The more I read about the DC baseball fiasco, the more it seems to me that Cropp is getting a raw deal. Scapegoat, yes, and I can't help but think that there is a racial component (the voices of indignation I've heard have all been white, a familiar split in the District) and perhaps gender as well (a powerful woman breaking up the boys' game). At the very least, there is plenty of blame to go around.
Today's Washington Post lays out the time line, and it helps answer a few questions.
- Why did Cropp and the Council react so negatively so late? A letter from MLB outlining the final concessions to the city arrived Tuesday. Several council members saw risk in one item, which was newly drafted. According to the Post, is said, "If the city failed to build a ballpark for the former Montreal Expos by March 2008, it would have to pay the team as much as $19 million a year to cover lost profits." Were their fears reasonable? Given the evidence, they probably overreacted. That said...
- MLB did a poor job of communicating the nature of the concession to the council, and the mayor did an extraordinarily poor job mediating. As someone who was negotiating on behalf of the city, but who did not have final authority over the agreement, he had a responsibility to ensure the council was comfortable with the terms. This is analogous to a president negotiating a trade agreement; though Congress has no formal role until the end when the legislation implementing the agreement is voted on, a prudent president involves key committees early in the process to see where the trouble spots might be. Otherwise, the mayor loses credibility as a voice for the city.
- As the Post documents, although Cropp and other council members torpedoed the deal at the last moment, the warning signs were there from the beginning that they were unhappy with the city's burden in bringing baseball to the city. Only a mayor as politically tone-deaf as Williams could have missed the signs.
I wrote on Friday that it's better late than never that the council raises these objections. In fact, Selig may have met his match in the brinkmanship games he likes to play with cities. At least now DC can extract some reasonable concessions. If it means losing the team they never had, then at a minimum they've protected their fiscal health.
Update: In suggesting that gender plays a role in the scapegoating of Cropp, I should have linked to the Courtland Milloy column which discusses that very point. Here it is.