Doug's Business of Baseball Weblog:

January 2004

January 30, 2004: Los Angeles Times Dodgers Sale Coverage. LINK

Highlights from Ross Newhan: Frank McCourt appointed his wife as vice chairman of the club. "McCourt insisted that he has put more than $200 million of his money into the $430-million deal, but industry sources maintained that he has none of his own involved." McCourt's original business plan also called for reducing the club's payroll to the $65-$75 million level of the San Francisco Giants.

From David Wharton: McCourt has no plans to replace Dodger Stadium, but may sell naming rights. News Corp. loaned McCourt $165 million and retained the equivalent of $40 million in equity, with financial incentives for McCourt to find someone to buy its share sooner rather than later.

From Bill Shaikin: Breaking with 45 years of tradition, McCourt will make all Dodger games available to home viewers. The O'Malley family long restricted telecasts of home games to preserve the live gate. Fox Sports Net has locked up Dodger cable rights through 2012, paying $25 million for 100 games, up from $15 million for 80 last year.

Elsewhere, long-time Dodger executive Fred Claire reports that Fox has retained 48% of the club, with McCourt owning 52%. Claire also says that Fox has locked up the Dodgers' local TV rights for the next 15 years, paying $29 million/year to start with minimal escalation over the term of the contract. That would be less than the Mariners receive, and not much more than the Indians earn.

January 29, 2004: MLB Approves Sale of Dodgers for $430 Million. LINK

The vote was unanimous.

Commissioner Selig assures, "This transaction meets all of baseball's debt service rules and financial requirements in every way," Selig said in a statement. "We at major league baseball are confident that Mr. McCourt, as a rabid and knowledgeable fan and successful businessman, will devote the time and energy necessary to make the franchise a great success."

January 29, 2004: Reds' Hall Won't Open on Time. LINK

Last season the Cincinnati Reds gave their fans little reason to come down to the club's new Great American Ballpark. Now one of the prime reasons for coming in 2004 has been delayed for at least a year.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, originally scheduled to open at the start of the 2004 season, won't be completed until at least Opening Day 2005. The Hall of Fame will be housed in part of the taxpayer- funded ballpark, but the Reds are responsible for interior construction and furnishings. The club estimates the cost at $10-$12 million.

January 29, 2004: Marlins: New Home Must Be Dome. LINK

Marlins president David Samson tells Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, "We're not considering a facility without a roof." This would appear to rule out the current incarnation of the proposal to use the Orange Bowl site.

Samson also continues to insist that if given full control of the design and construction process, the Marlins could build a retractable-roofed facility for $325 million. That's $125 million less than the estimate quoted by a Miami stadium consultant. Samson has no known expertise in the design or construction of stadiums.

January 29, 2004: Corporations Out, Family Owners In. LINK

Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times surveys the recent trend away from corporate ownership of professional sports franchises. Sal Galatioto, head of Lehman Brothers' sports finance group, says he doesn't even approach corporations when looking for potential purchasers.

Shaikin notes that even when corporations claim huge operating losses on their sports properties, the teams can serve other business purposes. Disney's acquisition of the Angels kept the team in Anaheim at a time when the company was building a new theme park in the area; News Corp.'s purchase of the Dodgers allowed it to start a second cable sports channel and prevent Disney from establishing an ESPN-branded regional competitor to Fox Sports Net. On the other hand, the synergies owners sometimes predict have a way of being just as elusive in the sports setting as elsewhere in the business world. With Disney and News Corp. selling the Angels and Dodgers, just three corporate owners remain, all media companies: Time Warner (Braves), Tribune Company (Cubs) and Rogers Communications (Blue Jays).

January 29, 2004: Devil Rays Get New Owner, But Their Old Management. LINK

With all the attention on the sale of the Dodgers, here's a total surprise. The New York Times reports that a group headed by Stuart Sternberg, a former executive with Spear, Leeds & Kellogg, has agreed to buy 77% of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from five investors fed up with managing partner Vincent Naimoli. The price was not disclosed.

The selling partners include Robert Basham and Chris Sullivan of Outback Steakhouse, as well as Florida businessmen R. Mark Bostick, William Griffin and Daniel Doyle Sr.

Naimoli, who retains 15% of the Devil Rays, will remain as managing partner. As Murray Chass and Tom Spousta note, "baseball officials and investment experts questioned his decision to assume a majority share of the club but allow Naimoli to continue to operate the Devil Rays."

January 28, 2004: Dodger Deal Is Practically Done. LINK

The Los Angeles Times reports that MLB's ownership committee and Executive Council have unanimously endorsed Frank McCourt's bid for the Dodgers, making his approval by 3/4 of the owners on Thursday a virtual certainty.

McCourt is still borrowing virtually all the money he's using to acquire the Dodgers, but News Corp. will retain 20% of the club for a year or two while McCourt searches for someone willing to become his minority investor. That's unlikely to be a smooth search, insofar as he's already spent months trying unsuccessfully to attract other investors to his bid.

At least five clubs have a clear reason to vote Yes. The Diamondbacks, Giants, Padres and Rockies will have an easier path to the playoffs; the Angels will have an easier time attracting fans from across metropolitan Los Angeles.

January 27, 2004: What Must Marlins Do to Win Over Fickle Fans?. LINK

The Florida Marlins, who three months ago won their second World Series in seven years and have not gutted their team during the offseason, have sold fewer than 5,000 season tickets for 2004.

The Detroit Tigers have sold more. So have the Milwaukee Brewers. So have minor-league teams in Buffalo, Dayton and Sacramento. This is just pathetic.

