Posted: Wednesday November 21, 2001 6:03 PM
Updated: Wednesday December 05, 2001 12:06 PM
Players, owners make their grab for all that dough
We all know what baseball's labor problems are all about. They're what baseball's problems are always about.
How do players and owners split up all that cash? Who gets how much? How do the players and owners spread around all those stacks and stacks of bills so the game becomes healthy in these economically trying times and everybody -- filthy rich owner and filthy rich player alike -- is relatively happy?
Yeah. We should all have those kinds of problems.
Think about it, if you have the stomach: The average salary of a major league baseball player is more than $2.2 million a year. That's skewed a bit because Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez makes a stunning $25 million a year. Still, $2.2 million-plus is the average. More than 420 players started the 2001 season earning more than $1 million a year.
In 1976, the average salary for a major-league ballplayer was $51,000. The minimum -- the minimum -- last season was $200,000.
The players, clearly, aren't starving.
But neither are the owners. Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad is worth $1.8 billion but is willing to give up his team because taxpayers won't help pay for a new stadium and other owners don't seem willing to budge on revenue sharing ideas. Texas Rangers owner Thomas Hicks is worth $780 million. Cincinnati Reds owner Carl Lindner, who has a new tax-supported ballpark being built, is worth $650 million. Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane is worth $1.1 billion.
Many other teams are owned by multi-billion dollar companies, including the Anaheim Angels (Walt Disney Co.), the Atlanta Braves (AOL Time Warner) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (News Corporation).
The average value of a team, according to Forbes, is $263 million, ranging from the Yankees ($635 million) to the Montreal Expos ($92 million).
More money is coming in through ticket sales, merchandising and television rights than ever before. Major League Baseball just ended the first year of a five-year, $2.5 billion contract with FOX television. Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, a thrilling game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees, just got the best ratings of any baseball game on TV in the past 10 years.
At the ballpark, the game has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. Attendance in 2001 reached more than 72 million, or more than 30,000 fans a game.
The revenues that baseball generates, clearly, are going through the roof.
Because of, at least partly, those high salaries, baseball claims most of its 30 teams are losing money.
Worse than that, perhaps, the game itself seems now to be in the hands of the richer, higher-paying teams. Since 1994, there have been 31 postseason series. No team that has a payroll in the bottom half of the league has won any of them. Not one.
Simply put: The rich teams win. The "poor" ones don't. Even feel-good stories like this season's low-budget Twins and Oakland Athletics have not been able to change it.
That so-called "competitive imbalance" is ruining the game, some say. And it calls, for some drastic changes in the economic structure of the game.
"I don't think that any of us ever believed that the disparity, both in terms of payroll and gross revenue, would get to what it is so far," baseball commissioner Bud Selig, the former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and someone seen as strongly in the owners' camp in this dispute, said in March. "Therefore, we want to try to solve it. We need to do everything that we have to do."
Few onlookers doubt that there are not at least a few teams losing money -- though, with bookkeeping methods being what they are, who can ever tell? But many analysts wonder how the game could be in the sad state that Selig now says it's in. Baseball is, after all, a $3 billion industry.
Still, here we are, money belt-deep in another offseason filled with labor strife. Since 1972, baseball has had eight work stoppages in eight tries. That's a great average, unless you're a fan of the game.
How much fixing does the game need? How do owners and players plan on doing it? Can a new labor contract that addresses these problems be worked out? When?
As in any labor negotiation, there are a few basic issues, a few buzzwords and buzz-phrases that abound in the rhetoric. In Part Two , we'll look into some words and phrases you'll hear in the next few weeks ... and what they really mean.
But, remember, it all comes back to money. Always has. Always will.