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Bud Selig should take his money and butt out of Tampa Bay Rays' stadium debate

Bud Selig

Bud Selig

After considerable thought, I have come up with a proposition for the commissioner of baseball.

For my part:

I will not ridicule his exorbitant compensation package. I will not roll my eyes, hold my nose, point out that his $17.47 million salary could buy you a brand new NFL commissioner with an NHL commissioner and a couple of accountants on the side or make fun of the fact that his expense account worked out to a per diem of $1,157 every day of the year.

For his part:

Bud Selig will stay the heck out of Tampa Bay's stadium business.

Because you know, eventually, it's coming. Stadium talk may have cooled considerably once the Rays gave up on the idea of the waterfront property, but the issue is not going to vanish forever.

And, at some point in the not-too-distant future, ownership is going to grow frustrated with local bureaucracy and public antipathy, and Selig will make himself available to play the role of bad cop.

To which I say now:

Don't do it.

Don't you dare do it.

There is plenty of room for argument in the question of a new baseball stadium for Tampa Bay. There is the question of whether Tropicana Field provides adequate revenue streams for the Rays, whether downtown St. Petersburg is the best location for the majority of bay area residents, whether Major League Baseball has tangible economic and quality of life benefits for a market and whether taxpayers should be expected to contribute in this endeavor.

These are legitimate, and important, arguments that should be heard within the community.

And the commissioner of baseball has forfeited his right to be a part of that conversation.

Maybe I'm looking at this too emotionally. Too literally. But it strikes me as unseemly that a man making $17.47 million a year — and let's not forget his $461,540 in benefits and $422,590 in expenses — should be pimping for public funding.

Sure, you could argue Selig's income has nothing to do with this situation. That they are unrelated issues and should be argued separately. Except, they seem to bleed all over each other.

You see, whenever he wants to justify the job he has done and support his suggestions that baseball's popularity has never been higher, Selig can point to the $6.5 billion in revenue the game generated in 2008. That goes a long way toward justifying an $18 million compensation package for a sport's CEO.

Yet, whenever a stadium is desired, Selig makes it sound as if owners will go bankrupt if they have to stay in older buildings, or —Heaven Forbid! — foot the entire bill for a new one.

All of which raises some questions:

If the overall health of Major League Baseball is so robust, why is there not a fund to help the few struggling franchises get new facilities built? If MLB can afford to hand $18 million to one man for a year's work, why can't it contribute to pay off the debt service at Tropicana Field?

MLB likes to portray communities as partners with their franchises, but aren't the other franchises partners as well? Don't the Red Sox and Yankees have some stake in the financial health of the Marlins and Rays?

Look, this is not an argument against building a new stadium in Tampa Bay. As a sports market, we have a lot of inherent weaknesses, and a more attractive stadium in a more attractive location would help compensate. Maybe I'm naive, but I also believe Stuart Sternberg has been more forthright and openminded than most owners of franchises.

But, once again, this is a community's decision. It should not be browbeaten and it should not be blackmailed.

It should not have the commissioner of baseball say, "I'm hopeful they'll get a new stadium. There is certainly no keeping them there without one," as he once said about the Marlins.

It should not have the commissioner write a letter to ownership saying, "I have decided that in the event you are not able to promptly assure the implementation of the desired ballpark … you may begin to discuss a ballpark with other communities," as he recently wrote to Oakland's managing partner.

Just a few days ago, President Obama talked about the responsibilities of business leaders at a time when they are asking the public to bail them out of a financial crisis.

"We all need to take responsibility," the President said. "And this includes executives at major financial firms who turned to the American people, hat in hand, when they were in trouble, even as they paid themselves their customary lavish bonuses. As I said last week, that's the height of irresponsibility. That's shameful."

I have little doubt a new stadium would ultimately be a plus for this community. The debate is how much, if at all, local residents should be expected to contribute to its construction. That's an argument we should all have a say in.

As for the commissioner, he should keep his thoughts to himself. It's not that I begrudge him his salary. If baseball is that profitable, and owners are willing to pay him that much, I say more power to him.

But Bud Selig's paycheck is way too large to be asking for some of yours or mine.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Bud Selig should take his money and butt out of Tampa Bay Rays' stadium debate 02/08/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 8:50am]
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