Play (Subsidized) Ball!


Yesterday was Opening Day for Major League Baseball—in the cringe-inducing punning that is particularly endemic to sports writing, it was a "Debut-iful day for a ballgame." But forget about the box scores for the moment. A more interesting story is brewing than whether veteran pitchers such as Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens still have their stuff.

As Forbes (free registration required) reported recently, team owners are claiming they suffered "a net loss of more than $500 million last season and a negative 'cash flow' greater than $200 million." Based on Forbes' calculations, however, such claims are as slippery as a Gaylord Perry spitball.

So why are owners crying a river of red ink? Because they're playing the true national pastime, one that predates baseball and goes back at least to the days when Ben Franklin used connections to get lucrative contracts with local and colonial governments. That is, the owners are working to get new stadiums and other perks from the tax-paying, if not necessarily ticket-buying, public. That's how the game inevitably plays out in Minnesota, Cincinnati, and elsewhere.

Roger "the Rocket" Clemens, who got hurt yesterday in the Yankees' 2002 debut, may indeed burn out before the end of the season, but the team owners will surely still be dining out on pork come October.