January 27, 2004: Expos' Arbitration Hearing Delayed Again. LINK

The arbitration between the Expos' former limited partners and Jeffrey Loria has been postponed again. It is now scheduled to begin on May 17 in New York, before a three-person panel of arbitrators from the American Arbitration Association. Plaintiff's lawyer Jeffrey Kessler has indicated that one of his witnesses will be former MLB CEO Paul Beeston.

Stephanie Myles of the Montreal Gazette says that former Expos assistant GM Mike Berger, once a close confidante of Loria's, will also be subpoenaed to testify at the arbitration. As Myles notes, the partners' RICO action against Bud Selig and others is essentially dead unless the partners win the arbitration against Loria. Even if they do, proving that the others conspired with Loria could be quite difficult.

January 26, 2004: Marlins Told: No Land Is Your Land. LINK

The Miami Herald reports that the Marlins' stadium options are rapidly dwindling. They don't really want the Orange Bowl site offered by the City of Miami, but all the large downtown lots which had been under considerations several years ago have been snapped up by developers.

The Marlins have until March 15 to complete a stadium financing package.

January 26, 2004: Las Vegas Expos Not Such a Longshot. LINK

An anonymous "high-ranking major league executive" told Buster Olney of ESPN that the five areas currently being considered as future homes for the Expos include Washington/northern Virginia, Norfolk/Hampton Roads, VA, Portland, OR, Monterrey, Mexico and Las Vegas, Nevada.

Despite its slant, the article does a good job of showing why, entirely apart from the issue of gambling, Las Vegas has no business hosting a major league team. "[T]he city has only 1.5 million permanent residents, it ranks a weak 51st among television markets, and unless sand dunes can suddenly morph into season-ticket holders, there are virtually no outlying communities to sustain the franchise." The owner of the local AAA club also notes that with 24-hour casinos dominating the local economy, "at any given time 25 percent of the population is working or sleeping."

January 26, 2004: Suspicious Cubs Schedule?. LINK

The 2004 major league schedules are out...and a Cub-fan friend from law school found something awfully suspicious about theirs:

"In 2004, the Cubs play the Brewers 17 times. But due to unbalanced scheduling, 10 of those 17 games are in Milwaukee, where typically 30,000 Cubs fans make the short drive, drowning out the core 10,000 Brewers fans who have a pathological desire to pay five bucks to watch a minor league team in a major league park. This gives the Cubs essentially 91 home crowd games instead of 81.

"It gets better. None of those 17 games are among the first 81 on the schedule. The clubs first meet on July 5, in Milwaukee. From that point through late August, the Cubs enter a stretch in which 17 out of their next 49 games are against the Brewers. Of course, the Cubs' division rivals (Houston and St. Louis) get to play the Brewers too, but they play them primarily in April and September. So if the Cubs get off to a fast start and Houston doesn't, it bodes well for postseason baseball again in Wrigley, because it will be hard for Houston to make up ground in July and August with the Cubs matched up against Wisconsin's best Triple A franchise.

"There's another odd thing that I suspect happened on purpose. Milwaukee, being such an awful team, has been having trouble drawing decent weekday and weeknight crowds. The 10 Cubs games in Milwaukee, which are expected to draw large contingents of travelling Cubs fans, are all on weekdays (July 5, 6, 7, 26, 27, 28, 29, and Aug. 17, 18, 19) . With Cubs home game tickets scarce, the Brewers may very well draw 400,000 fans for those ten dates (three of the ten games are in the afternoon). That will leave their weekend dates free for the naturally larger weekend crowds. Bud Selig strikes again."

January 25, 2004: Most Still Oppose New Stadiums for Twins, Vikings. LINK

A Minneapolis Star Tribune shows that by a 52-42 margin, Minnesotans don't think the Twins need a new stadium. Only 36% of respondents were willing to spend public money for a Twins park; of those, three-quarters would offer no more than $125 million toward the cost of a $500 million stadium.

Among possible forms of financing, two-thirds or more of respondents approved of low-interest loans to the clubs, proceeds from slot machines or ticket taxes. 54% supported a liquor tax, 44% a hotel tax, while a broad-based sales tax increase was opposed by a 72-25 margin.

January 25, 2004: MLB Rejected $30M Offer from Virginia Interests. LINK

Here's some ammunition for those who believe that MLB is negotiating in bad faith with Expos' suitors, and has actually decided to contract the club after 2006. The Washington Post reports that the Virginia Baseball Club, the group trying to construct a stadium in northern Virginia, offered MLB a $30 million guarantee to play all the Expos' 2004 home games in Washington's RFK Stadium, without any commitment to relocate the franchise. MLB rejected this offer, as well as a pro- rated offer to host the same 59 home games which ultimately went to Montreal.

The Virginia group had struck a deal with Washington, D.C. to lease RFK, and had agreed to spend $3 million making the park ready for major league baseball. They believed that actually bringing the Expos to town would spur local governments to approve a stadium proposal. Bob DuPuy, who didn't return calls for this article, had previously said that a one-year move of this nature could disrupt the bidding process by appearing to favor one bidder over the others.

January 25, 2004: Low-Wage Costa Ricans Make Baseballs for Millionaires. LINK

Tim Weiner of The New York Times reports that the Costa Ricans who sew major league baseballs by hand earn about $2,750/year. They can sew about four balls per hour, working up to 11-hour days and earning 30 cents per ball for a product that retails for $14.99 in the United States. A former company doctor, for Rawlings, which has the exclusive contract to supply MLB with baseballs, said that during his tenure at the Costa Rican plant, about one-third of the workers developed carpal tunnel syndrome.

January 25, 2004: From Brewer to Sewer. LINK

What a great title for Bill Madden's recap of the Selig years in Milwaukee for the New York Daily News:

"[A]s someone who goes back with Selig almost to when he bought the old bankrupt Seattle Pilots and brought them to Milwaukee in 1970, I can attest to the fact that he did more to sell his town and its ballpark experience than any other owner in baseball."

