Letters

McLane's Game
I am sick and tired of hearing Drayton McLane whine about fans not "supporting" the Astros ["Drayton McLane's Season of Hope," by Steve McVicker, May 11]. McLane and other owners of sports franchises operate on a double standard. They ask us (the public) to treat the team as a civic institution, deserving of public support and subsidies. (In the case of the Astros this takes the form of a publicly owned stadium leased to the team at a ridiculously low rent.) However, they seem to feel that they have a right to make a profit on this civic icon whether or not they run it in a businesslike manner.

The fact is that, except in the case of media tycoons like Ted Turner, who buy sports franchises as a source of software, team owners do not run their teams as business enterprises; they are ego-gratifying hobbies. This can be seen by the current spate of long-term player contracts. A successful businessman like Drayton McLane certainly understands that it does not make business sense to invest millions of dollars in such fragile commodities as the pitching arms of Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell. However, a team that doesn't pay big salaries to free agents will have a hard time winning, and owning a losing team, no matter how profitable, is not nearly as much fun as winning. Thus, these wealthy hobbyists overspend their budgets in the hopes that one more left-handed starter will put them in the World Series. But, unlike rich guys who play golf or collect matchbook covers, McLane and his colleagues seem to think that they are entitled to both the fun of owning a baseball team and a profit guaranteed by the communities whose names they have so graciously sewed on their players' uniforms. Thus their cries for "support."

You can't have it both ways. If the Astros are a business enterprise, then it is their responsibility to provide me, their customer, with a product I want to buy at a price I want to pay (and, by the way, pay for their stadium at market prices). If they can't sell enough units, it is their fault, not Houston's. After all, nobody says that Houstonians have a civic duty to buy 'X' number of Compaq computers or Pappas' restaurant meals just because they are local businesses. That means that Mr. McLane needs to get with his fellow owners and devise some arrangement whereby supporters of their teams can invest some time and enthusiasm in the game without being worried that the whole season will be called off for more fun at the NLRB.

On the other hand, if the Astros are a civic emblem, necessary for Houston to maintain its status as a major city whether or not the club is profitable, we should treat it like we do similar institutions. The art museum, opera, universities and theater are all civic icons which fail to support themselves and are therefore subsidized by governmental and private philanthropy. However, all of these institutions are run by non-profit corporations or governmental agencies and are, therefore, not controlled by a single "owner" who expects a profit. If McLane wants to turn the Astros over to a non-profit board representing the Houston community, I'll be glad to do my duty and support the team. Until then, it's Drayton's responsibility to sell me a ticket by convincing me that baseball is offering a product that is worth the ticket price.

By the way, just for the record, I am not some anti-sports effete snob, but a lifelong baseball fan. In years past I have attended ten or more Astros games per year. This year so far I've been to none.

Bruce Griffiths
Houston

Help Wanted
I have a problem others may share. I saw the excellent reviews of the Chinese film To Live, went to see it and was swept away by its magnificence. My wife and I decided we had to get a copy on videotape to see again and again at home. Enter problem: The Houston Press reviews do not give information on availability (or non-availability) on U.S. format videotape. A phone call to Columbia House Video Club received the same reaction I would expect if I tried to order masala dosa at McDonald's. A visit to Blockbuster also yielded zip (the clerk seemed mystified that the director's name could be spelled several different ways when transliterated from Chinese to English -- oh, our educational system strikes again...).

Would Matt Zoller Seitz, Joe Hon, or any of your other reviewers: a) be in a position to find out if/where/how/who supplies video versions of foreign films? b) be willing to add this info to the end of the reviews? Help, please.

Tom Brucia
Houston

Editor's note: We usually review movies long before they're on video.

The Sun Could Rise in the West
Your recent letters and articles on the subject seem to assume that the era of daily newspaper competition is gone for good in Houston. It ain't necessarily so. Look at two of the other places that have previously held the title of "largest one newspaper city," Los Angeles and Washington. Both now have daily competition again. True, L.A. is a larger market, and D.C. is the seat of our government, such as it is. But then again, our own "leading information source" isn't exactly in the same league with the Los Angeles Times or the Washington Post. With a little of that famous Houston entrepreneurial spirit, it could happen.

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