Major League Baseball hasn't narrowed the list of the eight bidders seeking to buy the Washington Nationals and some Republicans on Capitol Hill already are hinting at revoking the league's antitrust exemption if billionaire financier George Soros, an ardent critic of President Bush and supporter of liberal causes, buys the team.
"It's not necessarily smart business sense to have anybody who is so polarizing in the political world," Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.) said. "That goes for anybody, but especially as it relates to Major League Baseball because it's one of the few businesses that get incredibly special treatment from Congress and the federal government."
Rep. Tom M. Davis III (R-Va.), who was a strong supporter of bringing a baseball team to Virginia, told Roll Call yesterday that "Major League Baseball understands the stakes" if Soros buys the team. "I don't think they want to get involved in a political fight."
Democrats weren't about to let the broadsides go unanswered.
"Why should politics have anything to do with who owns the team," Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) asked. "So Congress is going to get involved in every baseball ownership decision? Are they next going to worry about a manager they don't like? I've never seen anything as impotent as a congressman threatening the baseball exemption. It gets threatened half a dozen times a year, and our batting average threatening the exemption is zero."
Davis didn't return calls to his office, but spokesman Robert White said, "The point [Davis] was making was how it would look if Major League Baseball sells the hottest team in the market to a guy who spent more money than the gross domestic product of Colombia to legitimize drugs."
Davis chairs the Committee on Government Reform, which recently held high-profile hearings on steroid use in professional and amateur sports.
Soros has supported the legalization of some drugs as a way to combat their illegal abuse. A Soros spokesman, Michael Vachon, said the financier was out of the country and declined to comment.
Washington entrepreneur Jonathan Ledecky, who heads the bidding group that Soros joined, said in an e-mail: "America's pastime should be protected from the rhetoric of partisan politics. It's unfortunate that the negativism that permeates national politics today is infecting Major League Baseball and the Washington Nationals."
Baseball is interviewing lead members of the eight groups that have filed bids to buy the Nationals, who are owned by the league. Most of the bids are believed to range between $300 million and $400 million, with a couple exceeding $400 million, according to sources familiar with the sale process.
"We're going to act and make a decision in the best interest of the franchise and the best interests of the game," MLB spokesman Rich Levin said.
-- Thomas Heath