But by the early 1990s, when Selig replaced Harry Dalton with Sal Bando as Brewers GM:

"Selig began getting more and more deeply involved in the politics of baseball central. Bando, a good guy, was a total disaster as GM with one failed draft after another, but Selig was now too consumed with changing the economics of the game to notice how his own franchise was being run into the ground."

January 23, 2004: Look for Selig to Stick Around As Commish. LINK

Hal Bodley of USA Today says Bud's not going anywhere when his term expires. As Bodley notes, "None of those in baseball's inner circle believed him last year when he vowed not to seek an extension," and once his Brewers are sold, if the gave up the Commissionership Bud would have no life.

The reason why Selig is such a cancer on the game has nothing to do with his accomplishments. Rather, it involves the way he has fundamentally corrupted MLB's governing process and destroyed the credibility of its public statements. Selig is a Machiavellian behind-the-scenes manipulator who has surrounded himself with yes-men. Anything he says that can't be independently verified, or which relates to his own or MLB's future intentions, can be trusted about as far as I can throw Miller Park. When he pledges to surrender power, even his own closest associates know he's lying. If Dick Cheney died, Bud would be the perfect replacement -- except that George W. Bush is still angry at Bud for screwing him out of the Commissionership.

Selig was born July 30, 1934. He turns 70 in July. According to this CDC table (warning: .PDF link), a 70-year-old white male can be expected to live another 13 years, until 2017. If Selig remains in office beyond August 4, 2012, he'd be the oldest Commissioner in major league history; if he lasts another four years, he'd pass Judge Landis for the longest tenure as Commissioner.

January 22, 2004: Bud's Had His Ups...and Downs. LINK

On Commissioner Day at ESPN.com, Jayson Stark tries to predict what Bud Selig's legacy will be, assuming of course that Bud can eventually be pried from the Commissioner's chair. Over here, Rob Neyer offers an overview of all nine Commissioners.

January 22, 2004: McCourt Deal Gets Closer. LINK

Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times reports that News Corp., which had agreed to loan Frank McCourt $205 million of the $430 million he has offered for the Dodgers, is now willing to retain 20-25% of this amount (around $50 million) as equity in the club, so long as McCourt pledges to find a local investor to buy out News Corp.'s remaining stake within a year or two.

This proposal brings the deal closer to compliance with MLB's debt rules, but does nothing to enhance the actual financial viability of McCourt's bid. He's already tried and failed to interest numerous Angelenos in joining his offer, but will still be obligated to buy out News Corp in the relatively short term.

January 22, 2004: Stadium Panel Narrows Sites to Four. LINK

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's Stadium Screening Committee has made the first cut, reducing the 26 baseball and football stadium proposals submitted last week to four. Minneapolis and St. Paul will be competing for the right to build a stadium for the Twins, while two suburban sites are in the running for the Vikings.

From Twins owner Carl Pohlad's perspective, having Minneapolis and St. Paul bidding against one another is the next best thing to a threat to move. As with Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia, local pride could trump common sense. The "winner" gets to spend several hundred million dollars on a ballpark, while fans living in the "losing" city pay nothing but have a slightly longer commute to the game.

January 21, 2004: St. Paul Stadium Blasted/Cities Skirmish Over Twins Stadium Plans. LINK

It's Stadium Showdown Time in Minnesota, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minneapolis Star Tribune give their hometown perspective. The lead paragraphs:

Minneapolis: "Reflecting the images of their civic personalities, warm, fuzzy and eager St. Paul squared off Tuesday against businesslike and confident Minneapolis in a battle for the hearts, minds and recommendations of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's Stadium Screening Committee."

St. Paul: "Minneapolis and Hennepin County leaders clobbered St. Paul's plan for a Minnesota Twins ballpark as if the proposal came from South Dakota."

January 21, 2004: Arbitration Roundup. LINK

Here's the AP summary of the last-minute arbitration settlements, and here's a table of the figures exchanged by the 27 players who haven't settled.

January 21, 2004: McCourt's Deal to Buy Dodgers Still on Track. LINK

Frank McCourt and his wife spent 11 hours yesterday discussing the details of his bid for the Dodgers with MLB's executives and lawyers. An insider familiar with the talks told Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times that even if the deal is restructured, it's "doubtful" that the final version would satisfy MLB's debt rules this year.

Newhan notes that some owners may have an ulterior motive for approving McCourt. They "would delight in having the big-market Dodgers operated on a tight financial leash."

A prediction: if McCourt gets the Dodgers, within three years the Anaheim Angels will be the dominant team in the Los Angeles market for the first time in their history.

January 21, 2004: Rogers Swings for the Fences. LINK

Rogers Communications, which paid $164 million (Canadian) for 80% of the Toronto Blue Jays in December 2000, is about to buy the remaining 20% of the club from Interbrew for $45 million.

The Toronto Star asserts that the Blue Jays lost $59 million (U.S.) in 2002, $30 million (U.S.) in 2003. The free fall of the U.S. dollar should help improve the Jays' bottom line in 2004.

January 20, 2004: Broad's Offer Stays on Bench. LINK

At least one powerful owner either doesn't understand or doesn't care about MLB's debt rules.

The Los Angeles Times reports that even though Commissioner Selig has recently reiterated the importance of the debt rules in the context of the proposed sale of the Dodgers, one unnamed owner on the Executive Committee "saw no problem with McCourt buying the Dodgers entirely with borrowed money." In the words of the owner, "If he didn't have the collateral he wouldn't be getting the loans."

