Harold Meyerson’s upset by the prospect of a Chinese government-owned bank buying a stake in the Los Angeles Dodgers:
In their defense, the Chinese certainly have plenty of money to put into the team if they see fit. But if it was harder to root for the Dodgers under Murdoch than under the O’Malleys, and harder still under McCourt than under Murdoch, imagine rooting for a team owned by an authoritarian government that jails its citizens for organizing unions or worshiping the wrong gods, and depresses its currency to decimate what remains of American manufacturing.
Over the last 30 years, the financial whizzes who dominate this country have sold off our industry to China in return for some quick and huge returns, never mind that they were wiping out the American middle class in the process.
It’s too late to stop the sale of our industrial might, but the proposed sale of a team in which millions of fans have invested their dreams for decades may be the moment when Americans say they’ve had enough — that the claims of the many, which matter so little in the normal conduct of American big business, should at least this time outweigh the interests of the few (particularly when that “few” is really just Frank and Jamie).
I’m not sure I can get quite as irritated by this as Harold is. It’s not like the Dodgers would be the first team to be under corporate ownership, or even under foreign corporate ownership. The Seattle Mariners are owned by Nintendo of America, the Atlanta Braves are owned by Liberty Media, and the Toronto Blue Jays are owned by Rogers Media. Individual owners are entirely capable of doing noxious things. When Ted Turner owned the team, he tried to nickname a player with the same jersey number as one of his stations Channel as an effort in cross-promotion. In the National Football League, Dan Snyder is a poster child for both poor management of a franchise and general terrible person-ness. It’s a bit of an odd hierarchy that we prefer ownership by fabulously wealthy individual Americans to ownership by corporations to ownership by foreign corporations.
To paraphrase Annie Savoy, baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it’s also a big, big business. There have been long-standing efforts to spark interest in baseball in China after Mao’s ban on the sport expired, and in 2003, the Chinese government asked Major League Baseball for help—the league actually pays the coaches for China’s national baseball team. And if we’re going to treat baseball as a major symbol of American democracy (which may be a sentimental overstating of the case but none the less an appealing myth), maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to stoke Chinese interest and emotional in a quintessentially American game. Either way, the ownership of the Dodgers may be an important symbol, but it isn’t necessarily a substantive intrusion of corrupting capitalism and foreign influence into a game that’s already plenty impure.