Let's Rethink This, Senator

George Mitchell, do you really want to be baseball commish, not a Supreme Court justice?
April 24, 1994

You don't follow baseball, do you, Senator? You think Babe Ruth is what Clarence Thomas calls Ruth Bader Ginsburg. At least that would explain why you want to become the next commissioner of baseball: because you don't know any better. Is that it, Senator George Mitchell (D-Maine, D-Ranged, D-Lirious)?

What could you possibly be thinking? President Clinton wants to appoint you to the United States Supreme Court, but last week you withdrew your name from consideration; apparently, though, you're still very interested in the job of baseball commissioner, another post for which you are the leading candidate. At least baseball owners say that you're their man. But you cannot always believe these people. I can't say here what your typical owner is, but it rhymes with pull hitter.

With all due respect, Senator: You don't want to be commish, capisce? Show some Senate intelligence. You sit on a committee by that name, but as oxymorons go, it must rank right up there with 1040 EZ.

The commissioner's job will have been vacant for nearly 2½ years by the time you become available at the expiration of your Senate term next January. Does this sound like an important gig, Senator? The owners simply want to borrow your good name and use you as a hand puppet. Milwaukee Brewer owner Bud Selig has lingered on as acting commish ever since the owners booted the last guy, Fay Vincent. Give Selig a Magic Marker and let him draw a face on his fist. That's what the owners really want: Se‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬±or Wences, not Senator Mitchell. Your distinguished congressional work means nothing to them. For all they know, a minority whip is something Marge Schott keeps in her desk.

Oh, there is one feature of Congress with which the owners are familiar. As you know, some of your Senate colleagues are trying to rescind baseball's federal antitrust exemption. The owners would like you to snuff out this rekindled ember before it bursts fully into flame. And they know you are the man to do it for them, because the issue was sparked anew by one of your fellow Democrats, Ohio senator Howard Metzenbaum. (And speaking of Metzenbaum, that is what awaits you as baseball commissioner: Mets 'n' bombs.)

You, Senator, wrote the law that requires Americans to set their clocks ahead one hour during the first week of April. Think about that: As a U.S. senator you have the power to suspend time. As baseball commissioner you have the power to suspend...Vince Coleman. Is this really a step up professionally? You could have made chief justice. Why settle for Chief Wahoo?

Tell me it has nothing to do with money. As baseball commissioner, you would probably earn $1 million a year. As a Supreme Court justice, you would earn $164,100 a year. But the latter job offers a seat for life. The former offers a seat for...wild-card games. Which is the more dignified place to spend a working day, Senator? The high court in our nation's capital, or a food court in Mile High Stadium?

Some have suggested that you can't go wrong being judge or commissioner. "Either way," says Jay Leno, "he'll probably get to meet Darryl Strawberry." But think of all the interesting people you can run into only in our legal system, never in our ballparks. Really, Senator, wouldn't you like to meet...Pete Rose?

That's a joke, Senator. I know you have a sense of humor, and not just because you're a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. When a baseball owner recently told you that the commissioner must tolerate "28 owners with enormous egos," you responded, "For me, that would be a 72 percent reduction." That's a good one, Senator, but I'm afraid you're being disingenuous.

You know as well as I do that in the Senate, you're the all-powerful majority leader. But among baseball owners? Give me a squirt bottle of mustard, and I'll list your powers on a Polish sausage. And there will be plenty of room left for the raw onion, Senator. You will have the power of a disposable lighter: Zippo.

Senator, you may have noticed a crass and unsightly menace now appearing behind home plate on your evening baseball highlights. I'm talking, of course, about Mackey Sasser. (Another joke, Senator.) No, I'm talking about those infernal revolving billboards that the owners are using for advertising. Time was, the commissioner could get rid of those with a stroke of the pen. No more.

You were once a federal judge, weren't you, Senator? Well, baseball once had a commissioner who was, himself, a judge: Kenesaw Mountain Landis was a Zeus-like giant, empowered to do whatever he felt was in "the best interests of baseball." In February the owners revised the major league charter and cleverly pulled the teeth from that "best interests" clause. In effect, the commissioner can now act only in the "best interests" of the owners.

What I'm trying to say is, the job of commissioner ain't what it used to be. You don't need it, Senator. They've made a molehill out of a Mountain.

ILLUSTRATIONEVANGELOS VIGLIS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)