Then why have a debt rule at all? Without one, I could bid for the Dodgers as easily as McCourt can. If as part of my bid, I could agree to sell naming rights to Dodger Stadium, let real estate developers subdivide a chunk of Dodgertown, and auction off the next concessions contracts for a hefty upfront sum, I could offer MLB $100 million up front and finance the rest, secured by the club and its assets, without investing a dime of my own money.

If the debt rule isn't enforced to ensure that prospective owners have the liquidity and operating capital necessary to operate a club properly, its only purpose would be the one long feared by the players: a weapon wielded by the Commissioner to hold down salaries by limiting the rights of owners to sign the players they want.

The article also notes that the owners correctly view the stated January 31st deadline for completion of the sale as artificial, since it can be extended indefinitely by agreement, and quotes Bob DuPuy as rightly refusing to speculate about the effect of Eli Broad's bid for the club so long as News Corp. is still trying to sell the Dodgers to McCourt.

January 20, 2004: Franceschoni Will Go to Bat for Stadium -- If Deal Is Right. LINK

Commissioner Jim Franceschoni, a candidate to succeed Portland Mayor (and stadium supporter) Vera Katz when she leaves office after this year, tells John Hunt of The Oregonian that he backs Portland's bid for baseball only "[i]f a private group of owners is willing to finance all, or at least a significant portion of a stadium." He adds, "The current plan lacks a private partner, so it's a non-starter."

Hunt's article ends with this gem:

"By the way, baseball proponents say a stadium project in Portland would create more than 1,500 full-time construction jobs. The New York City Building and Construction Trades Council estimates the $1.5 billion Freedom Tower to be built on the World Trade Center site will create 2,000 construction jobs."

January 20, 2004: A Tight Grip on Brewers. LINK

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel walks through the stadium district's legal protections against any attempt by the Brewers to break their 30-year lease. The non-relocation agreement requires the prior written consent of both the stadium district and the State of Wisconsin before the Brewers can be moved, and requires the club to notify them of any negotiations involving the possible transfer of the franchise.

Closing another loophole, the stadium lease prevents the Brewers from trying to break the lease by arguing that the stadium is no longer state of the art. The club must notify the stadium district of any purported deficiencies; must arbitrate any disagreement about whether particular improvements are necessary; and must give the district a reasonable amount of time to make any required improvements.

January 19, 2004: Sale Won't Stop Push for State Brewers Audit. LINK

Wisconsin legislators aren't allowing the announcement that the Brewers are for sale to distract them from the task of learning more about the club's finances -- and sharing that information with the taxpayers.

In the words of Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer: "Now more than ever the state auditor needs to be authorized to conduct a full review of the Brewers baseball club. Information on general and administrative expenses, details of business relationships and agreements, terms and conditions of debt, and ownership interests should be made available to the public."

Also, the Miller Park stadium district revealed that in addition to the 30-year lease, the Brewers signed a separate non-relocation agreement, intended to bind the franchise to Milwaukee for the full 30-year term even if the club files for bankruptcy. A stadium district lawyer explained, "Bankruptcy courts can reject leases, but they can't reject a non-relocation agreement. We feel we are on solid legal footing."

January 19, 2004: On Baseball: The Man Who Wrote the Book on Rose and Betting. LINK

Buried in this profile of John Dowd (by Murray Chass, making a most welcome return from serious health problems) is this charming anecdote about just how far MLB will go to silence those telling inconvenient truths.

In 1998, MLB filed a complaint with the District of Columbia Bar Association, accusing Dowd of violating attorney-client privilege by commenting on Pete Rose's pending application for reinstatement.

DuPuy's justification: "At the time, John was repeatedly and consistently commenting on the work he had done for baseball and the Rose case. Pete had an application for reinstatement pending, and we didn't think it was appropriate while that application was pending for a lawyer to be talking about the case. We asked John to stop commenting and he refused."

Dowd: "Here I was defending the decision of the commissioner of baseball and they didn't want me to do it. It was clear they wanted me to shut up. But there was no privilege. Everything I had I gave to Rose's lawyers."

The D.C. Bar agreed, dismissing MLB's charges against Dowd. It's hard to imagine a decisionmaking process dysfunctional enough to result in MLB's filing such a complaint. Do all of its senior staff meetings end with Bob and Bud commanding the others to "assume the position"?

January 18, 2004: Expos Sweepstakes Gets Even More Crowded. LINK

John Hunt of The Oregonian updates the status of Portland's stadium proposal -- and quotes Portland Mayor Vera Katz as saying the city's efforts may be aimed at a team other than the Expos:

"I believe more and more that the work that we're going to do may not be for the Expos. However, we need to, in good faith, continue our work because in the final analysis, [Major League Baseball] makes the decision, whether it's the Expos or it's Oakland or some other team."

The part of Portland's proposal that relies on taxing player salaries now seems likely to produce considerably less money than forecast, down from $150 million to as little as $100 million. Nor has any guarantor for the stadium bonds stepped forward. At least Katz understands MLB's demands what MLB wants: for the owner's share of stadium construction costs to be "as close to zero as humanly possible."

As Hunt notes, Caesars Entertainment has discussed bringing MLB to Las Vegas, to a stadium to be constructed just off the Strip. Not likely, according to Bob DuPuy, unless Nevada eliminates baseball from the casino sports books: "The presence of baseball on the book of Nevada and in particular, the potential of a local team being on the book is a serious issue of Major League Baseball in considering whether Las Vegas might be a viable location for a major league franchise."

January 18, 2004: A Flawed McCourtship?. LINK

The Los Angeles Daily News investigates Frank McCourt's bid for the Dodgers and comes away unimpressed. One unnamed insider says, "I'd give him three years before he has to sell the team. He will either realize he can't do it, or he just won't be able to make payroll."

January 18, 2004: O'Malley? Hey, He Can Dream. LINK

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times reports that if Eli Broad gets the Dodgers, former owner Peter O'Malley will return as chairman and will assume operating control of the team.

