The Bleacher Bum's Don Quixote
Shortly after Julian Loscalzo decided that he wanted to be the next commissioner of Major League Baseball, he stumbled across his horoscope in Rob Brezsny's "Real Astrology" column. Loscalzo's a Virgo, and Brezsny seemed to be speaking directly to him that day: "You're on a mission which reminds me of the amputee who climbed Mount Everest last May. Tom Whittaker was the first person with one leg who ever conquered the world's tallest peak. He'd tried and failed twice before, and a bout with pulmonary edema almost defeated him the third time. Like Whittaker, you're attempting a feat that would be difficult even if you weren't working under a handicap. And yet it's quite likely that your handicap will motivate you with a ferocity you couldn't summon if you were merely 'normal.'"
For 20 years now, Loscalzo, a 46-year-old Philadelphia native who once hawked beer at Metropolitan stadium, has been a loud and frequently lonely voice in Minnesota's ongoing battle with the establishment of Major League Baseball. In many ways the prototype of the sort of die-hard fan who has suffered most from baseball's long-standing campaign of fan abuse and neglect, Loscalzo seems genuinely astonished that the kingpins of the national pastime have been unable to wrench that devotion from him. Like the classic victim in an abusive relationship, season after season Loscalzo keeps crawling back for more. But he crawls back bitching, with an optimism born of equal parts hope, denial, and wishful thinking.
"Baseball's still the greatest game ever," Loscalzo says. "It really is. It unites generations, and it's such a big part of our social and cultural history. It continues to be amazing despite all the crap that surrounds it. No matter how hard they try they can't kill the game. But the serious fan has a real dilemma. He's in a no-win situation. You ultimately hurt yourself by simply being a fan, by continuing to go to ballgames and supporting the status quo. Or you can choose to stay away and deprive yourself of something you really love.
"The baseball establishment has always taken for granted the support of the real fans. It's just assumed that those people will always be there, but the big shots apparently fail to realize how much real attrition there has been in the ranks of the serious fan. The owners have spent decades ignoring the fans who will still be there when all the corporate meatheads and Johnny-come-latelies are gone. But they're in serious danger of losing a lot of those people as well. I'm always amazed when I talk to my friends who are hard-core fans by how many of them aren't going out to games anymore. They're still listening to the games on the radio and following the box scores, but they're more and more reluctant to go out and put money in these people's pockets."
Loscalzo was a leader of the "Save the Met" group, a loose and tenacious federation of fans who led the doomed fight against the Metrodome in the late '70s, and he'll admit to some small satisfaction in hearing his group's anti-Dome rhetoric now being recycled by the Twins in their campaign for a new outdoor stadium. "They've basically been using our scripts for the last couple years," he says. "Everything we were saying 20 years ago is just as true now as it was then. Even then we were proposing public ownership and stadium financing using user's fees. But people still don't want to listen to anyone who has practical ideas, and the fan still has no role or voice in the direction of the game."
Towards that end Loscalzo has aligned himself with a "Save the Met" spin-off called Fans Answer to New Stadium (F.A.N.S.), a group devoted to pursuing community ownership of the Twins and forcing baseball to address the economic disparities that are making it increasingly impossible for smaller-market clubs to compete. Already the group's community ownership model has found legislative backing from Rep. Phyllis Khan and Sen. Ellen Anderson, and the Twins recent signing of a two-year lease extension--while certainly a mixed blessing--at least buys a little time for F.A.N.S. to fine-tune their plan and get organized.
In the meantime Loscalzo has set his sights on the office of commissioner. He is apparently serious, even as on a practical level he recognizes the essentially quixotic nature of his campaign. When the dysfunctional clique that runs Major League Baseball--after years of posturing and treading water (and after going through the motions of appointing search committees and contracting with the executive search firm of Heidrich and Struggles)--finally dispensed with their charade and made Brewers owner Bud Selig's status as Interim Commissioner permanent, Loscalzo had had enough. "I've always felt that I should be the chair of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission," he says, "and then one day I just realized that maybe I was selling myself short. Why shouldn't I be the commissioner of baseball? I haven't met anyone yet who doesn't think I could do a better job than Bud."
The campaign was hatched over beers with Bill Hillsman and John Fitzpatrick, a couple of Loscalzo's buddies from the Kruskopf Olson advertising agency, and already this summer a stylish series of posters touting Loscalzo as baseball's next commissioner have been making guerrilla appearances at ballparks all over the country, as well as popping up in local watering holes and on telephone poles in Minneapolis and St. Paul. "IT'S A REVOLUTION WITHOUT ALL THE KILLING," one poster proclaims. "JULIAN LOSCALZO FOR BASEBALL COMMISSIONER AND COMMUNITY OWNERSHIP." "STOP WHITE COLLAR CRIME," says another. "DON'T LET THEM TAKE YOUR TEAM." Hillsman, who was the guy behind Paul Wellstone's innovative ad campaign during his first Senate race, designed the posters, and their underground distribution has already become a grassroots success story.
"We've really touched a nerve here," Fitzpatrick says. "We hope this will be a step to community ownership of the Twins, and ultimately a solid answer to what has been a nagging problem. Revolutions have traditionally been started in little taverns, and we see this as a first step to making fans part of the equation again. Julian's a quintessential fan, a fan's fan, and we wouldn't be doing this if we didn't really believe that we can get community ownership of the Twins, keep the team here, and down the road someplace build a good outdoor stadium with fans in mind."
Loscalzo admits that his campaign is still in the formative stages, and he hasn't had time to knock out the details of his platform, but he does know that nothing good can be accomplished until baseball sits down and seriously irons out the economic issues that are choking off the smaller-market franchises and generating the new stadium blackmail all over the country.
"I'd mandate no more expansion and no moving of franchises until there's some kind of effective and workable revenue-sharing plan on the table," he says. "In professional sports you're dependent on your competition for your livelihood. Like a chain, you're only as strong as your weakest link, and it's in everyone's best interests to have all the teams competitive. The public has become so much smarter about the economics of professional sports, and this whole stadium thing has really put the fans in a tough spot. As much as you'd love to have a new stadium, you know it's not going to fix any of the long-term problems baseball is facing. People have just become less and less confident that the guys running baseball have any real interest in the good of the game. Which is why now more than ever it's so important that fans have some representation and can bring their issues to the table. I'm proposing that 50 cents from every ticket sold be set aside for a fan organization. Nobody can give me a single good reason why fans shouldn't be represented at all of baseball's meetings and negotiations."
Even though Loscalzo has spent 20 years tilting at windmills, he can't help hoping that maybe this time things will be different. "You really sense that fans are finally fed up with all the hidden ball tricks that baseball has been playing on them," he says. "It's time for some real changes, and the bottom line is that we're going to say no to baseball here unless we come up with something different. There is a way to do this shit, and I'm tired of sports writers and fans rolling over and moaning about the sorry state of the game. You've got to make your changes incrementally. People need to recognize that they do have a stake in this--the ballpark is still the only place where a regular guy can go and holler at a millionaire. I see community ownership as a market test for local baseball fans. This is it. If there aren't enough fans willing to make an investment in their own team, then maybe we're done."
People who know Julian Loscalzo, though, will tell you that he's not any good at concession speeches, and for the time being, fans of the game can rest assured that they will have a noisy and dogged advocate in the man who would be commissioner. You certainly have to give the guy credit; he's got a beautiful dream. And just maybe, if there is finally any real justice in the world, those footsteps Bud Selig hears in his nightmares will be Loscalzo's.
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