Saturday, January 12, 2002

SULLIVAN: Selig's loan


Clumsy, but not criminal

By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Bud Selig should be above suspicion. Too often, he is beneath contempt.

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        The commissioner of baseball ought to inspire confidence, not snickers. He should be a figure of unassailable integrity instead of a national punch line. He should be a lot of things Bud Selig is not.

        Yet efforts to stampede Selig's resignation this week have been both excessive and irresponsible — a pound of cure for an ounce of problem. Bud Selig may not be the right man for this job, but a loan he received and repaid seven years ago should have little bearing on his performance review.

        In failing to disclose a 1995 loan from a company controlled by Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad, Selig violated both a specific baseball rule and the general preference for avoiding the appearance of impropriety.

        Yet the $3million loan was repaid within 90 days, at an interest rate 1 1/2 points above the prime rate. To show how this deal proves Selig was in Pohlad's pocket in baseball's campaign for contraction requires a prodigious leap of logic.

It just plain looks bad
               Selig was sloppy. No question about it. The commissioner shouldn't be borrowing funds from fellow owners because it looks bad and is potentially compromising. Yet until someone produces evidence that this was anything but an arm's-length transaction, this episode is not sinister enough to justify all the screaming.

        “Really horrifying,” says Marvin Miller, the former director of the players association.

        “An irreparable conflict of interest,” says Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

        Conyers has since back-pedaled on his call for Selig's resignation. Still, any time a politician delivers a lecture on ethics, it is useful to examine the lecturer. Conyers is the same guy who flip-flopped last year on a bill that would have banned gambling on college sports in Nevada. Curiously, casino interests are among Conyers' leading campaign contributors.

        The difference between the appearance of a conflict of interest and an authentic conflict of interest is the difference between suspicion and proof. Even Selig deserves the presumption of innocence until more evidence is presented.

Borrowing happens
               Baseball owners have been borrowing from each other since the big leagues began. Bill DeWitt's purchase of the St. Louis Cardinals has been financed in part by Provident Bank, which is controlled by Reds owner Carl Lindner.

        “There are several owners who have interests in financial institutions in various degrees,” DeWitt said Friday. “You can take those things to extremes — the theory that one team might control another team because they have an interest in a business that somehow does business with another team. Should we not do business with Fox because they own the Dodgers?”

        Before the major leagues banned cross-ownership in 1927, Reds owner Garry Herrmann also held shares in the Phillies and Cardinals. Ned Hanlon managed the Reds in 1906 and 1907 with a 10 percent ownership stake in the Dodgers. Red Sox owner Harry Frazee was so short of funds when he sold Babe Ruth that the Yankees ended up holding the mortgage on Fenway Park.

        Bud Selig's loan, by comparison, was peanuts. It's one thing to borrow. It's quite another to be bought.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456 or tsullivan@enquirer.com.
       
       



Reds Stories
- SULLIVAN: Selig's loan
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