Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Televise this!

Boswell gives Counselor Asbestos a neat little Post-whacking

The life of a passionate sports fan is a strange one indeed. Some days you're hallucinating guys back onto your team's roster; others, you're righteously kicking the tar out of sniveling little pests.

From a certain point of view, and perhaps the only point of view that counts now, Boz just completely hits it out of the park in today's column. I mean, completely. Think of Jose Canseco's homer into like the third deck of the Skydome in the '89 ALCS---then double the distance. Yeah, that far.

The climax of the column is one of those inexorable "Duh!" moments; Boswell belittles Angelos' rhetoric so completely and so succintly, it reminds me of one of those times in all of our lives when we look back on a situation and ponder, "Now, why was this issue such a big deal again?" (Call it the "Titanic" Effect.) Take it away, Tom:

The real reason Angelos had to pay a record price for the Orioles had nothing to do with Washington TV rights. Angelos must think that
everybody has amnesia. Camden Yards was opened in '92 and drew a million more people than the Orioles had ever attracted. Angelos paid a premium price because he was purchasing a proven gold mine.

Three sentences. One-two-three; three-up, three-down; no runs, no hits (or drips), no errors. You get it? A dispositive paragraph framed in baseball's natural beauty; it is almost as if Spaldus, god of baseball, breathed his very essence into it.

Go get 'im, Tiger.

Now, I would be remiss not to quibble with one section of Boswell's column. It's not that a big deal (how could it possibly, after I've praised the column with such fine gloss?), but it is emblematic of a trait from which Boswell's work---like that of most columnists---suffers.

There are two sides presented in this column: that of Angelos (by reference to the ad in the Post), and that of MLB (via the overused "unnamed source" technique). Boswell, like most columnists, picks a side. He's picked MLB's side here, which is good, because Angelos' side is---at best---disingenuous and, well, un-American. ("Wah. Protect me from needing to compete. Give me what's not naturally mine.") But once he's picked a side, Boswell, like most columnists, trusts the side he's picked without exception.

Thus, he sounds a little too trusting here:

"Peter has got this all twisted around in his mind," said the team president. "No one ever promised that Washington territory to the Orioles forever. He's confusing de facto exclusivity -- because there happened not to be any team in Washington for so long -- with real exclusivity.

"It was always 'Buyer beware' in that Baltimore market," added the executive. "Look at all the times baseball considered Washington for an
expansion team. We were flying our expansion committee people over RFK Stadium in a helicopter to evaluate it as a site." It's going to be hard -- no, it's going to be impossible -- for Angelos to convince any court that baseball
considered, on several occasions, putting an expansion team in a market where the Orioles already had exclusive TV rights.

Now, Boswell (and the source) makes tremendous sense on a certain level: the claim made by Angelos is rather preposterous, it seems to me. At any rate, it has to be wrong.

On the other hand, how can Boswell trust this MLB source so completely? Well, the obvious answer is that the source's rhetoric, now, is compatible with Boz's sensibility on the issue.

But what about then?

It is plain as day that MLB dangled, used, abused, neglected, and mocked the DC market (and its people, including ostensibly Mr. Boswell) for years and years and years. DC was always a candidate but never the winner; not for expansion, not for relocation (thanks to a de facto "no relocation" policy)---only for blackmail of other cities. DC was more valuable to organized baseball as a threat, as a pawn, as a specter; call it what you want.

Boswell seemingly forgets that MLB helped cause this. Yep, MLB, in a sense, created the Angelos Problem. Sure, Angelos is a jerk, and jerks are naturally-occurring species. And you can't exactly blame MLB for not anticipating that Angelos would be such a monumental jerk. Then again, most baseball owners are jerks, some monumentally, and the last thing you do is imply to a jerk that it is okay to be a jerk. First, MLB toyed with a populous and rich market directly south of this particular jerk. Then, it said, "Okay, Jerk, we know you're a jerk, and we're willing to negotiate the cost of playing with fire in range of a jerk." The only was the direct cause of the other. MLB is partially complicit here. The jerk naturally will go that last measure.

That last measure, apparently, is television. Money quote from Marc Fisher's WaPo column today:

Baseball executives say Angelos has two goals. One is to take a disproportionate share of profits from the Nationals, who already appear to be outperforming the Orioles at the box office (and maybe even on the playing field). If he can't accomplish that, sprinkle a little hell around greater Washington by keeping the Nats off TV and undermining efforts to build the team's fan base.

(emphasis added)

It's, oh, well, hey, it's the Ides of March. And where will the Nats be on the tube? Eh. On the cable grid? Er. Come to think of it, how's that sweet-ass radio network coming along, Tony Tavares? Oh.

Twenty thousand-plus season tickets say that Angelos can delay the media agreements but can't loosen the resolve of the fans. That's good. But it's not everything.

The commisioner's office is known for its proclivity to butt-cover and speak out of both sides of its mouth; just try to reconcile its positions (historical and present, present and present even) on steroids. The situation is no different here. The market it treated as a pawn in past years, it treats post facto as valued and treasured. The position is convenient and necessary now, but step back a minute; it should enrage Washingtonians, including Boswell.

Organized Baseball has let Angelos fester for long enough; it needs to act now. Pronto. Today has to work, but only because it didn't act yesterday. It only makes sense to do so, insofar as it owns the Nats currently.

Maybe Boswell has been enlisted as a solider in the fight against Angelos. If so, he may be excused for the convenience of his rhetoric.

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