Dear Dubya

Cardinals owner William DeWitt Jr. catches up with an old friend

George W. Bush
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, D.C.

Hello, George:

Sorry I've been out of touch so long -- let me know when you figure out how to use your e-mail, and I'll write more often. And thanks for giving me my choice of ambassadorships. Would've been nice, but I've been pretty busy trying to nail down this stadium deal out in St. Louis.

Danny Hellman

All those trips to Missouri have really paid off. It couldn't have gone any better last week when I inked the deal -- this will make that fortune you made with the Rangers (with my help, remember?) look like something the tooth fairy left under Jenna's pillow.

Giving Michael Pulitzer a piece of the team proved an outstanding investment. We couldn't have asked for better coverage from the Post-Dispatch. It was immaculately orchestrated -- a full-page ad in the sports section, a favorable editorial, a lengthy (and friendly) analysis of the deal by an economics professor, along with a fancy photo illustration that included the purported dollar figures with cheering fans in the foreground. On the front page, the headline blared, "Team Sets Big-League Standard," with a story that said we accepted one of the priciest stadium deals in baseball. Hah!

The only sour note was a short story -- buried deep in the front section -- that reported fans at Busch that day almost universally panned the deal, but who cares what they think? Plus, we held the press conference late in the day with no copies of the agreement available for the press, in case overly ambitious journalists had notions about reading the fine print and calling wiseguys who might be able to decipher it.

The pols outdid themselves. I couldn't believe it when the straight-faced mayor kept telling reporters the ballpark will pay for itself -- he even proclaimed this deal will produce $1 billion in annual economic-development activity in the city! Rep. Dick Gephardt and Gov. Bob Holden were also all smiles. "As you know from the high standards I established for any acceptable Cardinals' agreement, we at the state level, along with our friends in the city and county, drove a hard bargain with the Cardinals to reach this point," the guv gushed. "The agreement, in reality, will not cost our state taxpayers a dime." Strange words from a man who just gave me $100 million of taxpayer money to build the world's largest ATM -- and I'm the only one with the PIN.

Then there was baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who got the loudest applause when he promised to park his fanny in my new ballpark in 2006 to enjoy the annual All-Star Game -- they were like 10-year-olds celebrating the discovery of a 2-cent toy in a $2 box of moldy Cracker Jack. And I didn't even have to pay him to say, "There is no franchise anywhere in any sport that has a greater history and tradition than the St. Louis Cardinals." Guess the Budmeister never heard of the Boston Celtics, the Montreal Canadiens or even the New York Yankees (that would be the team of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle, which has won 26 World Series, as opposed to my team's nine world championships).

Good thing I was standing behind the cameras -- even a stoic like me can only take so much. I was beginning to think these guys would believe me if I told them the starship Enterprise is now in orbit and ready to beam down stacks of krugerrands.

But that would have been wrong. The pitch was much more believable, if equally fantastic. Here's the deal: I put up $118 million and donate the land (thank God I won't have to pay those property taxes anymore). And they were all kind enough to take my word that my piece of dirt, now used as a bus-parking lot, is worth $20 million, so I can boast I'm really contributing $138 million (just $18 million more in cash than I offered in my opening bid -- not much more than keeping a couple of mediocre relief pitchers on the payroll for one season, let alone 30 years). The state kicks in $100 million, the city covers $60 million and the county coughs up $40 million. The city also reduces its tax on tickets from 5 percent to 1.5 percent after the first $85 million in gross sales.

Everyone except me is getting rooked here, but the county, which is coming up with its money from a hotel-motel tax used to pay off the TransWorld Dome, is getting rooked the least. Theirs is a simple, clear-cut deal, and when you're dealing with me, that's the best kind of deal you're going to get. At least Buzz Westfall knows upfront how much KY jelly he'll need.

It's a far trickier matter for the state and city, which are both putting up a lot more than the county. They've tried to cover their butts by swearing there'll be no new taxes -- that should go over well with state legislators, especially in an election year. They're counting on vaults full of new tax dollars from fancy luxury boxes and ballpark beer, but they'll be on the hook big-time if the players go on strike or a recession hits.

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