Work in Sports
Posted: Tuesday January 25, 2000 06:04 PM
Can the commissioner's new powers heal baseball?
By Michael Farber
Bud I's appointment as head of the baseball church by the Cardinals and the other 29 major league teams last week was welcomed at the owners' meetings with a puff of white smoke that, refreshingly, wasn't wafting in from a fire sale in Montreal or Minnesota. Bud Selig had been commissioner since July 1998. Now he was being trumpeted as pontiff of parity. After gutting the position by forcing Fay Vincent's resignation in '92, after muddling along for six years with a commissioner's office but no commissioner, the owners ordained that Selig should have the most clout of anyone in baseball since Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
Bud I has been charged with ensuring long-term competitive balance, and in theory he can brandish a beefed-up "best interests of baseball" clause like a Louisville Slugger to achieve that end. He can block trades and even attempt to impose a salary cap after the 2001 season if he thinks bargaining with the Players Association is at an impasse, though that latter power is roughly equivalent to having the freedom to stick a damp fork into an electrical outlet.
The problem is, Bud I is like a pope under the Medici: His powers are hardly absolute. He can dole out baseball's so-far minuscule Internet rights fees to feeble franchises -- Yahoo! -- but until he gets the Yankees to put their half-billion dollars from local broadcast rights into the pool with the Expos' $12.75 and three subway tokens, until revenue sharing is broad and bold, the gap between the Midases and the Minnesotas will not be closed significantly.
Selig has the best of intentions -- when SI asked him what he considered the most significant act by a sports commissioner, he named Pete Rozelle's persuading NFL teams to share their revenue -- but he will be operating with a Band-Aid in a sport that needs a tourniquet. The economic paradigm truly has shifted in the past five years. "If you study [the competitive imbalance of earlier decades] -- and I've looked over the financial statements of great teams in the past -- you'll see it was brought about by excellent baseball men like Branch Rickey and George Weiss far more than it was by money," Selig said. "It wasn't as much about money as it was about competence. That's what we hope to restore."
Good luck, but baseball needs a reformation.
Issue date: January 31, 2000
For more Scorecard see this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands Wednesday, January 26. Click here to subscribe to SI.