Sports

Valentine's Daily Massacre

If you need a single sound bite to summarize the difference between Bobby Valentine and Joe Torre, go back before the All-Star Game to last weekend's Subway Series.

When Torre was getting blasted by WFAN's Chris Russo over his decision to take seven Yankees to the All-Star Game, did he get mad? No, the ever diplomatic Torre actually complimented Mad Dog for having the character to confront him on the air. But when presented with a convenient Rick Reed injury that allowed him to put Cliff Floyd on the team, did Valentine rest on his good fortune? No, he did his best Steven Brill, criticizing the assembled media horde for not knowing who knew what when.

"Why can't the facts disprove bullshit?" he wondered aloud. (The press box consensus on l'affaire Floyd: It was a misunderstanding, rather than an intentional setup. "He's a sick bastard, but I don't think he's that sick," reasoned one columnist.)

Of course, this is all a tempest in a teapot, and one that could be easily remedied. First, Major League Baseball could depoliticize the selection process by banning All-Star bonuses just as they've banned performance incentives. And then the league offices could take over their rightful role as the GM of the team—since when do managers have complete responsibility for roster moves anyway?—and take the heat for making the selections.

Could the deliciously cynical Tim McCarver be right when he suggests that the game's powers that be see this annual who's-goin' controversy as a way to boost interest in baseball's midsummer classic? Nah.


Fields of Tax-Exempt Dreams

As details begin to leak out about the city's negotiations to shovel money at new stadiums for the Mets and Yanks, one of Mayor Giuliani's key trial balloons may have just popped.

Last Wednesday, the Times's Charles Bagli reported that the city planned to spend $800 million in cash on new stadiums in the Bronx and Queens, while issuing another $800 million in tax-exempt bonds. These bonds would be paid back with revenues from "ticket sales, naming rights, advertising, and parking."

Only one problem with the mayor's reported plan: It's probably illegal.

As part of the 1986 Tax Reform Act, Congress outlawed the use of tax-exempt bonds for "private activities," with sports stadiums specifically included. The only exception allowed was for a project in which less than 10 percent of the bonds were paid off with revenues from the project itself—one reason why sports franchises moving into new stadiums have generally paid minuscule or nonexistent rents, so as not to jeopardize their cities' stadium bonds.

Mayor Dinkins used a we-borrow-you-pay plan for Flushing's National Tennis Center, but that was on behalf of the nonprofit United States Tennis Association. "Governments can issue tax-exempt bonds for nonprofits," observes Dennis Zimmerman, a bond expert with the Congressional Budget Office.

"But the Yankees are most assuredly not a nonprofit organization." Using more expensive taxable bonds would force either the teams or the city to come up with an extra $5 million or so in annual interest payments on each stadium, on top of the $27 million apiece the Mets and Yankees would have to put up.

Similar confusion helped kill a stadium deal in Boston last year, after Mayor Tom Menino proposed using tax-exempt bonds to help finance a $665 million replacement for Fenway Park. When the community group Save Fenway Park! contacted Zimmerman for an analysis of the plan, he discovered that the bonds' tax-exempt status would be jeopardized because they would be paid back with Red Sox parking garage revenue. The Boston stadium plan has since all but collapsed under the weight of its own shaky financing.

Of course, whether Giuliani is working off similarly bad financial advice or is just hoping to dump the whole mess in the lap of his Gracie Mansion successor (no, not Donna) is impossible to say. "It's hard for me to believe that with something as fundamental as tax-exempt financing," says Zimmerman, "they wouldn't have somebody there to say, 'Hold it a minute, you can't do this.' But I guess I shouldn't be surprised at anything."


High on Grass

Monday's nail-biting men's final at Wimbledon wasn't just a victory for the enigmatic Goran Ivanesevic, but a vindication of the whole concept of surface seeding.

How low had the Croatian sunk before his Wimbledon run? In a second-round match against Hjung-Taik Lee in last November's Samsung Open, Ivanesevic demolished three Head Prestige rackets in frustration.

The problem? He only brought three rackets, which for a pro is like showing up without shoelaces, and was forced to default the match.

"I decided I wouldn't need more than three because I wasn't expecting to win," he confessed. "When I finish, I will at least be remembered for something else as well as losing Wimbledon finals." But this past fortnight, with his huge lefty serve rendering him all but unbreakable, and his all-or-nothing groundies earning him a few needed service breaks, the 125th-ranked Ivanesevic was more at home on grass than Woody Harrelson, mowing down Andy Roddick, Greg Rusedski, Marat Safin, Tim Henman, and Patrick Rafter in succession.

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