wanted to jack the price on the franchise suitors, none of whom owns DC either. Maybe they could if they needed to; but right now, they don't.

That might have been fine if that's what MLB wanted to do, but if you do it that way, then you have to first pacify the DC government. And MLB didn't want to negotiate with DC, it wanted to bully them over the stadium overruns. MLB forgot that for it to have leverage on the suitors, the fulcrum (DC) had to be stable.

Of course, MLB could have played it the other way. They could have picked a suitor, used them as the fulcrum, and then exerted their leverage on the DC government to refuse further negotiations. But by trying to poke both sides, suitors and DC, with that same lever, MLB could lose the whole deal. And if they do, they will have deserved it by word, deed, commission and omission.

As an illustration of correct strategy, when Gen. U.S. Grant met Pres. A. Lincoln in April 1864, Grant argued that Union troop detachments could do their jobs "just as well by advancing as well as by remaining still; and by advancing they would compel the enemy to keep detachments to hold them back, or else lay his own territory open to invasion." Lincoln grasped the point at once. "Oh, yes!" he said. "I see that. As we say out West, if a man can't skin he must hold a leg while somebody else does."

MLB is trying to both skin and hold a leg on this mule, and may instead get stuck on its own knife. DC has far more legitimate concerns about the proper shape of a stadium deal than MLB does. DC is responsible to its 750,000 inhabitants whereas MLB is responsible only to the 29 owners, whose cumulative net worth doubtless exceeds the DC annual budget by a factor of five. Many of us are real tired of suburbanites jumping on DC Council for protecting its constituents from the depredations of a multi-billion-dollar industry, however racuously or, if it comes to that, ineffectively.

Things have gone so far now, about the only thing MLB can do is lay $250,000 on DC Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry in small, unmarked bills. And if they'd had sense enough to have given him $50,000 two months ago, there'd probably have been a deal by now.


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