Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Politics of Baseball in the Nation's Capital

by Jeremy Bird

With a recent 9-4 DC City Council vote, the Team Formerly Known as the Expos' homeless odyssey from Montreal to Washington, DC may finally come to an end.

Barring another political fiasco between the Washington DC City Council and MLB, it looks like baseball fans will watch the Nats play in a state-of-the-art, 41,000-seat waterfront stadium, fully equipped with a contemporary glass-and-stone façade and a view of the U.S. Capitol, as soon as opening day 2008.

With the negotiations over the stadium finally over (for now at least), we are left to ask a question that has perplexed politicians, voters and baseball fans across the country: are we better off as a society spending millions in taxpayer money to subsidize a bunch of millionaires?

Yet, perhaps the more poignant question I am left pondering is this: what am I to do when my politics and love for baseball are in direct conflict?

My knee-jerk reaction to the publicly-financed stadium deal was to shout obscenities at the DC City Council and Mayor. After further reflection and meditation on the topic, I have come to a final conclusion: bring me October baseball, and we’ll call it even.

According to the Washington Post, the stadium deal calls for “more public money than has ever been spent on a professional sports stadium.” The deal’s $610.8 million “cap” on spending does not even close loopholes to stop overrun charges from ending up on our taxpayer tab.

DC taxpayers have already voted against this type of public financing. In the 2004 local elections, voters ousted all three DC Council incumbents who supported spending tax dollars on a stadium. (The three who ran on a platform opposing public stadium funding all voted for the recent stadium deal by the way – what else would you expect in DC)?

On the other hand, not all DC residents lose out on the deal financially. The DC stadium deal includes a measure calling for the stadium to be built primarily with local union labor. The Project Labor Agreement, as they called it, includes two important provisions: 1) that at least half of all apprentices who work on the stadium must be city residents, and 2) District union members will be the first ones on the job. It also includes some provisions to include a young worker program to provide youth summer jobs.

For a city with a relatively high unemployment rate, the labor provisions are a huge benefit for city workers. Furthermore, the union provisions will ensure living wage jobs with good benefits. Still, is there any reasons a stadium funded by the millionaires who will own the team would not provide the same labor benefits to city workers?

Perhaps the worst part of the whole stadium deal is that it took 16-grueling months that have left Washington baseball fans and players with little hope for the 2006 season.

The ownerless and “poor” (by league standards) Nats major pick up this winter? Alfonso Soriano. Even that pick up has been disastrous. The arrogant, selfish Soriano refuses to play left field despite the fact that the team already has a second baseman (Jose Vidro) and desperately needs both bats in the lineup.

It is going to be a long summer for baseball fans in DC, in part because the Nats had no money to boost their mediocre pitching or help their Expoesque offense.

In the long run, the Nats get a new state-of-the-art stadium instead of playing in RFK (where home runs go to die). Baseball fans will get to watch the team play with a beautiful view of the Capitol and the waterfront.

My politics tell me we aren't getting our $611 million’s worth. Find me in the bleachers in summer ‘08, and I might have forgotten my politics. Hopefully, with all of the tax hikes, I’ll have enough money for a beer.

Jeremy Bird's column, "Bird's Eye View", appears alternate Tuesdays

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