Everyone, from President Bush on down, seems to agree that major league baseball players are overpaid prima donnas who don’t deserve the huge paychecks they get, let alone have a right to strike and mess up the season.
This derision aimed at the players is a strange compliment of sorts, for in a corrupt business world they are apparently the only participants expected to refrain from milking the system for all it’s worth. Why is it only the greed of athletes that is shocking, when we have so much recent evidence that not only greed but actual crime is typical at the corporate heights?
Isn’t it odd that Bush’s statement that he would be “furious” at a baseball strike is far more passionate a response than his smug nonchalance over Enron and other corporations profiteering during the California energy crisis last year? Of course, cynical market manipulations such as Enron’s infamous “Death Star” tactic were only threatening the nation’s biggest, most economically important state, not the pennant race.
Even last week’s guilty plea by Michael J. Kopper, a top Enron manager who is criminally implicating the company’s highest officials, didn’t elicit any presidential passion.
Perhaps Bush is a bit more sanguine about greed as expressed in the halls of one of his biggest campaign contributors? Or does he still think his old buddy “Kenny Boy” Lay was blissfully unaware of these corrupt practices?
But egregious examples of gouging by those with the power to leverage stock options, loans, kickback schemes and insider trading deals are all too common, even in the business of sports. Take big league baseball’s squalid gang of billionaire owners, who maximize profit by holding up taxpayers for new ballparks by threatening to take their ball and go somewhere else and by taking advantage of enormous tax breaks.
That’s what George W. did with the Texas Rangers when he parlayed $606,000–nearly all borrowed from a Midland, Texas, bank where he had been a director–into a $15-million profit when he sold his stake in the team a decade later. The Rangers, despite erratic results on the field, grew astronomically in financial value because Arlington, Texas, taxpayers faced with the threat of losing the Rangers were coerced into coming up with $135 million in sales taxes to build Bush’s team a palatial new field of dreams. Bush and his buddies also used their political influence to grab valuable commercial land surrounding the stadium under the government power of eminent domain.
Thanks to those acquisitions, paid for with more than $200 million in public funds, Bush and his partners were able to turn around and sell for $240 million a team they had purchased for $86 million. Bush never did risk any of his own money, instead selling shares at an inflated insider’s rate–courtesy of his now-famous relationship with Harken Energy–to cover the original bank loan.
Quite a hustle, huh? And those millions rolled in without the endless practice sessions and nerve-tingling performances required of professional athletes on a daily basis. Of course, to earn his piece of the pie, George W. had to show up regularly on the golf links where the deals were made.
For Bush, there never was any real risk of failure, and he certainly never had to spend years bumping around back roads eating soggy fries as an itinerant minor league hopeful.
As has been pointed out many times during his spotty business career, Bush was born on third base and is convinced he hit a triple. For a kid trying to take the long, hardball road to fame and fortune, failure usually means going home to a small town with no education and few job prospects.
And for those who make it, like all-star shortstop Miguel Tejada, who worked his way to the pinnacle of his sport despite a childhood spent as a homeless street urchin in the Dominican Republic, the rewards are, yes, enormous. Not many successful MBAs, the president included, can claim such real-life Horatio Alger stories.
In the end, should the players dare to strike, they will be hit over the head with the club of patriotism, charged with betraying national unity on the eve of the Sept. 11 anniversary. It’s hypocritical gibberish. After all, who has hurt the nation more in the last year, the company that once paid to have its name on the Ballpark Formerly Known as Enron or the world-class athletes who grace the playing field?