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The State of the Game
Audience with the Emperor
By Paul Chaplin
There are about eleven of us in the baseball underground here in the Twin
Cities. We write, we propose, we testify, sometimes we even get a newspaper
mention. Imagine youre a caveman, and a huge, unusually stupid diplodocus
is standing on your wife. All you can do is push. Thats our strategy
So when word went out through the Resistance that Bud Selig was coming
to town to meet with those ubiquitous Minneapolis business leaders, well,
we kind of realized wed better do something. But what?
There was talk of a press conference, but I had misgivings. Aside from
questions of who exactly we would say we are, organization-wise, my larger
concern was this: The average person sees a small, earnest press conference
and says, "Oh, its those guys."
I should mention that I have a deep sense of shame and unworthiness that
sometimes gets in my way. Be that as it may, stalwart activist Chuck agreed
to write a handout, a clear statement of how the press should cover this
event, to be given to that same press as they gathered outside the posh
Minneapolis Athletic Club, where solid information had this meeting taking
place, at noon, on a Thursday. It turns out, the information was all wrong.
Or had their plans changed? Had they gotten wind of our little strategy?
It wouldve been nice to believe we irritate the Empire in some small
way. Sadly, such was not the case. Selig was coming to speak at the Mt.
Olivet Lutheran Church Sports Banquet, something we didnt know even
existed. Mt. Olivet is the biggest Lutheran church in the world (Im
not kidding about this); its like the statue of Babe, the Blue Ox,
in comparison with other Lutheran churches, and if it wants to have a sports
banquet, it has one.
Beforehand, Selig was to meet briefly with Twins employees, followed by
a session with the press. (Twins officials didnt want to call it a
"press conference." Maybe they feel they dont deserve a
press conference. Maybe theyre filled with shame, like I am.)
There was no secret meeting with business leaders. The notion of a Resistance
handout to the press began to seem inappropriate, even sad. Then I had an
I called the Twins press office the morning of Buds visit, identifying
myself as a "reporter" for Elysian Fields Quarterly and said I
would like to attend that afternoons press event. A kind woman put
me on hold for a minute, then returned and said sure. All they wanted was
a fax, on EFQ letterhead, making the request. I have no idea whether EFQ
has letterhead. I certainly had none in my possession, and Steve and Tom
were in Los Angeles at some book convention (I had their implicit okay on
this, I felt certain), so I said, hey, I dont have any letterhead.
This woman said, fine. There would be a credential waiting for me at the
Isnt that great? They throw up a tiny roadblock, and even on that
they immediately acquiesce. Again, it may be that the Twins shame
makes them unable to turn down anyone for anything, but I find the ease
of access to be a charming characteristic.
I arrived about 4:00 p.m.; Bud was scheduled to meet the reporters at 4:30.
It was a warm weekday afternoon, and on such a day in downtown Minneapolis
there is no more deserted spot than the ticket window at the Hubert H. Humphrey
Metrodome during baseball season. The street in front carried little traffic.
Grasshoppers ricocheted off my legs. The lone ticket vendor watched me.
I disappointed him and entered the door to the Twins offices.
If Hitlers bunker had a lobby, it might have been similar to the
receptionists area I encountered after walking down a long tunnel.
A woman sat at a desk, alone, in front of an elevator. There were no windows.
She directed me to take the elevator down, even farther into the sub-basements
of this god-awful place, where I would find the press office. I did so.
No one was there. I could have wandered at will, looking at files, filling
out press credentials.
I went looking and found a bleak lunchroom filled with Twins employees, awaiting Commissioner Bud. A guy accompanied me back to the press office; together we discovered there was no credential for me.
He said dont worry; it would be fine.
I said, you know, we "decided to send two reporters" (Chuck wanted
to come, too); would that be okay? and he said, hey, no problem.
I thought about asking him if itd be okay if Chuck and I tackled
Bud, painted his face, and forced him to wear a clown nose at the press
event. Im sure it would have been fine with this guy, whoever he was.
Instead, I went back outside to wait for Chuck. A sleek silver Cadillac
I figured it wasnt Chuck. I was right. Out popped Bud, followed more
slowly by Twins owner Carl Pohlad, and then many other guys in suits,
too. I recognized two of Carls sons and at least eight guys who, Im
guessing, were lawyers; in retrospect, it was in fact like watching a sort
of corporate clown car. I mean, there were a lot of guys in this one Cadillac,
which I grant you is a big car, but still, somebody gets the hump, right?
Bud and Carl led the way, arm in arm, slowly toward the entry to the Twins
offices where I waited, leaning ever so inconspicuously on a railing, positioned
right next to the door. Bud eyed me. Ill never know how close I came
to being taken out.
I heard Bud say, "Lets make Minnesota a better place to live
and get them out of here!" I panickeddid he mean me, and people
like me? I dont think so. I think he meant get the Twins out of the
Metrodome, and I have no problem with that sentiment in and of itself.
