“It makes no sense for major league baseball to be in markets that generate insufficient local revenues to justify the investment in the franchise.” – Bud Selig, November 2001.
Before we arrive at the point to which I will get in my typically circuitous manner, let’s look at the timing of the above statement:
Bud was speaking about the distinct possibility that MLB was going to contract two teams unless a new revenue-sharing agreement was reached (among a few other issues) because small-market teams simply couldn’t compete with teams in bigger markets.
History lesson, part 1: In real-life terms, November 2001 was just after 9/11.
History part 2: November 2001, in baseball terms, was right after one of the most memorable World Series in history. League revenue was up, individual teams’ revenue was up, player salary was up, home runs were flying out of the park (which Bud didn’t question at the time even though he knew why), fan attendance and TV viewership was up.
Read the room, Bud, read the room. The man who took away the World Series because he wasn’t getting enough of the Steinbrenners’ money was now about to take away two teams from good fan bases if he and his poor (roll eyes) friends didn’t get more of the rich kids’ toys.
Boy, he must be fun at parties.
Also in 2001, Bud – who was speaking as the Commissioner but still was an owner at the time – just saw his own team play their first season in their new state of the art stadium. A stadium that was funded by local taxpayers and is still being paid for by local taxpayers. This taxpayer gift shot Bud’s business, which he bought out of bankruptcy, to a 2001 Forbes evaluation of $238 million and were baseball’s most profitable team in 2001 (LA Times, 1/17/04).
“The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.” – Annie in Bull Durham, who was talking about a dim-witted fictional player not the leader of a billion-dollar industry, and yet there we stood.
Also in 2001 the Oakland A’s won 102 games with a $33 million payroll, the second to lowest in MLB. For some perspective, that season Boston spent $110 million for 82 wins, the Dodgers spent $109 million for 86 wins, the Mets spent $93 million for 82 wins. And you saw Moneyball, so you know ’01 wasn’t a fluke for the Athletics.
But Bud pulled this before in ’94 when cash strapped Montreal had the best team in baseball and his stunt of canceling the World Damn Series worked, so why not try crying poverty again, facts be dammed, right? This time, he was using the Twins and his good buddy Carl Pohlad in the role of the abused step-kid.
Pohlad went along with the act and told all who would listen he was OK with the Twins going bye-bye because “something, we’re losing money, something, something, can’t compete with big markets, something, something…”
For the record, Carl Pohlad bought the Twins in 1984 for $36 million. Shortly after Bud’s statement in ’01, the Twins were valued at $127 million. Now I’ve never been accused of being a financial virtuoso, but almost quadrupling your investment over 17 years seems like (wait for it) a pretty damn good investment.
So was Bud being obtuse or just lying?
When professional baseball began in the 1870s owners colluded in an attempt to limit risk and increase profits using illicit methods. In 1994 Bud and his friends lied about revenue as they did again in ’01 and as they are today in 2020 – not coincidentally leading up to new labor negotiations.
And if you’re wondering how the poor, poor Twins made out, they did OK. Their already very successful business increased in value every single year from ’01 through ’20 cumulating in current value of $1.3 billion. The Pohlad family, who still owns the team, has a net worth around $4 billion. This is in large part due to Minnesota taxpayers falling for Bud’s BS and paying for the bulk of a new stadium for the Twins. (Not a shot at Minnesota – they’re FAR from the only local electorate to fall for their local oligarch’s canards.)
“You go through the Sporting News for the last 100 years, and you will find two things are always true. You never have enough pitching, and nobody ever made any money.” – Don Fehr
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