As usual, the Orioles have started the season strong and have thusfar played well and been fun to watch. But unless I and every other casual observer are dead wrong, the Orioles will hang in there thru May, falter in June or July, and be completely out of contention by August. It’s a really good feeling to look at the standings and see your team on top, but the last time I did that in the month of September was before I even had my driver’s license. And now this year, my 30th birthday will come and go while the Angelos reign of terror continues.
That may be a corny segue, but reigns of terror are tonight’s real topic. Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen put both feet in his mouth again last week by telling Time magazine that he admires Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The history in a nutshell: As a young man, Castro and his lieutenant Ernesto “Che” Guevara led the bloody communist overthrow of Cuba’s government in 1959. When it was over, Castro made himself Cuba’s President, and still holds the office to this day. Tens of thousands of Cubans were tortured and killed during and after the revolution, and many others fled to the United States and settled in Florida. Today, the city of Miami is the epicenter of Cuban exiles and their descendants, many of whom still dream of the day when Cuba is free again.
The Miami fans were furious, and Guillen subsequently apologized and was suspended for five games by the Marlins (not MLB). Granted, if Guillen were the manager of the Mariners or the Twins or the Brewers, there may not have been such a level of anger from the local fanbase. But should there be?
As I started thinking about this, the first person that came to my mind was Marge Schott. If you’re younger than me, you may not even recall who she is, as I barely remember her myself. Marge Schott was the owner of the Cincinnati Reds from 1984 to 1999, and is noteworthy as the first woman to buy a major league franchise. In many ways, she actually parallels Peter Angelos in that her legacy of philanthropy and community involvement is mostly overshadowed by her pitiful management of her team and other controversies. She was alleged to have frequently thrown around the n-word, said that she didn’t like her players to wear earrings because it “looked fruity” (apparently that’s a gay slur), and stated publicly more than once that Adolf Hitler had been a good leader for Germany but “went too far”. Schott and Angelos also have the commonality of firing manager Davey Johnson after a season in which he took their teams to the playoffs.
Schott was suspended by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig for the entire 1993 season (that’s over six whole months) following her Hitler comments, which brings me back to Ozzie Guillen. If there is anything in this world that I hate, it is double standards. If Marge Schott had the book thrown at her for praising a genocidal dictator, why does Ozzie Guillen get a pass for doing the same thing?
Stop reading. Google up “Angelos Castro Selig” and click the images tab. Can it be? For those who don’t remember, back in 1999 Peter Angelos and Bud Selig arranged to have the Orioles play two exhibition games against the Cuban national all-star team, one in Baltimore and one in Havana (the visiting teams won both contests). The events were touted as gestures of good will and attempts to create more friendly US-Cuba relations, but another main goal was undoubtedly to get more access to Cuban players for MLB teams (which never happened). Peter Angelos, having been one of the top campaign contributors in the country to then-President Clinton and Congressional Democrats, had no trouble getting the government’s blessing to do all this in spite of America’s longstanding Cuban embargo. The aforementioned photograph is of Fidel Castro sitting in the stands in Havana and chatting with Peter Angelos and Bud Selig, who are seated on either side of him.
So obviously, Bud Selig doesn’t exactly have the standing to condemn Ozzie Guillen for kissing up to Fidel Castro, which is probably why he relied on the owners of the Marlins to do it. Now, I am not one who believes that we should run around punishing people for being offensive. By its nature, offensive speech is what the First Amendment was written to protect, and the second thing that I absolutely hate in this world is political correctness.
But I want consistency.
Back in 1999, Bud Selig armtwisted Marge Schott into selling her controlling interest in the Reds following her second round or pro-Hitler comments. And then last year, he oversaw the ugly removal of Frank McCourt as owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The big difference between the two was that while Schott’s ouster was purely personal, McCourt’s was due to shady business practices; specifically that he was “siphoning team revenue for non-baseball use and had completely alienated the Dodgers’ fanbase.” according to MLB’s court briefs.
Does that sound like somebody we know?
MASN pulled in $159 million in revenue last year, so you can do a little arithmetic and figure out about how much it has made since its creation seven years ago. We all remember the promises Peter Angelos made about using that money to improve the team and how this was finally going to give the Orioles the resources needed to compete with Yankees and Red Sox. And yet, since MASN was created, the Orioles annual payroll has averaged just $78 million- not significantly higher than it was before MASN and less than half of what New York or Boston paid in that same time period. Of course, operating expenses and lots of taxes accounted for some of it, but one still has to ask “That money wasn’t invested in the Orioles, so where did it go?”
Bud Selig was willing to kick Marge Schott and Frank McCourt out of the owners’ club for conduct that was immoral but not technically illegal. What Angelos has done with MASN isn’t technically illegal either; after all, he is a lawyer and he brokered the deal with Selig’s blessing. But now that we’ve had time to see it in action, there can be no question that what Angelos has done is highly unethical. He’s siphoned revenue away from not one but two teams for non-baseball purposes. He’s alienated the fanbase. He’s fixed it so that Comcast customers who aren’t even baseball fans are paying for his channels. And all the while, Bud Selig stood by and let it happen.
It’s the same thing that happens when the government plays favorites with private industry; different entities are allowed to play by different rules. This leads to a lack of true competition, and the end result is that the consumer is denied the full potential of what the free market could produce. Those who benefit from the unlevel playing field think that it’s just fine and are happy to leave it that way, while those who suffer because of it either accept it and work around it or just stop caring. It’s why less than half of America votes these days, and why Camden Yards is usually empty unless the Yankees or Red Sox are in town.
Bud Selig is too chummy with Peter Angelos to hold him accountable for getting rich by wrecking the Orioles, the same way he’s too chummy with Fidel Castro to say anything about Ozzie Guillen. Selig has failed to enforce his own standards equally, and we Orioles fans have suffered thru 15 years of pathetic losing baseball because of it. We all know that Cuba needs to be rid of Fidel Castro and the Orioles need to be rid Peter Angelos, but Major League Baseball also needs to be rid of Bud Selig.