Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Negiotiate with a terrorist? Never!

Okay, maybe calling Peter Angelos a terrrorist is a bit rash

Nevertheless, the Wash. Times editorial staff is unequivocal in its opinion of the irascible malcontent and what MLB should do with him.

The editorial uses alarming language ("Bud Selig is threatening to pull the financial rug out from under the franchise before it plays its first spring-training game"), but the meat of the editorial is this quote from the estimable Andrew Zimbalist:

There are serious questions about whether Angelos is due any consideration. "I don't think they have to pay him any money," Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College, told the Baltimore Sun. "It's a silly precedent,"
said Zimbalist, who has written several books about the finances of baseball. "I'm puzzled that they are even negotiating with him because they have no legal need to."

I'm no fan of Angelos, but I have been a lifelong Orioles fan; I will continue to be on an AL-basis, though I've developed something of a notable measure of obsessive fandom with the Nats already, of course. What is more, I have many friends who are O's fans; just this morning, in fact, I exchanged emails with a good friend from law school who lives in Staunton and who, while planning on supporting the Nats, has a lot of allegiance for the O's. There are many friends like him, of course.

In my conversations with many of these friends and web contacts, I've challenged them to express exactly what legal right Peter Angelos is due. The answer is invariably something muddled, something perhaps befitting equity, usually expressed in terms of "Bud Selig promised Angelos that 'the franchise would never be hurt'." That's it. No existing right, no bargained-for exchange, nothing. Just a sort of nebulous promise that has been filtered, for good or ill, through newspapers in various cities---including, of course, Baltimore.

That gets me thinking, because I like to torture myself, what theory would Angelos employ if he ever decided to sue MLB? I haven't the foggiest, mainly because---when it comes down to the most relevant details---I really don't know that much about the situation. None of us do; all of this stuff is sort of hush-hush. (Let me clarify: We know the scope of the Baltimore franchise's territorial rights. We don't know all that Bud and Angelos might have agreed to behind the scenes.)

Still, I guess the most compelling theory (not really all that compelling, at that) is some sort of bastardized variant of the equitable principle of laches, which, if you think about it (and as far as the analysis goes, and admittedly that is not far), sort of makes sense.

For years, MLB cynically held Washington, DC in its back pocket as an oblique (and sometimes not-so-oblique) way to blackmail other metro areas to construct shiny new stadiums---you know, the ones with traditional baseball elements such as choo-choo trains and Ferris wheels. But MLB never showed a real, true inclination to move to DC (or NoVa)---until now. It just used the DC threat as a way to jerk other MLB cities back into submission. So the theory might go (and, again, probably not far) that MLB "slept on its rights" to reclaim possession of the DC market and, in the interim, Baltimore reasonably swept in and took the thing for itself for long enough that DC is Baltimore's area (sort of a professional sports version of adverse possession, also, I guess).

Well, like I said, I'm just noodling over possible theories---and over lunch, at that. There are a million ways to pick a hole in this analysis, so keep that in mind when/if you comment. For one, Angelos could never get his damned story straight with regard to DC. One minute it was invaluable to the O's future; the next minute there just aren't any baseball fans in DC. And, make no mistake, there's a reason why third-year law students almost as an afterthought throw a two-credit equitable remedies course into their fall schedule, and I'll let you guess why.

Still, though, I can't help think that MLB, by jerking the DC market around relentlessly, is now hindered in some way by the principle (though not an equitable one, per se) of "What you reap is what you sow."

Just a thought . . .

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