WASHINGTON -- Next Thursday, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig, Gov. Jesse Ventura of Minnesota and, perhaps, someone from the players' union will testify before the House Judiciary Committee.
Please, let's not waste this golden opportunity!
Throw out the desks, the chairs and the microphones. Empty the congressional hearing room and bring in a wrestling cage.
Then stick Selig, the owners' mouthpiece, and whomever the union chooses to do its talking in the cage with The Body Politic.
Lock the door and don't open it until Jesse, the former pro wrestler, has straightened out a few things.
Jesse, they're all yours. Don't let them out until they agree to leave the Twins in Minnesota, move the Expos to Washington and sign a new labor contract.
Why give the job to Jesse? Because that's the only way it will get done. A hammerlock and a flying turnbuckle body slam might be the only solution to baseball's current silliness. Baseball has always understood a choke hold better than a slap on the back.
In a string of inanities since Selig became commissioner, baseball has had few periods of counterproductive bumbling that can match the three weeks since the World Series.
Selig came out of an owners' meeting two days after the Series and dropped a bomb. The owners had voted unanimously to "contract" -- eliminate two teams before next season. This was announced as a brilliant fait accompli. A done deal.
Details? Like which teams would die? What the union might think about the idea? What lawsuits might complicate matters? Whether Congress might get mad enough to review baseball's antitrust exemption and drag Bud up to Capitol Hill to testify?
Don't worry. That would all be worked out.
At the moment, contraction -- at least by next season -- is already on the rocks. It's not quite DOA, but close. Selig says otherwise, but the whole idea has collapsed of its own pompous weight and poor planning.
What has been accomplished by this contraction gambit?
First, the union is furious. After six years of public sweet talk about how the strike of 1994 taught everybody a lesson, the owners appear to have been planning to play hardball all along.
Some hitters can be intimidated by a knockdown pitch. Others, such as Frank Robinson, get out of the dirt, stand even closer to the plate and rip the next pitch over the fence. Of such players, it is said, "Let him sleep."
The players' union was napping nicely. Now it is wide awake and crowding the plate. Grievances are flying. Arbitrators have been mobilized. Somebody alert the National Labor Relations Board.
"This ensures that negotiations get off to a terrible start," said one baseball insider who is a friend of Selig's. "Maybe that's what they want."
Oh, no, not that battle plan again. It would be 1994 all over again? Anger the union. Claim publicly (as the owners are doing) that they won't lock the players out. Then, in this hostile atmosphere, declare an impasse, impose new work rules and, in essence, dare the union to strike. Been there, done that.
"If you said they threw a dead mackerel in our face, that would be pretty close to the truth," a union source said Thursday. "It's possible their strategy is the same (as '94). But the scarier question is, 'Do they have a strategy at all?' Or are they just playing it day by day?"
It's not just the union that's angry. Lawsuits and temporary restraining orders in Minnesota have reached a point at which it's virtually certain the Twins will stay put for another year. The Twins are having a terrible time getting out of their lease. Why? Because, on Sept. 26, they blundered by signing an option to play the '02 season in the Metrodome. That's just six weeks before the contraction bomb. Maybe baseball's right hand really doesn't know what its left hand is doing.
Congress is stirred up, too. There's a bill now to kill baseball's antitrust exemption as it pertains to relocations and contraction. In essence, it would cause a land rush to put a team here. Hence, Selig's appearance next week to explain himself and his Boyz.
"Unilateral contraction, coupled with refusing to look at relocation (to Washington), certainly looks like an abuse of the antitrust exemption," said a former big league executive Thursday. "They're bringing a lot of attention to a touchy subject."
With George W. Bush -- a former owner -- occupying the White House, it's unlikely baseball would lose its antitrust exemption. Baseball's owners seem to be banking on it -- blatantly.
To top off the fiasco, the owners met again this week and extended Selig's contract for three years to 2006. On one hand, they were showing support for a leader who was under fire coast to coast. On the other hand, at his news conference, Selig named three owners who would put his name forward. They were the three owners that the union considers most hard line.
All of this, especially the owners' horrific timing, has left the baseball world stunned. Within two days of perhaps the greatest Series ever, Selig and his owners managed to do enormous damage to the image of the game and the commissionership. And the stink has gotten stronger.
So what's probably going to happen?
There will be no contraction in 2002. Free agent Jason Giambi will sign with somebody for $125 million. Negotiations on a new labor contract will drag on until this time next year. The union is content with the status quo.
And Washington's chances of getting a team are now slightly worse and surely somewhat delayed.
Next week, when baseball comes to Washington to pitch its case to Congress, listen carefully. Decide for yourself whether this game pays more attention to pleasantries or to power.
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