Let's get down to business, not baseball

The Madison County Record Dec. 11, 2005, 1:52am

No, money cannot buy everything.

Not even taxpayer money, $3 million worth granted to multimillionaire Madison County attorney John Simmons by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Simmons, who started America's top asbestos lawsuit assembly line right here in East Alton, hopes to use our money to build a minor league baseball stadium in Marion. He endeavors to become the George Steinbrenner of Southern Illinois. Or something like that.

Last week, news broke that despite the bill of goods he sold to state officials doling out our cash, Simmons has no team for the stadium after all. The Class "A" Midwest League has rejected his attempt to buy a team in South Bend, Ind. and move it to Marion. It's too far from the others, says a league spokesman.

Worse for Simmons—- and us—- is that he may now be out of minor league options. The Midwest League is the closest one to Marion, and the market is far too small to attract larger Class "AA" or Class "AAA" franchises.

So unless Simmons starts his own league or offers to pay the airfare for every team in the Midwest League traveling to Southern Illinois, it looks that he's flat-out of luck. And we're flat-out of $3 million.

Not that either option is beyond his means. Simmons made hundreds of millions, we best guess, suing the bejeezus out of America's top employers on behalf of allegedly sick workers, keeping a hearty piece of their settlements for himself.

Now that his asbestos gig is up and the trade is falling fast out of favor—- one prominent legal expert calls it "legalized fraud"—- Simmons is diversifying. And resuscitating.

His reputation, that is. By bringing baseball to Marion, Simmons thinks he'll paper over his old image as the lawsuit-toting, Madison County-leveraging huckster. He figures people will forget where he got his money in the first place, and remember him instead as… well… Southern Illinois' George Steinbrenner.

The harsh reality is that baseball, while a happy pastime that garners major love here at The Record, wouldn't make an economic dent even if it did eventually meander its way to Marion. Come summertime, it would siphon off revenue from local bowling allies, movie theatres and the like.

But baseball won't help the economy of Southern Illinois.

That it might benefit John Simmons, arguably the man whose legal antics did the most to solidify our region's hard-earned anti-business reputation, is the sweetest irony of all.

We say good riddance to Class "A" baseball and other contrived distractions. It's time to make ours a better place to do business, not play ball.

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