The cries should be loudest in Philadelphia, New York, and San Francisco.
But they’re not.
Fans and baseball owners in those cities should be expressing outrage that their prospects of winning the World Series are seriously hampered by Cliff Lee.
Lee just happens to be one of the best postseason pitchers in baseball.
Last fall, he went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason games, including two wins against the Yankees in the World Series. He was a major reason the Phillies were playing October baseball at all.
After being traded to Seattle, he was later sent to the Texas Rangers, bolstering a team that always faded in the second half of the season.
Now, having advanced to the League Championship Series (the only MLB franchise that had never done so) — in which Lee had two of the three wins, including the decisive last game — the Rangers are a threat to go all the way.
There’s only one problem. The Lee trade should never have happened.
The fact that it did is a direct affront to every team owner, player, and fan.
All except the Texas Rangers, that is.
Because the Rangers were in bankruptcy at the time of the trade.
Instead of getting their financial house in order — and paying their creditors — Texas pulled out the most improbable victory of the season.
But unlike most games, where there is only one loser, the Rangers’ achievement came at the expense of the other 29 teams.
How did a team in bankruptcy hit this home run?
That bastion of hypocrisy, Major League Baseball, came in as the relief pitcher.
Last year, it loaned the Rangers $18.5 million. And when the team’s ownership defaulted on its $525 million debt, MLB came through with another $21.5 million.
Let’s get this straight.
A team that can’t pay its bills or meet payroll receives a loan from the League — whose money comes from the teams themselves — and then uses that money to acquire arguably the best pitcher in the game.
Hmmm. Something with that picture just isn’t right.
It’s similar to the U.S. government subsidizing companies, such as the GM bailout, while victimizing those who have done nothing wrong.
For example, Honda gets punished for having efficient operations and fiscal responsibility, being forced to compete against the unlimited resources of the government.
But here’s the difference. Honda still makes a superior product, so it will continue to rule the day, although its road to success will be bumpier.
Not so with the Rangers. The “product” they acquired — with OTM (Other Teams’ Money) — is superior to virtually all others on the market.
How many millions is a playoff appearance worth? A league pennant? How about a World Series appearance, let alone a championship?
For the other teams that missed the postseason because of Lee’s prowess, that’s millions down the drain — because of what should have been an illegitimate trade.
The Rangers’ competitors, albeit unwillingly, have given that team the rope — in this case money — to hang the rest of the League.
And should we even mention the riot potential in Philadelphia if the Phillies meet Texas in the World Series, only to lose Game 7 to Cliff Lee?
Most disturbing, but least surprising, is the lack of on-the-record displeasure from the baseball executives.
Too many business leaders exhibit cowardice, instead of guts. And since baseball is a business, team owners are no exception.
Two things are certain:
1. Most, if not all, of the owners are still furious that the Lee trade was permitted to occur, especially those who were vying for playoff spots.
2. But you won’t see any of them voice their opinion — at least for attribution.
Oh, we’ll see anonymous quotes deriding the decision, but none will dare cross the biggest hypocrite of all, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.
Just look at the “unnamed” executive on the Lee trade, as reported in the New York Times: “The Rangers are acting as if they can go out and spend money . . . money they don’t have . . . for players.”
Not only does Selig know he won’t be opposed, he counts on it. So the arrogance only grows.
Let’s call a spade a spade. It’s business as usual. And because it continues unchecked, all of baseball suffers.
Do we really think it’s a good idea to have a Rangers’ championship blemished with an “asterisk?” It’s a definite possibility.
Asterisks in the record books — delineating that a particular feat was flawed — are becoming commonplace. How many more will it take before the whole sport implodes?
For once, owners would be wise to come in from the cheap seats and step up to the plate.
The integrity — what’s left of it — of America’s favorite pastime depends on it.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com
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