Baseball may lose its weakest links on the field

Scripps Howard News Service
Published Wednesday, June 27, 2001

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Contraction is a hot topic. Major League Baseball owners are contemplating eliminating two to four teams.

Commissioner Bud Selig has said "anything is possible" in an attempt to solve competitive imbalance. One option is exterminating struggling organizations such as the Expos, Marlins, Twins and Devil Rays.

Since some franchises can't compete with the Yankees, Braves and Dodgers because they don't generate enough revenue or sell enough tickets, some officials believe MLB would become stronger by eliminating financially strapped franchises.

Sorry, Twins, Expos and Marlins, you are the weakest link! Goodbye!

If contraction became reality, owners would pay outgoing teams an estimated $150 million per franchise and divide players in an expansion-like dispersal draft.

Forget about it. It's a sham. Baseball owners, who didn't have the gumption to stand up to the powerful players union in previous contract negotiations, won't have the courage to take on Congress.

If Selig announced two teams' elimination, officials in those cities would file lawsuits. Disgruntled fans would call legislators, who would pressure President Bush to intercede. Most importantly, Congress might threaten to revoke baseball's antitrust privileges.

And we haven't discussed the union's reaction. Eliminate 50 to 100 major league jobs and union boss Donald Fehr's showdown with Selig would be like Mike Tyson fighting a 10-year-old kid.

Owners are trying to find solutions to the small market-big market dilemma in a year the labor contract expires. The last thing owners want is another strike or lockout, but it's a possibility. We could face another work stoppage in April 2002.

One solution is revenue sharing. NFL owners essentially divide TV money equally among 31 teams. Baseball is just the opposite. The Yankees will collect more than $60 million this year off local TV and radio deals. The Twins and Royals get $5 million apiece.

Another option is a salary cap. The most popular plan includes a maximum ($100 million) and minimum ($50 million) salary caps combined with owners sharing 50 percent of TV/radio revenue.

Relocation is nothing more than a Band-Aid solution. Montreal doesn't deserve a team but the Expos can relocate to Carolina or D.C./northern Virginia.

Markets don't fail baseball; baseball fails markets. It wasn't that long ago the Indians and Braves were viewed as weak links. Today, they're thriving organizations. The Royals made six playoff appearances during the George Brett era. Now KC is viewed as a small-market weak link.

Until owners such as George Steinbrenner, Ted Turner, Tom Hicks and others share at least 50 percent of local TV revenue with small-market teams, there will be a peasants-royalty class system that turns teams like the Royals into a Triple-A farm club.

Contraction is a ruse. Just once, it would be nice to see baseball officials stand up to Steinbrenner and other fat-cat owners. Major League Baseball needs to develop long-term solutions, not slight-of-hand proposals that have no substance.

(Mike Baldwin writes for the Oklahoma City Daily Oklahoman)

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