Hmm...would the Dodgers be better off operated by the family which controlled the club for half a century, or by an underfinanced real estate developer from Boston?

January 17, 2004: Broad Makes Backup Pitch to Buy Dodgers. LINK

The Dodgers now have a financially stable bidder. The Los Angeles Times reports that at the urging of Mayor James Hahn and Peter O'Malley, Los Angeles developer/philanthropist Eli Broad has offered $430 million, mostly in cash, for the club.

Broad's bid is worth $10 million less than Frank McCourt's. It includes credits of $50 million and either a four-year, interest-free loan of $80 million from Fox or a credit of $16 million. He also wants Fox to pay $15 million/year more for the Dodgers' broadcast and cable rights, which is one reason News Corp. has been so much friendlier to McCourt's bid.

January 17, 2004: Minnesota Governor Rules Out General Fund Money. LINK

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty says that while he favors letting the stadium process proceed, he has ruled out using money from the state's general fund to subsidize a ballpark for the Twins. He's willing to consider money from an expansion of gambling, though.

Twins president Jerry Bell also indicated that the club approves of both the St. Paul and Minneapolis/Hennepin County proposals.

January 16, 2004: Brewers Announce Team for Sale. LINK

Not the way I'd prefer for Bud Selig to resolve his conflict of interest, but I'll take it. Wendy Selig-Prieb made the announcement. She was backed by Brewers board member Michael Grebe, who said the sale was "clearly in the long-term best interests of baseball here in Milwaukee." In other words, the current owners have no more money to invest and have lost all credibility in their hometown.

Commissioner Selig insisted that he had long been looking for a chance to sell the Brewers:

"While it is personally difficult for me to bring to an end a 40-year association with Major League Baseball in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, this decision is one that I have seriously considered and strongly desired since I was elected commissioner six years ago."

This will come as a surprise to Wendy, who two months ago was insisting that her family had no interest in relinquishing control of the club. It will also come as a surprise to the prospective investors approached by the Brewers throughout 2003, many of whom backed away because, as one told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "board members did not want to accept outside investment that threatened Selig's control of the team."

Backed into a corner and unable to postpone the unpleasant reality any longer, the Commissioner now says he's wanted out for years. Sure.

Update: More details: Unnamed MLB sources have valued the Brewers at $180-$200 million, including the club's estimated $110 million debt. Bud Selig owns 26% of the club. The Brewers' 30-year lease at Miller Park, described as "ironclad" by Wendy Selig-Prieb, runs through 2031.

January 16, 2004: Cubs Ticket Scalping Decision Now Available for Download. LINK

I've posted a .PDF copy of Judge Sophia Hall's decision in the Cubs' ticket scalping case here.

January 16, 2004: Rivals Line Up for Stadium Showdown. LINK

Yesterday was Stadium Day in Minnesota, with 26 individuals and groups filing proposals for a new Twins or Vikings stadium. Only two of the ballpark proposals are being taken seriously, one from Minneapolis and one for St. Paul.

The Minneapolis proposal is outlined below. It faces two special obstacles: a Minneapolis referendum has limited the city's contribution to $10 million, so most of the money would have to come from the county, and the park wouls be constructed directly next to a garbage incinerator.

St. Paul would spend up to $520 million on a retractable-roofed park: $40 million from the Twins; a $180 million state loan to be repaid by the Twins' rent over 30 years; $214 million from the city, to come from parking surcharges, game-day revenue and a 3% bar and restaurant tax that will encourage St. Paul residents to eat and drink in Minneapolis; $46 million from a 2.7% Hennepin and Ramsey County car rental tax; $34 million in private bonds and $6 million from the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.

January 15, 2004: Summary of Quarterly Owners' Meeting. LINK

Ronald Blum of the Associated Press summarizes the action at the quarterly owners' meeting:
  • MLB remains interested in a baseball World Cup in the spring of 2005, but nothing's been decided yet.
  • Peter Angelos and Peter Magowan have replaced Bill Bartholomay and Carl Pohlad on MLB's eight-member Executive Council.
  • The planned worldwide amateur draft remains on hold, without the support of a majority of owners.
  • For purposes of establishing draft order in the amateur draft and Rule 5 draft, and for claiming players off outright waivers, the standings of clubs in the two leagues will be combined. Instead of alternating picks between the leagues, all 30 clubs will pick in inverse order of their records.
  • Players who falsify their name, age or other material information on their contracts will face a one-year suspension.
  • The bereavement leave (of up to seven days) has been made permanent, and other minor rules have been modified.

January 15, 2004: Expos to Relocate in Time for 2005. LINK

Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com reports that at a press conference following today's owners' meeting, Commissioner Selig declared, "contraction is off the table." He expects the Expos to have a new home for the 2005 season, but reiterated Bob DuPuy's insistence that the winning bidder had to have a stadium in place.

According to Bloom, MLB has invested nearly $200 million in the Expos, including the original $120 million purchase price. That suggests operating losses of close to $40 million/year -- or $120 million more which would have to be sustained before MLB could contract the club.

January 15, 2004: MLB Won't Budge on Stadium. LINK

MLB President Bob DuPuy remains adamant that the cities seeking the Expos commit to a stadium financing plan before MLB relocates the club. To maximize MLB's leverage, DuPuy told the press that MLB's relocation committee "did not recommend the elimination of any candidate at this point." Current candidates include Washington, D.C.; northern Virginia; Portland; Las Vegas; Hampton Roads, Virginia; Monterrey, Mexico; and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

January 15, 2004: Sale of the Dodgers Is Not a Done Deal. LINK

Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times reports that Frank McCourt's $430 million bid for the Dodgers still faces lingering doubts about McCourt's finances. One anonymous "high-ranking official" says that while McCourt is worth $400 million, MLB remains worried about his liquidity. "He may have to put up some of his own money," rather than financing the entire deal through loans.

