One of the most intriguing exhibits entered into evidence during the NFL trial was a document that had nothing to do with pro football. It was a "summary of operations" of the 1990 baseball season, prepared for baseball's owners by the accounting firm of Ernst & Young, and it was used to support the pro-free agency testimony of Don Fehr, president of the baseball players' union.
The summary refuted much of the baseball owners' incessant poor-mouthing, including the claim of clubs in small television markets that local TV revenue can make or break a team financially. In fact, the document indicated that the biggest difference between the eight most successful teams and the eight least successful is attendance, not TV.
If the owners are so concerned about the stability of the game, it would seem simple enough for them to come up with a revenue-sharing scheme in which the richest teams (some of which stand to make as much as $25 million in profit this year) share some of their wealth. But instead of looking to their more prosperous fellows for relief, the owners seem determined to turn on the Players Association.
The owners cling to the hope that they can once and for all rid themselves of arbitration and, in doing so, fundamentally reorder the game's financial landscape. Like the NFL owners, baseball's bosses are about to be weaned from their cash cow—an insanely generous $1.1 billion, four-year contract with CBS that expires at the end of next season—and they are already wailing like infants.
The prospects for a settlement grew grimmer last week when the owners put up a chillingly united front at a meeting in St. Louis, where they unanimously agreed to anoint Bud Selig, the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, as the sport's quasi-commissioner. There's reason to fear that in their newfound togetherness, the owners are preparing to shut the game down, perhaps for all of next season. According to the common wisdom, the curtain will go up on this ugly charade before Dec. 11, the last day the owners can reopen their labor contract with the Major League Players Association. According to the script, the owners would participate in a negotiating charade with the union, which would lead to a bargaining impasse and culminate in a lockout before spring training.
After Happy Chandler was booted from the commissioner's office in 1951, he noted, "Baseball owners are the toughest set of ignoramuses anyone could ever come up against. Refreshingly dumb fellows. Greedy, shortsighted and stupid." Or as Edward Bennett Williams, the late owner of the Baltimore Orioles, cheerily said as he greeted Peter Ueberroth when Ueberroth attended his first owners' meeting as the new commissioner in '84: "Welcome to the den of the village idiots."
An III Wind Blows
Wind, a new film about the America's Cup, may be the best sailing movie ever. Then again, try to name another. Mutiny on the Bounty had more to do with keelhauling than keel design. Also, it had a story, an area in which Wind seems to find itself badly becalmed.
The movie is the thinly veiled story of Dennis Conner, who became the first American in the event's 132-year history to lose the America's Cup. Matthew Modine stars as the American skipper who seeks redemption by trekking to Australia to win back both the Auld Mug and his true love, played by Jennifer Grey.
Wind features spectacular racing footage of 12-meter yachts crashing through mountainous seas and into each other. Former America's Cup skipper Peter Gilmour served as the technical consultant and has given the regatta sequences an authentically salt-air feel that even landlubbers will find bracing. Too bad the filmmakers didn't hire a romance consultant to bolster the lame love story between Modine and Grey.