Friday | August 30, 2002
It's about the fans
Okay. It's been a slow couple of news days, and frankly, I need to take a break from writing about war, or deficits, or corporate malfeasance. Campaign polls released the past few days have been uneventful. Sure it's interesting that MA's Mitt Romney and FL's Jeb Bush are both trying to pick their primary candidates (a la Gray Davis), and maybe I could've chatted about the first declared presidential candidate for 2004, but those topics could wait another day.
You see, I can't concentrate on anything but the baseball strike.
The debate has been shaped by the media and both sides as "Players v. Owners". So, you hear "Millionaire players are greedy bastards", and "Billionaire owners are greedy bastards", and then people are asked to choose sides (owners are winning the PR battle this time).
However, the issue really isn't about who gets baseball's billions in revenues. I don't think most people give a ratís ass about either side. What fans truly want, and what they hope to see out of the new labor agreement, is a mechanism that will bring some real competition into the league.
In football, a team from Green Bay (pop. 30,000) can be a powerhouse and win Super Bowls. Even the Kansas City Chiefs can be perennial contenders. In basketball, teams from San Antonio, Portland, and Sacramento can compete with the New Yorks and Los Angeles. Yet in baseball, it's the Yankees, and no one else. There is about a $50 million difference between the Yankees and the second highest payroll in the game.
In baseball, about 19 of the 30 teams were eliminated before the first game was played. Revenue disparities are killing the game. Why should a KC fan watch the Royals get crushed by the Yankees (with a $125 million payroll differential) when they could look forward to NFL season, where their Chiefs actually have a fighting chance? Despite what Steinbrenner might think, the Yankees need other teams. They're called opponents, and if the economic disparities in the game persist, there won't be any left for the Yankees to play.
"But," say the Yankee boosters, "the Yanks haven't bought their World Series, they develop great talent in house like Bernie Williams, Alfonso Soriano, and Derek Jeter!" True, but every team develops great talent. The A's developed a great talent named Jason Giambi, but their piddly $35 million payroll couldn't afford to hold off the $155 million Yanks. The Yankees, on the other hand, don't have to worry about ANY other team coming in and taking Soriano from them. Or Jeter. Or Williams, or anyone else on the team.
And in any case, the cornerstone of the team -- it's pitching staff -- doesn't have a single Yankee farmhand. It's all been bought and imported from other teams. Left to their own farm system, the Yanks would be competitive, but wouldn't be the juggernaut it is today.
"But," say the Yankee boosters, "teams like the A's are competing on a fraction of the Yankees' payroll!" True, but the A's have no chance of keeping any of its superstars. Last offseason it was Giambi. Is there any doubt the A's would be the runaway favorites had Giambi stayed? Star shortstop Tejada will be the next A's to hit the jackpot elsewhere.
So the solution? Institute a salary cap, AND a salary minimum. The player's union has a bad habit of representing it superstars at the expense of the scrubs who fill out the rest of the rosters. Institute revenue sharing, but force the low-payroll teams to reinvest that money on the team by instituting a salary minimum (something the player's union inexplicably opposes). Sure, players might make even more money, but so what. If the money is there, and the market bears it, good for them (no one complains about Julia Roberts bringing in $20 million per movie, or Jerry Seinfeld bringing in $90 million in annual syndication royalties).
The only thing that matters is creating an even playing field for all of baseball's teams. Every game has a set of rules instituted to ensure that neither side gets an unfair advantage. That notion is non-existent in baseball, where money gives a handful of teams an immediate and difficult to surmount advantage.
Update (8 a.m. PST): ESPN is reporting the strike should be averted -- they're only an hour from finalizing the agreement. They are also reporting that three teams are refusing to strike, meaning the owners may have finally cracked the union.Posted August 30, 2002 08:10 AM | Comments (12)