Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Out of the stadium

I recently had a dream in which I was an outfielder at a baseball game, and a ball was hit out of the park. For some reason (namely, the unreality of dreams), the ball was still in play after it left the park, and I ran outside of the stadium to get it. A member of the opposing team was also out there, and I angrily yelled at him to get away from the ball. Surprisingly (since no one in the park, including the umpires) could see us, he obliged. I grabbed the ball, got ready to throw it over the stadium wall...then realized that I didn't have the strength to throw it over. As I got ready to run back inside the park to make the play (again, ignoring the reality that the runner had presumably already circled the bases), I commented to the player from the other team, "This is going to be really embarrassing."

In the real, non-dream world, such endings actually do occur. Consider one of the landmark sports cases of the last century, in which the relatively new United States Football League sued the National Football League and accused it of anti-trust violations. The USFL won its suit - well, sort of:

On July 29, 1986, the United States Football League won the battle but lost its war against the National Football League. After five days of deliberation, the jury that heard the USFL's case against the NFL found the older league guilty of monopolizing professional football and of using predatory tactics but awarded the USFL just $1 in damages. The fact that the antitrust award was trebled to $3 was of little solace to the struggling owners of the eight remaining USFL teams.

I had always wondered why the damages were so low. Cosell mentioned the $1 award in one of his autobiographies, but dwelt on the fact that the USFL won and didn't explore why it won so little.

The jury felt that the USFL had abandoned its original plan to patiently build fan support while containing costs and had instead pursued a merger strategy. Moreover, the announced move to the fall also caused the abandonment of major markets and led to further fan skepticism. In essence, the jury ruled that although the USFL was harmed by the NFL's monopolization of pro football, most of the upstart league's problems were the result of its own mismanagement.

And who has been blamed for said mismanagement? According to a 2009 documentary, the blame can be placed at the feet of almost-presidential candidate and self-proclaimed business expert Donald Trump:

Donald Trump ... bought the USFL's New Jersey Generals in 1984 and is blamed by some for the league's demise following an unsuccessful antitrust suit against the NFL in 1986. Trump is portrayed in the film as a man whose enormous ego smothered the USFL, which for three seasons played professional football in the spring.

So what did Trump do wrong? He insisted that the league needed to compete head-on with the NFL in the fall, explaining, "If God wanted football to be played in the spring, he wouldn't have created baseball." Hard to argue with that kind of logic.

But it didn't work out for the USFL, and there are still a whole lot of people associated with the USFL, from players to coaches to owners to members of the media, who blame its failure on Trump.

Trump responded to filmmaker Mike Tollin as follows:

A third rate documentary — and extremely dishonest (as you know) —
Best wishes
Donald Trump

P.S. You are a loser

Ross Perot looks more and more presidential with every passing day.
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