A few days before his title defense against Muhammad Ali, world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston was queried as to why Ali was constantly bad-mouthing him. "I've got somethin' he wants," Liston said.
Also aware, keenly, that they have something much wanted -- one of those two expansion teams that will be available -- are the National League's club owners, and the franchise-seeking cities are being put through the hoop by the NL Expansion Committee, as pompous and arrogant a gang of baseball Shylocks as ever presided over an expansion project.
They have made it plenty plain that it is going to cost the franchise seekers even more than was suspected, and feared. They have sprung it on them, finally, that the price of an expansion team will be $95 million for those lucky cities that have won their favor. But wait. The bottom line is not the bottom line. There are other considerable cost items.
As estimated by one baseball official, each new team faces various "start up" expenses of $25 million. He says also to be figured in is a $13 million interest fee. Oh, yes, and $10 million for player salaries. The NL could give OPEC lessons in upping the price. In 1961, Washington's expansion franchise cost $2.25 million.
The National League has solved the fate of most of the 10 franchise-seeking cities simply by pricing them out. The shock was felt even in Buffalo, supposedly one of the front-runners, thanks to the so-called bottomless resources of Robert Rich, who was spearheading Buffalo's franchise hopes.
Rich, when he heard of the $95 million charge, told the Sporting News: "We have a breaking point. . . . We don't want this to turn into a bidding war. We're business people and we're not after this at any cost." Thus dashed somewhat is the euphoria that had been sweeping Buffalo.
It comes under the heading of Major League Chutzpah, what the National League is charging for a new team that will be peopled mostly by culls from other clubs, and must hire management and scouts and build a farm team from scratch.
In Montreal, Charles Bronfman, the distilled spirits tycoon who owns the Expos, has been actively seeking a buyer for months for a contending team that already boasts one of the elite farm systems, and his price in the $80 million range, maybe less, has found no takers.
The Minnesota Twins have been for sale at far below the $95 million price by their banker-owner who wants out of the baseball business. Also on the market have been the Houston Astros, whose price tag of $185 million must be explained. It includes not only the team, but the vast Astrodome itself and many, many acres and other variable sundries tied into the cost of owning the team.
None of these franchises on the block has yet found a buyer. There has been big talk by certain would-be club owners who haven't matched their enthusiasm with the required money. Charley Finley once had a description of those types after the collapsed bid of some Texans who sought to buy his Kansas City team: "all hat and no cattle."
It is in these current conditions that the NL's price for an expansion franchise must be termed a display of pure greed. It raises the suspicion that the NL, which refused to expand for more than 20 years never did want to add teams, or to share the nice television loot, and now is determined to price out the franchise seekers if they can.
They've put the cost up so high as to make it unaffordable to most if not all bidders. The two groups in the Washington area are still tapping on their calculators, probably wondering if all this is for real. There will be a shakedown, and the big winner could be, for example, Orlando, Fla., which previously was rated in the second flight of applicants. Why Orlando? Ha. Orlando means Disney World, which is used to dealing in hundreds of millions, and wouldn't a big league team look very nice alongside the theme park.
The expansion team hunt may have become a game now for corporations, big ones. Only Disney, General Motors, Exxon, Coca-Cola and the like could bear the cost as outlined by the NL in its grab for millions for bestowal of its favor.
In the pursuit of franchises, as in other projects, money is a most obedient servant.
Now exposed as a charade are all those come-ons by the NL Expansion Committee in specifying conditions to be met by bidding cities. All those questionnaires they sent out, purportedly aimed at helping the league to make decisions on the merits of a city, can be termed a cruel hoax. Here are some of the questions they asked of 10 cities:
Description of ownership (as if the NL was unaware of who was bidding).
Population, climate (all of which could be found in the World Almanac, and would all those home runs hit in thin-air Denver be listed with an asterisk?)
Whom were they kidding? Unfortunately all the towns they suckered into answering the long, useless questionnaire, and then sought with that $95 million entry-level charge. Bah. It simply wasn't cricket.