Why is it that when an athlete does something bad, he or she has to apologize in some humiliating way to the media and to fans yet when the lords of the realm do something wrong — the owners of sports — they just go on their way with no apologies?
Ryan Braun, according to various media reports, is calling Milwaukee Brewers season ticket holders to say he is sorry for taking something that was put on Major League Baseball’s banned substance list. Apparently there is enough of a deal in place between Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) that protects some privacy.
No one publicly knows what Braun took, but this much is known: Braun will be vilified by fans (actually “customers” in that sports owners don’t want fans in their buildings because they don’t have the same financial wherewithal to spend money unlike customers who will buy big ticket items like luxury boxes and club seats, use in stadium/in arena restaurants, purchase expensive merchandise, and use valet parking) and what is left of the dwindling numbers of sport “journalists” who will not forgive Braun for desecrating Major League Baseball’s good name.
Braun is the Hester Prynne of Major League Baseball at the moment. He is wearing a scarlet letter, although unlike the protagonist in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” who was forced to wear an “A” for adulterer, so far no one has suggested what letter should be added to Braun’s Milwaukee Brewers jersey.
Funny how that goes.
Braun has to attempt to escape pariah status while the former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and present day Major League Baseball Commissioner Allen (Bud) Selig is in a legacy stage of his career. He is now the meanest and toughest Major League Baseball Commissioner since Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis ridded Major League Baseball of a gambling problem in 1920.
Selig is cleaning up an industry that apparently began a renaissance thanks to performance enhancing drugs following the 1994-95 baseball players’ strike. Selig and his owners had no idea that players were bulking up and hitting home runs, which was a key to baseball’s revival.
That all came tumbling down starting in 2003 when International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge got mad at Selig and MLBPA Executive Director Donald Fehr for failing to allow bulked-up MLB stars to compete in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Rogge started complaining to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) about Major League Baseball’s drug testing policy.
In 2005, former MLB outfielder and designated hitter Jose Canseco authored a book about steroids usage in baseball and went on the CBS TV show “60 Minutes” to sell it. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives decided that this was a matter of national interest, and held a hearing on steroid usage in baseball. Some of the sitting representatives also posed with players for pictures and got autographs before the March 17, 2005 hearings on drug use in baseball.
Baseball was shamed into a stiff drug policy that included stepped-up testing.
There is a very fair question that is never asked by the people who fawn all over baseball—baseball writers and reporters. Who has inflicted more damage on Major League Baseball? Ryan Braun of Bud Selig.
The answer is Selig by a country mile, nautical mile or just a plain old mile.
Selig was one of the 26 Major League owners found guilty of collusion in an attempt to bring down baseball players’ salaries in the mid and late 1980s. The collusion act cost the owners $280 million in damages in 1990 after an arbitrator ruled against the owners and in favor of the players. Selig and his fellow owners scripted and manipulated the 1990 MLB lockout.
Selig and his owners shut down baseball in 1994, depriving fans of the 1994 playoffs and World Series because the owners didn’t bother to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, which might have averted a players’ strike. In the spring of 1995, a New York judge, the Honorable Sonia Sotomayor (now a Supreme Court Justice), found Selig and the 27 Major League Baseball owners guilty of bad faith bargaining and forced the owners to negotiate with the players and ended the 1994-95 baseball strike.
In 1997, Selig lobbied for a new Brewers stadium in Milwaukee and got it. State legislators and then-Governor Tommy Thompson approved a small sales tax hike in Milwaukee County and four surrounding counties to pay for the stadium. Selig claimed he needed the stadium, which would have major revenue generators inside the building, to compete with other MLBl teams to pay for talent.
In 2003, three years after the stadium opened, Selig’s Brewers jettisoned high-price talent. Apparently the Acting Commissioner’s family could not afford to pay the going rate for players, even though Selig promised the Wisconsin legislature that a new stadium would be a financial panacea.
That new Milwaukee stadium funding plan cost Wisconsin Senator George Petak his elected office. Petak, whose “yes” to the funding plan was the decisive vote, was recalled from office soon after Thompson put his signature on the legislation that allowed public funding for a private business’s new headquarters. Petak lost the recall election.
The Brewers stadium was slated to cost taxpayers $400 million. It is estimated when all is said and done and the sales tax is retired in 2017, the real cost of the ballpark will approach one billion dollars.
