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At Baseball's Extremes, It's a No-Win Situation
A great great great great great article was in today's new york times regarding baseball's economy. baisicly i'm saying it's so great because it's the same thing i said here a few days ago.
At Baseball's Extremes, It's a No-Win Situation
By HARVEY ARATON
Published: December 10, 2003
GEORGE STEINBRENNER'S Yankees payroll is soaring toward $200 million and he is, according to reports, raising his ticket prices. Do the math. Is his obsession with winning, as he contends, for the benefit of the cabbies and doormen he professes to represent?
At least New York's patron saints have an option: stay home and watch a winning product on their favorite Steinbrenner-owned cable network. In Milwaukee, the other end of baseball's ever-expanding fiscal universe, the angry collective formerly known as Brewers fans would pay good money if the hometown team and its homegrown owner turned baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, took a one-way cab to Kalamazoo.
Steinbrenner is engaged in a ferocious arms race with the Boston Red Sox, fishing deep into his revenue streams for anyone who has ever pitched a scoreless inning out of the bullpen and other, more expensive prize winter catches. If not Gary Sheffield, then Vladimir Guerrero. If not Guerrero, go ahead, create your own wish list and mail it to: Big Spender of Our Money, Tampa, Fla.
"I don't think there's any blame to be given Steinbrenner or John Henry with the Red Sox in continuing to try to build a winning team," Andrew Zimbalist, the author and sports economist from Smith College, said. "It's what you want an owner to do."
Contrast what Steinbrenner has been up to since the Yankees failed to win the World Series for the third straight year with the latest asset-purging of the Brewers and the Montreal Expos, two franchises most closely associated with the commissioner's office, and you answer the question: who is the greater menace to baseball's competition credibility, Steinbrenner or Selig?
In Milwaukee, fans are livid over the dealing of Richie Sexson (45 home runs last season) to Arizona and the team's recent announcement that it will cut payroll by 25 percent next season, to $30 million. Wisconsin politicians who supported a five-county sales tax to build Miller Park are accusing the longtime lowly Brewers — 191-295 in their three-year-old home — of reneging on a promise to field a competitive team in return for the park. In addition to a review of team finances by a panel of business executives the Brewers have agreed to, the politicians want an independent state audit.
For the record, Selig doesn't operate the Brewers. His 30 percent share is held in a trust, but his daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb, remains the chairwoman of the board. And as the controversy has turned nastier than a Brewers West Coast trip, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported recently that Rick Schlesinger, the Brewers' executive vice president for business operations, had admitted to meetings with Selig, himself and other Brewers officials.
Even assuming no Brewers business was discussed and no violation of the trust occurred, there is still an inherent conflict that makes baseball look amateurish, or worse. As commissioner, Selig presided over the collective bargaining agreement reached in 2002 that helped the Brewers collect about $15 million from revenue sharing in 2003. How does the Brewers' plan to cut $10 million from a bare-bones payroll jibe with the rationale for siphoning money from big markets to small? More important, how does Selig as baseball's ultimate authority maintain that he is enforcing a deal intended to narrow the competition imbalance?
It would help if baseball had a minimum-payroll requirement forcing small-market teams to invest the big-market largess in the on-field product. "Baseball does have an issue with Yankee or big-market dominance, but the collective bargaining agreement is supposed to be the structure that modulates that behavior," Zimbalist said. "It doesn't, but to expect Steinbrenner or a John Henry with the Red Sox to not use their resources is ridiculous."
If the Red Sox land shortstop Alex Rodriguez and closer Keith Foulke, Steinbrenner's payroll may hit a quarter-billion next season. But here is the expensive lesson he should have started learning in the ninth inning of Game 7, 2001, in Arizona: He can't buy the World Series. If he keeps spending on the basis of statistics, he'll eventually risk collapsing from the weight of his own ambition.
In October, the Yankees were beaten by Florida, a team with roughly one-third their payroll. The year before, Anaheim wiped them out in the playoffs and won the World Series with a player expenditure that was middle-of-the-road. Minnesota and Oakland continue to hold their own. All of these teams have proved that smartly controlled budgets allow for the possibility of a pennant race, or more, as opposed to what the Brewers are doing, which is asking fans to pay money to watch them save money, in a ballpark those fans helped build. This is the real black eye for baseball, even as Steinbrenner takes more verbal pie in the face for, among other things, relieving the Expos of Javier Vasquez's salary.
Now Guerrero, the Expos' other prime asset, has been surrendered, becoming the market's premier free agent. Baseball fiddles as the once-proud and still-productive Montreal franchise burns. Several months ago, it was suggested in this space that the Expos be sold to the highest bidder with the promise of inhabiting Miller Park in Milwaukee. With the proceeds from the sale, baseball could then buy out Selig and Company and fold the Brewers. Milwaukee would have a team it could again trust, the Expos would have a home, and Selig would no longer be dogged by conflict of interest.
"A cute plan," Zimbalist called it. Any Brewers fan with a better one can mail it to: Nonspender of Our Money for Players, Milwaukee, Wis.