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Baseball
Jeff Pearlman
August 30, 1999
Shrink the Bigs? Forget expansion-some owners wonder if it's time to fold teams
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August 30, 1999

Baseball

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LEFTHANDER

CAREER

GAMES

INNINGS

W-L

SAVES

ERA

1. Jesse Orosco

1979-present

1,074

1,209

84-75

140

3.03

Around so long was traded for fellow southpaw Jerry Koosman of 1969 Miracle Mets fame

2. Sparky Lyle

1967-82

899

1,390

99-76

238

2.88

First American League relief pitcher to win the Cy Young Award, as Yankee in 1977

3. Jim Kaat

1959-83

898

4,530⅓

283-237

18

3.45

Finest fielding pitcher ever: won 16 straight Gold Gloves from 1962 until '77 for Twins, White Sox and Phillies

4. Paul Assenmacher

1986-present

872

849

60-44

56

3.50

Consummate situational middle reliever, made one career start for Cubs in 1990--lasted one inning

5. John Franco

1984-present

866

1,032

77-70

416

2.66

Alltime lefty saves leader has had eight seasons with 30 saves or better but hasn 't been Ail-Star since 1990

6. Tug McGraw

1965-84

824

1,514⅔

96-92

180

3.14

Screwballer best known now as dad of country music star Tim McGraw helped Mets and Phillies win Series

7. Dan Plesac

1986-present

812

908

51-61

154

3.70

Former closer has never pitched in fewer than 44 games in a season but has never reached 100 innings

8. Rick Honeycutt

1977-97

797

2,160

109-143

38

3.72

A's pitcher converted to bullpen by Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan to salvage career, a la Dennis Eckersley

9. Darold Knowles

1965-80

765

1,092

66-74

143

3.12

Member of 1970s Swinging A's; also pitched for Orioles, Phillies, Senators, Cubs, Rangers, Expos, Cardinals

10. Tommy John

1963-89

760

4.710⅓

288-231

4

3.34

Missed 1975 season because of reconstructive surgery now named after him; 405 games after operation

Shrink the Bigs?
Forget expansion-some owners wonder if it's time to fold teams

Roughly five months ago Rockies owner Jerry McMorris addressed fellow members of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Baseball Economics. The group, including 13 club owners and chief executives, four highly respected "outsiders" with ties to baseball, and commissioner Bud Selig, was formed in January to examine the game's revenue disparities and competitive imbalance. "What would happen," he recalls asking, hypothetically, "if, instead of relocating and expanding, we considered consolidating teams?" At the time McMorris wasn't entirely serious. The possibility of downsizing the major leagues was a notion that had leaped from mind to mouth, "something I hadn't thought much about," he says.

The idea stuck. While Selig has not publicly addressed consolidation, several team owners, led by McMorris, are quietly discussing a plan whereby baseball would select an even number of struggling teams—two at first, perhaps two more later—buy out the franchises and disperse the players in a draft among the remaining clubs. "Right now there ire four teams—Montreal, Minnesota, Kansas City and Oakland—that are in major financial trouble," says one National League owner. "Instead of selling them to new investors and having them continue to lose money or move to a mid-major market that may be no better, why don't we just eliminate?"

The owners toying with such a plan—at least five—all have mid-to-high payrolls. The concept's backers cite the following advantages of consolidation.

•Increased revenue. Says McMorris, "We have to start asking whether we're putting money into markets that aren't going to support teams." Although baseball's revenue-sharing plan isn't as extensive as the NFL's or the NBA's, the 30 clubs do split national television rights fees evenly. McMorris argues that with fewer teams the remaining low-budget franchises would benefit from greater TV dough. "With two fewer teams," adds the aforementioned National League owner, "there's more money to go around."

•Quality of play. As the National League owner says, "The level of play right now is very bad. But if you get rid of two teams, suddenly 50 guys are in the minors and the pitching isn't as thin."

•Paucity of promising markets. At present, baseball's three primary suitors are Charlotte, Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. "None," says McMorris, "is a sure thing." Other possibilities include Las Vegas, Portland and San Antonio. "Is there any reason to think Charlotte would be any better than Montreal?" says the National League owner. "No. What we can do is be honest and tell the lawmakers in Minnesota the truth: Look, we want your city to have a team, but you're losing money and nobody's watching your games. So build a new stadium, take the right steps, and well come back, either through expansion or relocation. Why stay in a market that's not supporting us?"

Consolidation has its opponents, as well, starring with small-market owners. The players union would surely fight any plan that would eliminate jobs (although, according to a source close to the commissioner's office, baseball has as much legal right to downsize without the approval of its workers as does a Fortune 500 company). Kevin McClatchy, the Pirates' managing general partner, argues that, had consolidation been proposed 10 years ago, two logical victims would have been the Braves and the Indians, teams then struggling on the field and at the gate. "But this thing has legs," says the National League owner. (The yea votes of three quarters of the owners would most likely be needed to approve any action.) "I wouldn't say there's a 50-50 chance it happens, but I wouldn't say it's 80-20 that it doesn't."

Back to School
No Waiting for Beckett

Nineteen-year-old righthander Josh Beckett, the No. 2 pick in the June draft, says he intends to start classes at Blinn (Texas) Junior College on Aug. 31, which meant that as of Sunday the Marlins had only eight days to sign him. Beckett, the 1999 USA Today national high school player of the year, is the only unsigned pick among this year's top 13 selections. He has been offered a signing bonus similar to the $3.95 million that No. 1 pick Josh Hamilton got from the Devil Rays, but Beckett wants a multiyear major league contract worth at least $7 million.

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