One Hat Too Many
How can Carl Barger be president of two teams?
Last Thursday at a press conference in Miami, the Florida Marlins of the National League introduced their new logo, new uniform design and new president, Carl Barger. By Monday, Barger was back in Pittsburgh overseeing the business of the Pirates, for whom he is also president.
It doesn't seem possible that one man can run two major league teams, but it has been that way since July 8, when Barger was named president of Florida's expansion team. Neither the Pirates nor the Marlins nor the baseball commissioner, Fay Vincent, saw any conflict of interest.
But other people do. Says one baseball executive, "At the All-Star Game in Toronto, I heard some complaining—I mean loud complaining—from general managers saying how absurd this is, how bad it's making baseball look. How can you serve two masters? What unmitigated gall. It's like the president of Ford going over to be president of General Motors and wanting to stay in both jobs."
Barger, who plans to step down as soon as the Pirates find his successor, deflects such criticism, saying, "A conflict of interest is only a conflict if it's not known by everybody. Here, it's known by everyone. But if this conflict issue gets to where there's a real belief that it's hurting the Pirates or the Marlins or baseball, I will take the initiative and take one hat off."
Potential conflicts abound. This may be farfetched, but what's to prevent Barger from negotiating a short-term Pirate contract with potential free-agent Bobby Bonilla with an eye toward signing him in the future for the Marlins? How can Barger be devoting his full energy to the Pirates at the same time that he has to start building a rival franchise? Both the Pirates and the Marlins are looking for spring training sites in Florida. If Barger deems, say, Naples more desirable than Homestead, which of his clubs gets Naples? And what does he say to a Pirate underling who asks about a job with the Marlins?
By all accounts, Barger is an honorable man who would try to do the right thing. But as he himself points out, "Perception sometimes is every bit as important as reality." The perception in this case is that Barger is trying to have his cake and eat it too.
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