Selig has never been backed into a corner by sportswriters; he apologized for the collusion, the 1990 scripted lockout, the 1994-95 strike which was ended by a judge throwing the book at Selig and his cohorts, the 1997 legislative lobbying deception, or throwing Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott out of baseball for insensitive comments and some problems with her car agency sales in 1997 (she sold the team and technically was never banned from baseball) yet turning the other way when it came to the New York Mets in his role as baseball commissioner.
The New York Mets franchise is owned by Fred Wilpon, Saul Katz and Jeffery Wilpon. In the real world of high crimes and misdemeanors, Fred Wilpon did something; he had to have done something bad in associating with financier Bernie Madoff. Wilpon has been ordered to pay $132 million in restitution to Madoff’s victims in Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
Just what Wilpon’s role in the Madoff fraud was is unknown but Wilpon was neck-deep in trouble. Wilpon sold a piece of his team to a hedge fund operator named Steve Cohen who now has four percent of the Mets. The Security and Exchange Commission is now investigating Cohen’s company for failing to supervise two employees and prevent insider trading.
Wilpon still owns the Mets; Cohen is still his partner. If Selig had any integrity he would use the Best Interests of Baseball clause to kick out Wilpon and Cohen in much the same way the Lords of the Ream ditched Schott and Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.
But Fred Wilpon is a good old boy and has logged 33 years in baseball. He is one of Selig’s friends and Selig isn’t lowering the boom on the Wilpons and Katz and Cohen. There will be no apologies from Selig for keeping Wilpon (who seemingly has let the Mets franchise rot) in the game.
Selig does have his eye on the situation though. Somehow one of Selig’s most trusted employees, Sandy Alderson, ended up running the Mets. Selig has Alderson and another senior executive around to help him out with troubled franchises like San Diego and the Mets. Stan Kasten was a part of the winning ownership group that got the Washington Nationals, and Kasten somehow was with the winning group who got the Los Angeles Dodgers after baseball had enough of McCourt and his Jamie McCourt, which included the Dodgers franchise.
Then there is Jeffrey Loria. Loria bought into the Montreal Expos franchise in 1999, through a series of quirks; he ended up as the majority owner and immediately started pressing the financially sapped city and the province of Quebec for a new stadium. The stadium plan went nowhere and in 2002, Major League Baseball orchestrated a deal that saw Florida Marlins owner John Henry sell his Florida Marlins to Loria, who sold the Expos franchise to MLB.
Henry was free to buy the Boston Red Sox, a franchise that became available following the death of Jean Yawkey. There was a problem, though. The Yawkey Trust put the franchise, Fenway Park and the Red Sox ownership share of the New England Sports Network to bid. Henry lost the bid to Dr. John McMullen and Charles Dolan. Somehow despite the bidding requirements, Henry ended up with the Red Sox and the Massachusetts Attorney general looked the other way and carved out a deal that allowed Henry to get the franchise, stadium and TV network.
Loria eventually got a new stadium for the Florida Marlins in Miami but there is an investigation of just how the stadium funding plan was passed. It’s an ongoing investigation—allegedly—as the stadium was built and is being used for baseball.
One of the theories concerning the Red Sox sale manipulation was that the ownerless Expos and the Minnesota Twins could be contracted ridding baseball of two problem franchises. Twins owner Carl Pohlad could not get a stadium built in Minneapolis and Baseball Commissioner Selig was going to do him a favor. Contract the team. Selig, as Brewers owner, took some loans from Pohlad, the Minnesota banker. Conflict of interest?
At that time, Major League Baseball was negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the players association, so there were all sorts of rumors in the air.
Selig contended that six to eight teams were on the verge of going out of business, and 18 of its 30 franchises have been considered candidates for contraction. It was a world where baseball officials admit that they are using Kmart as a business role model.
In April, 2002, Major League Baseball’s chief operating officer, Bob Dupuy, told the Washington Post, “One thing the commissioner felt he could do unilaterally was to close plants. Kmart filed for bankruptcy and closed, what 280 out of 2,000 — not because they wanted to close 210 stores, but to let 2,000 other stores survive. That’s essentially the theory behind contraction.”
Baseball was no different than Kmart.
Selig never has to say he’s sorry. The players do. It’s accepted though. The owners are awesome, the players are lucky to have a job. Yet the “fans” pay to watch them not Selig or Wilpon or Loria. Braun has to apologize and that’s good enough. Selig will go into Major League Baseball’s Valhalla one day because of his service to baseball and have a plaque in Cooperstown and the players? They are fortunate to be employed and cheered by fans.
It’s a Kafka world.
Evan Weiner, the United States Sports Academy’s 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award winner, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He has written several e-books on sports, including, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition,” which is available at www.bickley.com and Amazon.com.