Commissioner Selig insists the debt rules won't be waived for the Dodgers:

"Rules are rules, and there are no exceptions. We have very stringent ownership rules that are for everyone's protection and they will be fastidiously and aggressively applied. We need the Dodgers to be the Dodgers; they're one of our flagship franchises, but we have to be positive they'll be operated in a manner that their fans deserve."

If that's the case, why is McCourt's bid still being considered at all when it's apparent that he's borrowing virtually all of the money? Newhan speculates it's to please News Corp. Even if the deal doesn't go through, Selig wants MLB's largest business partner to believe that he did all he could to push it.

January 14, 2004: Marvin Miller to deliver Keynote Speech at 2004 SABR Convention. LINK

The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) announced today that former MLBPA head Marvin Miller will deliver the keynote speech at SABR's 2004 annual convention. The convention will be held in Cincinnati from July 15-18; Miller will speak on the 17th.

Hope to see many of you there!

January 14, 2004: Hennepin County OKs Outline for Financing Stadium. LINK

By a 4-3 vote, the Hennepin County Board approved what the Minneapolis Star Tribune described as a "vague and nonbinding resolution" to fund a new ballpark for the Twins. Under the proposal, the county would bear $308 million of the estimated $535 million cost of a new retractable-roofed facility. The Twins would pay $120 million, the State of Minnesota $100 million and the city of Minneapolis $7 million. The details are here.

Before anything can be built, (1) the state legislature must authorize the local government to negotiate with the Twins; (2) the legislature must approve the state's portion of the funding; (3) the Twins and the county must approve a site; and (4) the Hennepin County Board must approve a tax package sufficient to cover the $25-$27 million annual cost of stadium bonds.

January 13, 2004: Major League Baseball Comes to Hampton Roads. LINK

MLB's relocation committee visited Norfolk, Virginia yesterday. The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot has the details, including that Wendy Selig-Prieb missed her flight and arrived hours after the rest of the delegation.

Everyone said just what you'd expect, with MLB claiming to be impressed and the locals feeling optimistic about attracting the Expos. The locals think they can overcome the region's relatively low population by forming a regional sports television network covering Virginia, North Carolina and part of South Carolina. Promoter William Somerindyke Jr. claims to have "proprietary technology that will allow us to build a regional sports network unlike one that’s been done before."

January 13, 2004: Selig Honored by Red Sox. LINK

Oh, where to begin? For starters, the headline is wrong. Selig wasn't honored by the Red Sox, but by the Boston baseball writers at their annual dinner.

He received the "Judge Emil Fuchs Memorial Award for his long and meritorious service to the game." A review of Judge Fuchs' baseball career confirms that no one else not associated with the Devil Rays could be more deserving.

Fuchs bought the Braves in 1923 and controlled them through 1935. Over those thirteen seasons the club posted a .411 winning percentage. They never finished higher than fourth, and played 38-115 (.248) ball in Fuchs' final season. By then the Braves were so far in debt that before the season, Fuchs tried and failed to win NL approval to hold pari-mutuel dog races at Braves Field. After the season the NL declared the franchise forfeited to the league for failure to fulfill its contractual obligations "over an extended period of time," and Fuchs lost the club to his creditors.

Finally, Selig backed away from his pledge to retire when his term expires in 2006:

"I said before when someone asked me that when my contract ends I'm going to be 72. I've done this a lot longer than I thought I would do it. As far as I'm concerned, that would be it. Since then, I've had a lot of people say to me, 'please don't make any more definitive statements like that'. So you know what? I'll do them all a favor and I won't make any more."

January 12, 2004: Cubs, Rooftop Bleacher Owners Reach Agreement. LINK

The owners of 11 of the 13 buildings across from Wrigley Field whose owners sell rooftop tickets to Cubs games have struck a deal with the club. They have agreed to pay the Cubs 17% of their gross revenue for the next 20 years, in return for dismissal of the Cubs' lawsuit against them and the implicit promise from the Cubs not to block their view. The Cubs have agreed to compensate the building owners if any new bleachers constructed during the next eight years obstruct the view from their buildings.

Two building owners have rejected the deal and will take their chances in court. The Cubs' suit, filed in December 2002, charges the owners with stealing the club's product, copyright infringement and unjust enrichment.

January 12, 2004: The Deal Pete Rose Didn't Take. LINK

John Dowd, MLB's special investigator into Pete Rose's gambling, writes in the Washington Post that Rose is even more of a buffoon than formerly realized.

Dowd and Giamatti offered Rose a deal in 1989. If he admitted to having bet on baseball, stopped gambling and successfully completed a rehabilitation, not only would he have been readmitted to MLB with full eligibility for the Hall of Fame, but the Justice Department would have agreed not to prosecute him for criminal tax evasion so long as he paid the full amount due.

According to Dowd, Rose's own criminal attorney pleaded with him to take the deal. Rose and his agent refused, with the agent saying that "Pete was a legend and would not admit to any of the allegations." Even now, Rose makes excuses for everything he's done, refuses to admit that he has a gambling problem and says he won't stop gambling. He's lost considerable public support and given Commissioner Selig every reason to keep his sorry ass out of baseball forever.

January 12, 2004: Marlins Weigh Choices, Look at Stadium Financing. LINK

Sarah Talalay of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel describes the Marlins' options. They include the new stadium plan announced in October; a new park built adjacent to, and sharing a common wall with, the Orange Bowl; Don King's bizarre suggestion for a park in Palm Beach County; and a new proposal from some enthusiastic, if not entirely rational, backers in Fort Lauderdale.

