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Madden: Total contraction is the way to go

Saturday, November 10, 2001

I am in favor of the contraction of Major League Baseball. To zero teams. Baseball is a great game, but a lousy professional sport. The owners and players arrogantly battle in a self-imposed vacuum with zero regard for the paying customers. The owners and players have but one common cause: Getting as much of your money as possible.

Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy voted in favor of contraction, a sad indicator that he'd rather play along with baseball's big-money elite than rock the boat for the good of the franchise he owns. To heck with baseball's owners presenting a united front. I'd much rather see some indication -- any indication -- that McClatchy will fight for what's right by Pittsburgh baseball fans. McClatchy supporting contraction is like a chicken supporting Colonel Sanders. How long before the Pirates are extra crispy?

Make no mistake, Pirates fans -- contraction could easily eliminate the Pirates someday.

A new ballpark won't keep it from happening, especially when it's only one-third full within a few years. Leases are made to be broken, especially when a portion of a $250 million payoff from Major League Baseball could be used to do so. McClatchy could grease the right palms, enrich the city coffers and scurry back to California with a tidy return on his original investment.

Baseball is contracting for one reason: Greed. The rich teams want to get rid of some poor teams so the rich ones can grab a bigger cut of the television money and won't have to share revenue with the poor ones. There is no agenda besides cash.

Montreal and Minnesota likely will be eliminated first. But here's guessing contraction will be a lot like sex -- difficult and unwieldy the first time, a lot easier thereafter. Once the New York Yankees and their ilk get a taste of additional wealth, they will follow baseball's time-honored tradition and want more. Florida and Tampa Bay are also on shaky ground. How long before they get contracted? How long before contraction turns into small-market genocide? How long before PNC Park is empty?

Pirates fans can't trust McClatchy, not after he voted for contraction. That leaves little doubt he'll stand with the big-market owners in collective bargaining negotiations, which leaves no doubt that baseball's competitive imbalance will be maintained.

McClatchy doesn't have the best interest of Pittsburgh baseball fans at heart, or he's too stupid to realize what they are, or he doesn't have the guts to stand up for them.

Too bad Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura isn't looking out for the Pirates. Ventura proved once again that anyone who ever did color commentary on a pro wrestling TV show is a genius when he said he would consider a plan to build the Twins a taxpayer-funded stadium, but only after baseball implemented a plan to remedy its financial and competitive imbalance. I wish Ventura had come out with that opinion before PNC Park was built so I could have stolen it.

A baseball team that has no chance to win despite doing things close to perfect in terms of player development -- a description that fits the Twins -- isn't worth having, and it certainly isn't worth taxpayer money.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig says there's no point keeping baseball in markets where sufficient revenue can't be generated to justify continued investment. The Pirates set an all-time team attendance record last season, yet lost $10 million (a figure McClatchy disputes). Pittsburgh seems to fit Selig's description.

I won't shed a tear if the Pirates leave. I'm tired of hearing how "baseball makes the city major league." Baseball makes Pittsburgh a city of suckers, 2.6 million idiots who paid to see baseball's version of the Washington Generals play the patsy all spring and summer. Oh, I forgot, PNC Park is so beautiful. Going there is such an experience. Gag me with a bobblehead doll.

Open your eyes, Pirates fans. McClatchy voted for contraction. He will support big-money owners in their war against the players' union, not small-market owners in a fight against the big-bucks clan. McClatchy is more concerned about joining four country clubs and getting his face on TV than he is with battling for what's right by his franchise. If that's not true, Kevin, start battling.

Remember when baseball was the national pastime? It was only three decades ago.

Then, of course, football took over thanks to a game that's perfect for TV, the glamour of the Super Bowl, a true partnership between players and owners, genuine concern for the fans, and strong leadership. Selig is a joke, a former owner hired by the owners. Who do you suppose Selig is trying to please? He should be ashamed of the job he's doing. Maybe he is. After all, he tries to hide his identity by wearing a false nose and glasses all the time.

Contraction. It could happen here. In many ways, I can't wait.


Mark Madden's talk show can be heard from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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