You have to like Lance Berkman. He's got two great nicknames where most players have none, and he's perfectly willing to hurl poisoned barbs at the Commissioner's Office. Tuesday, he was at it again.
Berkman raised the stakes before a Grapefruit League game between the Cardinals and Astros in Kissimmee, telling ESPN.com and a reporter from another outlet, "I feel basically like the commissioner extorted Jim Crane into moving the Astros."
Berkman didn't back down when asked if he has conveyed those sentiments directly to Selig. He said he would be comfortable using the word "extort" if he talks to the commissioner.
"If he called me, I would tell him," Berkman said. "I think that's exactly what it was. To tell (Crane), 'We're going to hold the sale of the team up until you guys agreed to switch?' It just happened that the Astros were being sold at an optimal time for that to happen."
As I understand these things, extortion (or blackmail) is when I threaten you with something negative unless you do something for me.
That's not really what happened here. Jim Crane could have walked away at any point, and would have lost nothing except a lot of his time and however many millions of dollars he spent in the process of submitting his bid for the Astros. Granted, those are not inconsiderable considerations ... or then again, considering Crane's wealth of assistants and dollars, perhaps they were inconsiderable. Rounding errors in The Great Empire, as it were.
Here's the Emperor, himself:
Crane, who was at Osceola County Stadium for Tuesday's game, confirmed that he received a price reduction to $615 million, with former Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr. and the 29 other MLB clubs combining to make up the $65 million difference. Crane said the Astros will have increased costs in the American League because of greater West Coast travel and the presence of the designated hitter rule.
"I think it was a good deal for baseball," Crane said. "I think it was a good deal for our owners. Would we have preferred to stay in the National League? Probably, yeah. But that wasn't the deal that was presented to us."
When asked about Berkman's comments, Crane chose to take a more diplomatic route.
"Lance can say what Lance wants to say," Crane said. "He has great ties to the Astros and was a great player there for years. We certainly understand that he's opinionated, but I wouldn't use that strong a term. I think it was just a business deal that got renegotiated."
This is the way the system's supposed to work, after all. Prospective owner makes actual owners think he'll be a fine, upstanding member of the club, then they squeeze as many pennies out of him as they can. But in this case the prospective owner actually got some pennies back. Six-and-a-half billion pennies, to be precise (which are worth seven hundred and forty-two million pennies if you melt them down, not that anybody's counting).
It was, in the end, simply a business deal, if more complicated than most. Everybody got most of what they wanted while giving up little somethings, which are the most beautiful deals.