Foul Ball

With the proliferation of free agency, team relocations, and random drug tests, it's becoming almost impossible to follow Major League Baseball. It's really true that you can't tell the players without a scorecard.

However, even a scorecard won't do you much good unless you also possess an intricate knowledge of the game or a metal plate in your head, or as is often the case, both. This is because baseball jargon is filled with senseless initials and acronyms, such as Ks, HRs, RBIs, DUIs, etc.

And to make matters worse, MLB recently added another acronym to this collection-RICO. On July 16th, 14 former owners of the Montreal Expos filed a lawsuit in federal district court against baseball commissioner Bud Selig, Florida Marlin owner Jeffrey Loria, and others accusing them of violating RICO.

RICO is the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. This law was originally enacted to give the government a powerful weapon in its ongoing war with organized crime. In fact, RICO was used to bring down John Gotti and other "reputed" mobsters.

So how does all of this apply to Major League Baseball? Well, according to the plaintiffs, the defendants are "members of a racketeering enterprise with the object of eliminating Major League Baseball in Montreal."

Now, I will admit that I slept through a fair amount of law school (i.e. all of it), but I really don't think that "eliminating Major League Baseball in Montreal" is a crime.

And even if it is a crime, it shouldn't be punished under a statute that provides such harsh penalties as life imprisonment, asset forfeiture or worse, Cubs season tickets.

After all, RICO was enacted to go after notorious organizations, such as the Mafia. As you can probably tell, I'm not a big fan of professional baseball. However, not even I would equate Major League Baseball with the Mafia. After all, the Mafia is well run and actually makes a profit.

More importantly, the allegations against Major League Baseball in this complaint aren't exactly of the "I'm going to make you an offer you can't refuse" variety. In short, the defendants are accused of sabotaging the plaintiff's plans to revitalize the struggling Expos franchise.

The plaintiffs claim that the Selig and Loria conspired to weaken the franchise so that they could fold it and open another franchise in the U.S. More importantly, the plaintiffs claim that Selig and Loria lied to accomplish this purpose through telephone conversations and letters.

Now, you may not think that these allegations constitute a conspiracy worthy of a RICO claim, or even an Oliver Stone movie. However, that's just because you're not thinking like a lawyer (i.e. irrationally). To the plaintiffs' lawyer, the defendant's lies over the phone and by mail constitute wire and mail fraud, which are two of the "racketeering activities" covered by RICO.

And this is the big problem with RICO. By including innocuous offenses, such as mail and wire fraud, it opens the door for lawsuits against everyone, not just organized crime figures.

For instance, let's suppose you and a friend conspire to call in sick to work one day and go to the beach. In this case, you have technically committed wire fraud (using the telephone to defraud your employer). Moreover, you have "conspired" to do so and therefore, you could be sued by your employer under RICO. Of course, this is unlikely because your company is probably far too busy defending itself in its own RICO lawsuit.

In fact, RICO lawsuits have been filed against several companies in the last few years. The claims in these cases almost never involve allegations of traditional racketeering activities, such as loan sharking, drug trafficking, throwing a temper tantrum at Wimbledon, etc. Instead, these claims usually center on such "nefarious" activities as wrongful termination and insurance denials.

Nevertheless, until the statute is reformed, these claims will continue to proliferate. This is because RICO provides a powerful remedy for plaintiffs-treble damages.

NOTE: For those of you educated in the public school system, "treble damages" are not what happens to your hearing when you crank up the car stereo volume. Treble damages allow you to collect triple the amount of your damages, or in baseball parlance, "3D".

Therefore, in the Expos case, the plaintiffs are claiming compensatory and punitive damages of $200 million. However, through the magic of treble damages, they could receive as much as $600 million.

Therefore, if successful, the plaintiffs in this case will turn a legal triple play, which I believe would be scored "TP" or probably better, just plain "BS".