Roger Magnuson: The Bud Selig of the Law

Harry Truman once described Richard Nixon as "one of the few men who could talk out of both sides of his mouth and lie out of both sides." If Nixon were still alive, he'd be working for Major League Baseball.

During his Congressional testimony, Bud Selig repeatedly assured skeptical questioners that "You have all the statements, all the numbers" needed to substantiate MLB's claim to have lost $519 million in 2001 despite record-high revenues. With his next breath, he refused to allow Steve Fehr, appearing on behalf of the MLBPA, to discuss numbers not provided to Congress but furnished to the MLBPA in confidence.

In fact, even as the MLB publicity machine was churning out its tales of woe, its chief labor lawyer, Rob Manfredi, was warning the MLBPA: "Major League Baseball and its member clubs will pursue all available legal remedies, including the recovery of damages for any and all losses it and/or they may sustain, in the event the MLBPA violates its obligation to maintain the confidentiality of information in the MLBPA's possession."

Gee, do you think Bud may have something to hide? Insulting the intelligence of a Congressional committee isn't the smartest idea -- especially since the Senate plans hearings of its own for next spring. And the Senate hearings won't be chaired by a sympathetic Congressman from Wisconsin, either.

But even Selig's nonsense pales by comparison to the steaming pile of horse droppings served to a Minnesota appellate court by Roger Magnuson, the attorney hired to break the Twins' stadium lease so the team could be killed.

Magnuson whined that "No other decision forced a business to shoulder the burden of continued operation, merely so that the public can enjoy a ballgame." He shrieked that by holding the Twins to the terms of the lease they signed, the stadium commission "derides the free market system, blasts the fundamental policies of free enterprise and private ownership, and assures this court that government knows best."

He must be saving "desecrates the memory of victims of September 11 and gives aid and comfort to Osama Bin Laden" for the reply brief. Once he wipes the foam from his mouth, perhaps Mr. Magnuson could review the terms of the Twins' lease -- specifically, the provision which states:

"If the Team ceases to play major league professional baseball games for any reason, the Team shall have breached this Agreement and will be liable for such remedies as may be available to the commission at law or in equity, including, but not limited to injunctive relief, and orders for specific performance requiring the Team to play its Home Games at the Stadium during the Term hereof."

Then he can ask his clients why, less than six weeks before the contraction announcement, the Twins notified Metrodome officials on September 26 that they were exercising their option to play there in 2002. Without that notice, the Twins would have had no obligation at all to play in the Metrodome, or anywhere else, in 2002. No one in Minnesota would have had any right to block contraction -- just as the stadium authority will be powerless to block contraction when the lease expires after the 2002 season. The only "injustice" is the court's refusal to adopt the Magnuson Principle: "All contracts between private parties and governmental entities are voidable at the discretion of the private party."

At most, Magnuson asserts, the Metrodome is entitled to the money it would have received under the lease. This argument should be a warning to residents and local officials in every other market where MLB has abused its monopoly power to extort a taxpayer-subsidized stadium: the more generous your subsidy, the easier it will be for the team to break the lease. If MLB's argument is accepted, a team that signs a 30-year lease on a new $250 million park for $1/year could break that lease after ten years merely by paying the park owner $20.

In fact, taxpayer-funded stadia provide an especially strong argument for enforcing the literal terms of a lease through specific performance. Local governments don't build ballparks as investments. They build them, and subsidize the teams playing there, to assure their residents of a local team to root for. Teams use every emotional trick in the book to persuade the locals to build them new parks, then argue that even signed stadium leases create no obligation to their benefactors.

There's one legal way for the Twins, or any other business, to void contracts it doesn't like. All it needs to do is file for bankruptcy and obtain the approval of a bankruptcy court. This method should be quite familiar to Commissioner Bud: it's how he whisked the former Seattle Pilots to Milwaukee a week before the start of the 1970 season. But a bankruptcy filing (a) would require real financial disclosures, not the kind stage-managed by MLB, and (b) would require the Twins to show that they were actually insolvent. Don't hold your breath...

...unless you're downwind of an MLB propagandist. With or without law degrees, they're Superfund sites in the making.

[Another note about Mr. Magnuson: this partner at one of Minneapolis's most prestigious law firms is also the dean of something called the "Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy," an unaccredited correspondence-course "law school" which claims that America's Founding Fathers "attempted to create a legal system based on the fixed and unchanging principles of the Bible," teaches students to "analyze and critique the law from a Biblical perspective," and grandly proclaims that "Christians are commanded by Scripture to abstain from all forms of compromise with unbelief." This would explain Magnuson's hysterical tone, as well as his nodding acquaintance with reality. But does he know that Bud Selig's Jewish?]

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