Baseball's financial excess needs a timeout

Where is the outrage, the pressure to reduce government spending?

If you thought Washington was beginning to look like the poster child for financial excess, turn your gaze to Major League Baseball for a moment.

During the off-season, the New York Yankees spent just over $400 million on three new players and then had the nerve to ask the city and state of New York for $450 million in tax-exempt bonds to complete their new $2.3 billion stadium.

Ten miles to the east, the New York Mets spent $77 million this past off-season on new deals. And they plan on opening the 2009 season with a new $850 million stadium; it recently asked New York City for an extra $88 million on top of the $547 million they've already received.

Take both teams' requests into consideration, and the taxpayers of the State of New York have funded close to $2 billion of new stadium-related costs. To make matters worse, both teams have a deal with the state not to pay sales or property tax on the stadiums or other related structures built (i.e., parking garages), and also plan to receive low-cost electricity from the state.

And what are the Yankees spending their money on? Teak armed seats, HDTVs in bathrooms, a Jumbo Tron, and stadium restaurants that threaten the business of local restaurants. Smells like a raw deal.

Granted, millions of Americans brave standing room only and high ticket prices to enjoy America's pastime, but how are baseball executives across the country asking for this kind of money from taxpayers with straight faces? How about spending that kind of money on education? Remind me again why this public funding of baseball is shielded from scrutiny?

Apparently baseball operates on a different planet. At a time when the unemployment rate is at 8.1 percent, baseball players are haggling over contracts in the millions and owners are happy to concede. Recently Manny Ramirez and agent Scott Boras played hardball with the Los Angeles Dodgers until the team caved and offered the former Red Sox left-fielder a $45 million two-year deal. Does that make sense?

Red Sox president Larry Luchino says he believes it every team's responsibility to the fans that they dole out hundred million-dollar deals to remain competitive, and win.

If baseball teams have a responsibility to fans, it's certainly not to insult them by feuding over million-dollar contracts and then asking taxpayers to be sympathetic. The owners have it all wrong. In the end, most fans don't care about how many big name players with big league egos you have on your roster; it's about how many great ballplayers you can place who are willing to give 110 percent for 162 games. This league, like other professional sports, exists because of the fans, like me. Unfortunately, the passion for the game, what the fans enjoy, is getting lost in escalating bells, whistles, and salaries. And we're funding them.

Where is the outrage, the pressure from the government to reduce spending? If teams are to receive government money to make capital upgrades, then team owners should be held accountable by their state legislature for all spending initiatives, including new player deals and bonuses. President Obama was right to quickly call to task the financial sector for similar excess. In an address to Congress last month, he said, "This time, CEOs won't be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet." But isn't that what baseball team owners are doing when they borrow from taxpayers?

Kevin Curley is a Web marketing associate for the Monitor.

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