This group, "Friends of the Marlins," thinks it can expand a 43-year-old, 8,340-seat spring training park to major league standards for $200 million of private money. No local government officials have supported their proposal and, as Talalay notes, their original proposal double-counts some of the private money. Undaunted, spokesman Chuck Malkus uses a lot of words to say nothing:

"What was announced encouraged key players to step forward and indicate their support and their expertise for what needs to be done. There will be information that is viable and everyone will be able to understand in 45 days."

George W. Bush will balance the federal budget before the "Friends of the Marlins" build a ballpark.

January 12, 2004: Selig Denies Playing Favorites. LINK

In an interview with Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe, Selig glories in the role he played selecting the current owners of the Boston Red Sox:

"I am a very active commissioner, but the commissioners in all sports are very aggressive, and play significant roles in choosing new ownership. Whether it's the Dodgers or the Red Sox, there is no more critical or viable role for a commissioner than helping to determine who owns the clubs. There's no question about it. At some point you've got to make a judgment. Do I have any trepidation about that? No."

But there's one little problem here. As a matter of state law, Yawkey Trust administrator John Harrington was obligated to obtain the highest possible price for the Sox. Selig's meddling, described as a "bag job" by the Massachusetts Attorney General, cheated Bay State charities out of more than $50 million.

If the Commissioner really has to intervene to this degree, I know a franchise that desperately needs outside intervention. It's riddled with debt, devoid of talent at the major league level, squandered the extra revenues from its new stadium, and its current ownership has alienated elected officials and the entire local community. How about finding a buyer for the Brewers, Bud?

January 12, 2004: Dodger Sale Is Set for an OK. LINK

Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times reports that MLB is likely to approve Frank McCourt's purchase of the Dodgers, but not in time for this week's owners' meeting.

Newhan also writes that the protracted process has left "no indication [Dodger GM Dan] Evans has the financial freedom he and others in the organization claim he has."

His colleague Bill Shaikin goes further, reporting that Commissioner Selig may personally have prevented the Dodgers from bidding for Vlad Guerrero:

With major league owners scheduled to vote this month on whether to approve the bid of would-be Dodger buyer Frank McCourt, a source said Sunday that McCourt asked Commissioner Bud Selig whether some owners might vote against him if he spent freely to acquire Guerrero yet presented a financing package heavily dependent on loans. Selig offered no assurances, the source said, and McCourt sent word to General Manager Dan Evans to cease talks with Guerrero.

Across the continent, the Boston Globe reports that McCourt may be raising more cash for his bid by auctioning the Dodgers' concession rights. The current deals expire after the 2004 season; new ones could be worth $50 million or more to McCourt.

Andrew Zimbalist emphasizes that MLB's debt rules mean nothing so long as Selig is the one deciding when, or if, to enforce them:

"If he didn't want McCourt to own the Dodgers, he would assert the rule. The rule is implemented at the discretion of Selig -- on a case by case basis or whether to apply it at all. Any notion that McCourt can't do this because he's borrowing too much from Fox is not right. Selig can do what he wants."

January 12, 2004: MLB Explores Monterrey, Mexico. LINK

Here's the MLB.com account of the Extortion Across North America Tour's trip to Monterrey, Mexico. The locals are interested in a major league team, but won't commit without a "test run" of major league games. Carlos Bremer, spokesman for the Monterrey group, says he probably wouldn't bid for the Expos or commit to a new stadium before 2006 at the earliest.

Meanwhile, write down these words from MLB's CFO, Jonathan Mariner:

"We are confident will be able to find a permanent home for the Expos in 2005. We have already had a partnership with the owners in Major League Baseball since 2002 and we are looking to find a outright new home for the team. We're optimistic some one will buy the Montreal franchise."

January 11, 2004: Miami Proposes Linking Ballpark to Orange Bowl. LINK

The Miami Herald reports that Miami may build a baseball-only stadium seating 35,000-40,000 fans next to a renovated Orange Bowl. The $375 million project would include a "premium seating tower" between the two facilities, usable for games in either.

Miami officials think the Marlins have grossly underestimated the cost of the retractable-domed park they want. They believe it would cost closer to $500 million than the $325 million budgeted by the club.

Here's Sarah Talalay's take on the proposal for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

January 9, 2004: Morioka vs. Major League Baseball: Not a Pretty Picture. LINK

The English-language Japan Times interviews Juri Morioka, the woman who's suing MLB for $3.4 million, alleging racial harassment. Even if everything she says is true, she doesn't have much of a claim for damages, but MLB should certainly consider firing her former boss, Russell Gabay of MLB International.

January 8, 2004: Thune Flexible on Twins Stadium Deal. LINK

Newly elected St. Paul council member Dave Thune may be the swing vote on a proposal to limit the city's contribution to a new ballpark to 2.5% of construction costs. That would effectively cap St. Paul's share at about $10 million. An alternate plan could raise up to $90 million through a bar and restaurant tax.

Meanwhile in Minneapolis, Randy Johnson, new chairman of the Hennepin County Board, called the Twins' offer of $120 million "laughably low." The Twins had offered this amount several years ago in connection with a stadium plan expected to cost $100 million less than the current proposal.

January 8, 2004: Baseball Panel to Scout Out Norfolk Region. LINK

The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot reports that MLB will be surveying the area on Monday to evaluate its prospects as a relocation candidate for the Expos.

Answering the question of what she's been up to since Daddy took her baseball team away, First Daughter Wendy Selig-Prieb will be part of the delegation. So will John McHale, MLB's Executive Vice President, and Jonathan Mariner, Executive Vice President-Finance.

