SBJ/November 5 - 11, 2001/Opinion

Virginia’s pitch to MLB way wild and outside

Northern Virginia has been working for years to land a Major League Baseball team, and to no effect. Perhaps it's understandable that the region's advocates are frustrated at their lack of progress. But that's no excuse for the local congressional delegation to try to leverage the tragic events of Sept. 11 to benefit their cause.

Five federal lawmakers who represent northern Virginia wrote MLB Commissioner Bud Selig late last month asking that baseball locate a team in the region essentially out of patriotic duty — to pay tribute to those killed in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. The letter proposes building a ballpark near the Pentagon or Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport as "a national landmark ballpark" and dedicating the site as "a lasting memorial to American freedom and to the men and women of our armed forces who gave their lives in its defense on Sept. 11."

That, sirs, crosses the line.

Thousands of people were killed in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and it cheapens the horror of that day to use it in an attempt to sway baseball's decision makers. To suggest that Selig and baseball's owners are unpatriotic if they don't provide a team is irresponsible; this has nothing to do with patriotism.

Baseball's economic woes are well-known, and its management has some critical decisions to make. They will be based on business rationale. Underline the word business.

Selig on the eve of the World Series restated that contraction by two teams remains an option, even though markets such as Virginia and Washington argue for relocation of troubled franchises. Whatever evidence northern Virginia can muster in support of its desire for a franchise was equally valid on Sept. 10; nothing has changed that would make the area more or less suited for baseball.

The letter to Selig carries an implicit suggestion that Congress might re-examine baseball's antitrust exemption if the pitch for a Virginia franchise falls on deaf ears. For federal senators and representatives to link the two matters is unfortunate. Is this really the occasion?

Contrast this sorry episode with the situation in New York City, where the Yankees' postseason run has become a rallying point for the entire city, where baseball has absolutely contributed to a rejuvenation and a rebuilding of morale as the team figuratively lifts the population on its shoulders.

Advocates of Major League Baseball in Virginia might be expected to apply some pressure. The letter may contain some political posturing for voter consumption or legal maneuvering for the lawsuits that may lie ahead. None of that justifies the absurd appeal being put forth.

As major league owners gather in Chicago this week to talk about economic matters and a new collective-bargaining agreement with the players, they and Selig should give the petition from Virginia the short shrift it deserves.

— SportsBusiness Journal

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