INSTEAD OF YELLING, “Kill the umpire,” as they supposedly did at nineteenth century baseball games, Dave Zirin’s Bad Sports, in its thoroughly reasonable rant against team owners, suggests a twenty-first century chant of “Jail the owner.” He could have lifted a subtitle from George Bernard Shaw and called it The Intelligent Sports Fan’s Guide to Socialism were it not for all of the flacks currently muddying the waters by claiming that Barack Obama is a socialist. Just as some once thought the target audience for Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism was not up to the subject, there will be some who doubt today’s sports fan’s ability to ponder questions deeper than clutching or choking. Unlike those who see the ritual attachment to groups of athletes in matching uniforms as a sign of mental deficit, Zirin insists that within every sports fan there exists a rational kernel. For he is one of us. And his socialism, by the way, is that of the Green Bay Packers.
But oh, those owners! Before you get to thinking maybe this book is some boring anti-capitalist tract, let me reassure you that Zirin never forgets he is foremost a sportswriter, and that a sportswriter must live by his wit. So this is, in fact, a very entertaining anti-capitalist screed. And oh those owners! They sure do provide him with some good material. Of the dozen or so that he profiles, my favorite has to be Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, which under his leadership became “the only team that sells you beer inside the bathrooms.” Zirin is probably right in going on to claim this “violates every health care law since the Hammurabi Code,” but I hope that at least Snyder got some kind of efficiency award from his peers. And you gotta love the one about him sending stadium vendors out to sell year-old airplane peanuts — peanuts in Independence Air bags, a year after the airline went out of business.
Snyder’s “yesterday’s peanuts” scam is pretty much just, well, peanuts, compared to, say, the $12 parking fee tacked onto every ticket, regardless of whether the ticket holder actually parks a car, carpools or rides public transportation. And upon arrival at the 91,704 seat stadium — not actually located in the District of Columbia, but in “a godforsaken portion of Prince George’s County,” Maryland — that ticket holder can pay another $100 for a season pass to the express security check-in line. But the best had to be the $23.99 Pentagon Flag Hats Snyder made up for the fifth anniversary of September 11, with all proceeds going to the Redskins, until someone called him on it.
How richly stocked is the pond in which Zirin is fishing? Well, former Texas Ranger minority owner George W. Bush doesn’t even rate his own chapter. Zirin, however, does pitch an excellent two-page reprise of the man’s career — just when you’ve maybe found it a lot easier to forget him than you once might have feared would be the case. Made managing partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team on the strength of buying a 1.8 percent share of the team on borrowed money, and the subsequent receipt of another 10 percent based on the value of his celebrity name, Bush pushed the Rangers’ successful effort to get the city of Arlington, Texas to cover $135 million of the $190 million total cost of the team’s new stadium. (Bush bought in for $606,000 and sold out in ...read more