Time to Decipher D.C.'s Code

By Thomas Boswell
Friday, February 10, 2006

Bud Selig was sitting at home on Tuesday night watching television. Then the phone rang. The baseball commissioner expected to hear that the D.C. Council had approved a lease for a new $600 million ballpark.

The voice on the phone was Bob DuPuy, president of baseball, just as Selig expected. But what he said was a thunderbolt.

"We're done," said DuPuy. "We lost, 8-5."

"What happened?" Selig almost screamed into the phone.

After midnight that evening, the council reversed course and voted in favor of its own revised version of that ballpark lease. For two days, baseball has waited to see what the politicians cooked up in their midnight madness -- a compromise or a deal breaker. Baseball representatives were shown the original council document, but couldn't decipher the scribbled writing.

Finally, last night, the council delivered its version of the lease. "We don't know what we're looking at yet," said Selig by phone. "But if you sense a deep frustration in my voice over what has happened this week, that would be correct.

"You think you've seen it all. And then you realize you haven't," the commissioner said. "I've been involved in 18 stadium negotiations and all them are difficult and controversial. I've been doing this my whole adult life. But this thing that happened in Washington tops them. It is already legendary in baseball for political intrigue."

Selig, like the rest of baseball, is holding his breath. "This team [in Washington] has been a godsend for baseball," said Selig. "Nobody wants to be in Washington more than I do. It's good for my sport."

Nobody knows what the morrow may bring. On Tuesday, normally calm executives like DuPuy were so mad that they broke into curses. Now, the baseball buzz is that the word has gone out, "Don't overreact" to the council's counterproposal. Having come this close, baseball wants to close the deal. The idea has crossed many minds that much of Tuesday night's after-midnight circus was political theater, not legislative activity.

During that late-night meeting, council member Sharon Ambrose told a colleague, "I'm not sure what's in there. Hopefully, it's not a mess." Even Mayor Anthony Williams said, "Whatever they're voting on, we'll figure it out later."

What may matter most in the end is that the council voted 9-4 in favor of something. Four supposed opponents of the stadium, including Marion Barry, can now crow that they've improved a "lousy deal" and stood up to baseball. In District politics, that's probably at least 10 times as important to many council members as the actual content to the lease document.

Whatever else may be said of Selig, some of it unflattering, there's no doubt that he devoutly believes any town with a major league team is happier than any city that doesn't have one. That's the point where Selig salesmanship and Selig conviction converge.

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