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No signs of green peace
Posted: Wednesday April 28, 1999 01:15 PM
Click here to send your baseball questions to SI's Tom Verducci.
Here we are only one month into the year after The Best Season Ever and the mailbag brings worries about lockouts and money, money, money. Why do baseball stories include more dollar signs than those of any other sport? I guess because the economic system is the most out of whack. Evidently, you have noticed, too. Folks, this is not the sort of green Bart Giamatti had in mind when he wrote about The Green Fields of the Mind .
But here goes with the financial report, beginning with Ryan Zabriskie of Galveston, Texas , who wonders what the Astros have to do to bring a championship to Houston ("Do they need to bring in another owner with deeper pockets?") The Astros, as you know, have a new ballpark coming next year, already pay 13 of their players more than $1 million and are the class of the NL Central -- all done without corporate ownership. Give Drayton McLane and Gerry Hunsicker credit: they've built a terrific club without a huge payroll. The Astros don't need an owner with deeper pockets. They need Derek Bell , Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio to hit in the postseason. Assuming Moises Alou comes back in September, this could be a World Series team this year.
Next up on the financial report is Nick Werner of Milwaukee , who laments disparity in payrolls and asks, "What would it take for owners to see the light at the end of the tunnel and understand they are going to drive away fans who are sick of seeing the Yankees, Indians and Braves in the playoffs every year?" Spoken like a true fan in Bud Selig 's backyard. Yes, revenue disparity needs to be addressed. And the owners DO see the light and would love to change the system. Their problem is they need to find a creative solution instead of continually carping about a salary cap. They are not getting one, and if they do insist on one there will be no baseball in 2002. For starters, they need to get realignment done and to change the schedule slightly so that small market teams play each other more often while the big boys pound away on each other. (Just like the adjusted schedules each year in the NFL.) That's great for rivalries, too. I believe the owners have opted to let this problem go unchecked for the next two years so that when November 2001 comes along the lockout can begin on the basis that revenue disparity has grown so out of control that the game must be shut down. Last go-round they argued that a small percentage of the players were earning a disproportionate amount of the money. It was salary disparity. This time their chip is payroll disparity.
As for Bud's Brewers, Dan Dordel of Greendale, Wis. , wonders if Miller Park will help the Brew Crew contend with the Indians next year. Sorry, Dan, but while the park will help the revenue picture, the Brewers still won't bring in the dollars that the Astros, Cardinals and Cubs do. More importantly, they just don't have the talent. The Brewers have missed the boat on having a team ready to contend when a new park opens (see Indians, Orioles, Rockies, with the Tigers ready to follow suit next year). They do have some good minor league arms and might actually develop their first All-Star starter since Ted Higuera . And I wonder, after the honeymoon first year in Miller Park, will the fans of Milwaukee continue to pack the place if the Brewers are winning 79 games a year?
One way to help these small market clubs is the inevitable inclusion of advertising patches on uniforms, as noted by John Kingston of Carle Place, N.Y. , who wonders how the dough will be divided. That's yet to be decided. First of all, MLB must negotiate with the players to make this come true. In other words, they have to give the players a cut of the action. What happens to the rest of the money will be interesting. Obviously, a patch on a Yankees uniform is worth more than one on Bud's Brewers. But why should the Yankees get more money? That only exacerbates the situation. It's better to spread the money around. For instance, when you buy a Yankees cap at a sporting goods store, the Brewers, Twins and everybody else gets a cut. The owners have to negotiate this and other issues among themselves. For instance, could McDonald's pay money just to get Mark McGwire 's sleeve while the rest of the team sports a Burger King patch? My guess is that this will take at least a year to figure out, and even then it could get pushed into being part of messy labor negotiations in 2001.
Okay, why don't we toss in some baseball questions now, such as Jason Lazo of Toronto wondering who will be the next Kerry Wood or Bartolo Colon -- a young pitcher who makes a quick impact. Jason's certainly on target when he mentions Chris Carpenter , Kelvim Escobar and Roy Halladay of the Jays, who look like they could be the Canadian version of Glavine , Smoltz and Avery circa 1990. Jeff Weaver of Detroit looks very polished. Mark Muldar will be in Oakland before the year is out and make an immediate impact. I still like Carl Pavano of Montreal, though he's been slower to develop than I thought he'd be. Jeff Austin will help Kansas City next year at the latest. But the one guy that really stands out is Rick Ankiel , who is tearing up the minors for St. Louis. At this rate I believe he can do for the Cardinals what Jaret Wright did for the Indians in 1997. Wright pitched that winter in the Arizona Fall League, started in Double A, wound up pitching very well in a pennant race and stood to be the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series before Jose Mesa messed things up. Give me the choice of any young pitcher right now and I'll take Ankiel.
Rick Cobb of Mustang, Okla. , wonders why the Braves don't have a mustang of their own at the top of their lineup, seeing that Otis Nixon hits like an old mule. Great question. I know there are very few true leadoff men in baseball and the Braves have done very well this decade without one of their own ( Lonnie Smith may have been their best.). Andruw Jones , about whom Rick inquired, is not the long-term answer, though in the past Bobby Cox hasn't ruled him out there. He can be a big-time run producer and I'd rather see him hitting with men on base. I believe the Braves would rather find another bat for first base, such as Rico Brogna , and live with Nixon or Walt Weiss at the top of the lineup.
Jordan Silver of Brooklyn, N.Y. , asks who, among active pitchers, will win 300 games. Very few pitchers will be joining that list, mostly because of the five-man rotation but also because relief pitchers get more and more decisions with all this offense forcing starters to throw more pitches. I do think Roger Clemens will get there, especially because he is likely to get a contract extension from the Yankees. They are so good he can get more "easy" wins and he won't have to pitch so deeply into games, thus extending his career. Plus, the guy WANTS to do it. That's half the battle.
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