Norfolk claims it can build a major league stadium for $300 million. If it received the Expos, pending completion of the new park they would play in Norfolk's AAA facility, Harbor Park, which could be enlarged to a whopping 18,000 seats. (Hey, if they'd accept the Devil Rays instead of the Expos, a new stadium could be indefinitely postponed.)

Norfolk Mayor Paul D. Fraim optimistically notes that 3,000,000 people live within a two-hour drive. Unfortunately, a million of these people live roughly 90 miles away in Richmond -- too far for most of them to drive for the midweek night games that make up the majority of a club's home schedule.

MLB is also visiting Monterrey, Mexico, which had bid for the 22 2004 Expos home games which were ultimately awarded to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

January 6, 2004: Minnesota Twins Unveil New Ballpark Plan. LINK

This MLB.com link has lots of information about the Twins' proposed new park, including a team-prepared "Q & A" which modestly describes the Metrodome as "one of the two worst baseball facilities in Major League Baseball by a considerable margin" and claims the Twins sustained cash losses of more than $10 million/year in 2002 and 2003, as well as a press release touting the Twins' "Ballpark of the Imagination."

The proposed new park, which the club claims can be constructed on any of the likely sites, would be a 42,000-seat, retractable-domed, baseball-only park with natural grass. As compared to the Metrodome, it would appear to offer a much better experience for the fans.

Unfortunately, the "Ballpark of the Imagination" won't be funded by imaginary dollars, but largely by Minnesota taxpayers. The park is projected to cost $430-$450 million, plus up to $70 million for infrastructure improvements; the Twins are willing to pay $250 million over 30 years in the form of rent, or $120 million upfront, plus operating expenses. But they don't want the local voters to have a say:

"The Twins do not believe it is appropriate for a local referendum to determine the fate of a statewide attraction. State legislators frequently make difficult economic and financial decisions on behalf of their constituents. The Twins believe the decision regarding the direction of Major League Baseball in Minnesota can best be determined by state legislators and interested host communities."

January 6, 2004: If Rose Gets Past His Past, Will Joe Jackson Be Reconsidered?. LINK

No. No. A thousand times no. Pete Rose is a liar, an egomaniac, a compulsive gambler and a walking argument for euthanasia, but I'd reinstate him fifty times over before giving Joe Jackson the time of day.

Pete Rose bet on his own team to win. Joe Jackson accepted $5,000 to throw the World Series. Even when he was eligible for the Hall of Fame, the writers who saw him play, unburdened by nostalgic whitewashing and able to distinguish fact from fiction, never gave him more than two votes for the Hall. Let him rot.

As for Pete, his old buddy Tommy Gioiosa says he's still lying when he says he didn't place bets from the clubhouse. For a refresher on Rose's character, here's Gerald Posner's lengthy article from 1990, based on interviews with Rose crony Paul Janszen.

January 6, 2004: Rose Finally Admits Betting on Baseball. LINK

Having spent the past 14 years loudly denying that he ever bet on baseball, Pete Rose now admits what all but his blindest acolytes already knew. Rose did bet on baseball. He did bet on the Reds in games he managed. So now he's an admitted liar as well as an admitted gambler -- yet he still thinks he's above the game. Even his hometown newspaper isn't buying his new line.

Rose whines, "I just never had the opportunity to tell anybody that was going to help me." Is that why he kept lying for more than a decade? Is that why he kept denying he had a problem? Is that why he still contends, "Right or wrong, the punishment didn't fit the crime -- so I denied the crime"?

No, Pete. The punishment does fit the crime. There's no "Hit King" exception to the gambling rules. As Tom Seaver told the New York Daily News: "Where is the standard where the rule no longer applies? Three thousand hits? Three hundred wins? If the commissioner wants Pete in the Hall of Fame, then change the rule."

As Fay Vincent said upon reading the excerpts from Rose's book:

"There's no sense of regret, no sense of shame, no sense of the damage he did to baseball. I guess I'm really disgusted. I think the whole thing is a sordid, miserable story. It's sort of like turning over a stone -- you see a lot of maggots, and it's not very pretty."

On the day when the Hall of Fame announces its Class of 2004 and baseball mourns the loss of Tug McGraw to brain cancer, the sports page is dominated yet again by the exploits of Pete Rose, Human Cancer Cell.

January 1, 2004: Sale Is Put on Owners' Agenda. LINK

Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times reports that Frank McCourt's bid for the Dodgers has been added to the agenda of the January 14-15 ownership meeting. McCourt needs the approval of three-fourths of the owners, which may prove impossible even with Czar Bud in full "I Am the Law" mode.

The Commissioner reportedly wants the deal to close as a favor to the Dodgers' current owner, News Corp. News Corp. owns the FOX network, MLB's TV partner, and the various Fox Sports outlets which carry most clubs' local cablecasts. As one anonymous insider told Newhan, "I think the ownership committee would have already thrown out the McCourt proposal if any other entity than News Corp. was involved."

With good reason. In flagrant disregard of MLB's debt rules, McCourt plans to borrow nearly the entire purchase price. Bank of America and News Corp. would loan him big chunks of money, and Aramark, the Dodgers' concessionaire, would receive equity in return for charging the club less for concessions. Even under McCourt's own optimistic projections, the deal would violate MLB's debt rules, and would continue to do so for years to come.

Waiving the debt rules for the Dodgers would create yet another conflict of interest for Selig. How long would the waiver last? Could the Dodgers be forced to slash scouting and player development expenses to improve their short-term bottom line? Nobody knows, except the Commissioner/ Brewers owner/de facto owner of the Expos. With effective control of one club in each NL division, how long before Bud decided to add a few AL clubs to his portfolio?

On the bright side, as of today the Commissioner's term has less than three years to run.

Earlier Entries:

December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
February-March 2003

All otherwise-uncredited content on this page is copyright © 2004 by Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.