Then Carl said, "I hear youre in trouble. You didnt bring
any of the good hot dogs!"
That, I must say, struck me as odd, until I realized Carl was probably
referring to the good hot dogs sold at Milwaukees County Stadium,
as opposed to the pillowy malformations we stuff into our mouths here in
Minneapolis, where trying to eat a hot dog is like packing a sleeping bag
into a too-small duffel.
It figures. Bud is exactly the kind of guy who would talk up his remarkable
weenies and then not deliver, but I heard no more of Carls gastronomic
disappointment. They disappeared into the building.
Chuck was latesomething about his real-life jobso I returned
to the innards of the Dome to make sure I didnt miss anything. A couple
of Mens Wearhouse types hustled me past the room where Bud addressed
the employees, down toward the "Gophers Locker Room" and a handful
of local TV reporters awaiting the press event. Rick, and Eric, and Mike,
etcetera, regular guys all, making regular guy small talk about the golf
in Phoenix being sweet. I went outside a few times, for air and to find
Chuck; every time I passed the press office I saw Sid Hartman, Tory dean
of Twin Cities sports reporters, making himself at home, lounging in the
chair, using the phone.
Chuck arrived and the thing started, about thirty minutes late.
Bud came out, looking surly and a little disheveled, as usual, and sat
with Carl at a front table. The sons and a few others arranged themselves
to the side. Perhaps a dozen reporters and camera guys listened as Bud made
a statement about how the Twins need a new stadium. He acknowledged the
games economic problems but said that even with those problems fixed,
the Twins would still need a stadium. He scolded the residents of Minnesota
for daring to suspect that baseball might not solve its problems anytime
soon; he said the economic problems are just a way for the people of Minnesota
to "play the blame game."
He used that little term "blame game" maybe five times, almost
as many times as he used the word "renaissance" to describe the
state of baseball.
Hes such a strange man. He actually has a defensible pointthat
the Twins will need a new stadium regardless, and perhaps we should find
a way to build it under the expectation that eventually the game will solve
its problems. I mean, its a position I understand, and I dont
even consider it completely ridiculous.
Yet he comes across as a morose bully.
He refuses to acknowledge any reason for Minnesotans skepticism about
his Blue Ribbon Task Force: Why of course these brilliant guys will solve
the problems, he says! George Will and George Mitchell! Paul Volcker! The
president of Yale and all these great ownershow could they not solve
At one point he said something quite revealing: "Im tired of
this attitude of were smarter than everybody else."
He means we Minnesotans, and I suspect he believes we believe were
smarter than him and other people from Wisconsin, because they caved into
him and are building a new stadium for the Brewers.
This, I think, is a major problem for those of us looking for a rational
stand out of the commissioners office. Because of his former job as
an extortionist owner, Bud cant ever acknowledge that it perhaps makes
no sense for any city to build a stadium until his great task force produces
some results. And he cant ever acknowledge that he may have forced
his city and state to spend too much money. That modelof the public
providing most of the moneyis the model by which he must stand.
Oh, the more I write the more depressed I get. Buds the commissioner,
and were stuck with it, but I cant see him ever leading a truly
revisionist task force, one that recommends revenue sharing, salary controls,
and the lions share of stadium costs coming from Major League Baseball.
Maybe George Will is the radical in the group.
Incidentally, I came away somewhat heartened by the local reporters at
the press event, though Sid wandered around, talking loudly whenever he
felt, interrupting Bud. As for the younger guys, theyre sports reporters
so theyre completely unused to being aggressive, but they managed.
There was some confused silence after Buds initial crabby salvo, and
a couple dim-witted "eephus" questions, but there were some challenging
ones, as well.
Jim Caple of the St. Paul Pioneer Press acquitted himself particularly
well. He tried to get a straight answer about the economic problems; he
wouldnt take Buds interruptions and bluster, and he made sure
Bud heard the questions. That can be important, because I dont think
Bud wants to hear them. They make him mad.
Bud left after half an hour to pick up some sort of award from those Lutherans,
and the rest of us drifted away to make deadline. (Mine was less immediate.)
On the way home I heard WCCO Radios Mike Max, who was there, and he
derided Bud like I would have. I called him and got through immediately.
Was anybody listening?
I hope. With guys like Caple and Max, there are more voices than last year
anyway. I know Im saluting fellow little Dutch boys at the dam, holding
back a tsunami of $200 million annual payrolls, but it gives me heart.EFQ
[Editors note: The EFQ does too have letterhead.]
Until recently, PAUL CHAPLIN wrote for the cable television show
Mystery Science Theater 3000. Fortunately, the show was cancelled, allowing
him to now attend Thursday afternoon press conferences. He is a founding member
of FAIRball, a Twin Cities based baseball fan organization.
© 1999 Paul Chaplin
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