Stubborn heads prevail in Manny trade talks, Nationals stadium fiasco

Two stories that have long dominated the Hot Stove headlines have seemingly reached new high points this week. Manny Ramirez’s trade demand and the trade talks may be receding into the past while Major League Baseball’s attempts at procuring a free stadium paid for by the District of Columbia are heading toward arbitration.

The big news of the day comes to us from ESPNdesportes. The Spanish-language arm of the Worldwide Leader in Sports is reporting that no hay cambio, according to Manny. Luckily, they’ve provided an English language translation, and we can all see that Ramirez has decided that there is no trade. Instead, the enigmatic slugger is “going to take things easy and focus on his career.”

To this, I say good riddance. If this announcement with Manny is enough to end this drawn-out soap opera of a story, I will be relieved. For months this saga has gone on without end. Some people say that Manny is unhappy with Red Sox management; others say marital strife may be pushing him out of Boston. Either way, I guess Manny’s internal debates have kept him from focusing on his career.

Now that he’s done talking about being traded and now that he plans on staying in Boston, I hope everyone else plans on dropping this subject forever. Enough ink has been spilled and enough bandwidth wasted on Manny being Manny that it’s not worth it anymore. Good bye, Manny. Whatever you do, enjoy it.

So while one stubborn, strange player’s saga comes to a close, the conflict between the City Council in Washington, D.C., and Major League Baseball may be coming to a head. Because the council did not approve the lease agreement between MLB and the city before the previously-negotiated and signed-upon deadline of December 31, 2005, Major League Baseball as the owners of the Nationals has decided to pursue the process that could result in a binding arbitration decision.

To me, this move does nothing to help Major League Baseball earn supporters on the DC council. If MLB and DC decide they cannot reconcile their differences, a three-member panel will decide the case. The panel could decide to levy a fine against DC for violating the terms of the lease agreement. Or the panel could decide that the city must pay for the stadium and cost overruns. I cannot imagine too many people being thrilled with either decision. While Mayor Anthony Williams may be prepared to resubmit the lease to the council in two weeks while avoiding arbitration, the reality is that Major League Baseball, by taking the first steps down the arrogant path toward arbitration, may be hurting their cause.

Right now, Major League Baseball wants the city to assume any cost overruns for the stadium the city is paying to build for MLB’s $450-million team. This hardly seems like a fair deal for any city let alone one wracked by as many problems as the District is. Meanwhile, MLB refuses to sell the team before stadium funding is in place because they feel the funding increases the value of the team.

As I’ve said before, Major League Baseball has locked itself into this public-relations nightmare. They can’t really save face in front of the council, and it would in fact be best for the team, the city, and everyone involved if Major League Baseball sold the team now. They have ownership groups in place; all Bud Selig, baseball commissioner, has to do is send the sale to a vote in front of the 29 other co-owners of the team.

With independent ownership in place, the City Council could wash the bad taste of the bungled MLB negotiations out of its collective mouth. While the council is not blameless in this debacle, both sides could virtually start over at square one. A group devoted to building a baseball presence in DC would probably find a way to help the city cover cost overruns, and the council would be receptive to such an idea.

Sadly, the likelihood of this positive outcome is about the same as the chance that the Royals will win the World Series in 2006. Meanwhile, as the saga of the stadium lurches toward a conclusion, we can only hope that cooler heads will prevail so that DC can save some its money and MLB can repair its tarnished reputation as an organization out to bilk communities out of as much money as possible.

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