As baseball's image gets worse, who's really at fault?

Sunday, May 19, 2002

Not even an intelligent guy like Mark Lamping could have seen this fiasco coming.

Given baseball's history, maybe he should have just assumed the worst. He already knew that several major league teams are setting record lows for attendance this season. He knew Missouri's finances were in disarray. He knew public interest in paying for a new ballpark in St. Louis was almost nil.

The coup de grace -- a whole new set of image problems that helped derail the Cardinals president and his plans for a new state-financed stadium -- came in the past seven days when:

  • Baseball commissioner Bud Selig claimed that as many as eight teams could be out of business within a year.

  • Players and owners renewed their threats of a strike by the end of the year.

  • A retired and bitter Jose Canseco told anybody who would listen that more than three-quarters of the league's players are doping themselves with a banned substance.

    Maybe somebody should've drafted Mike Tyson and put him in a uniform. Maybe the Padres should have asked Roseanne to come back for another shot at squawking out the national anthem.

    It would have been the perfect week for it.

    Yet amid all the muck stood Lamping, still holding out his hand and asking Missouri taxpayers to help finance a stadium. Regardless of his intentions and his reasonable explanations of how the franchise contributes to state income, he became a symbol of what we've grown to despise about baseball.

    He wanted money. Lots of money. And in return, he had no guarantee that he or anybody in the league would work to fix a broken game.

    It didn't help that baseball's entire PR staff apparently took the week off. Maybe they should warn Lamping next time they're out of town.

    Lamping hardly reassured fans Friday when he rushed to reiterate threats to pack up and leave downtown St. Louis minutes after the Legislature opted to not even discuss stadium funding. Lamping insists several out-of-town groups are in talks with the team, a testament to the Cardinals' appeal given the league's overall financial state.

    St. Louis city leaders vow to at least try and keep the team in town, although there are no signs they can. Lamping insists he won't take his financial pleas to the Legislature again. The next time we hear from him, he'll likely have a suitcase in hand as he climbs into a U-Haul truck. He sounded Friday like a man whose team has one foot out the door already.

    If -- or when -- the team rolls out of town, it will be an emotional and financial blow not just to downtown St. Louis, but to Missouri. It's sure to be another in a series of major-league mistakes that leaves fans feelings disenchanted and betrayed.

    But hey, it's baseball.

    We should be used to it.

    Jamie Hall is the sports editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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