Not surprisingly. Players Association director Donald Fehr has a different perspective. "The owners essentially are admitting what we knew all along—that they're making money," says Fehr. "All along, they were lying."
Before the two-day players strike in 1985, the owners claimed that only five teams were making a profit. During last week's meetings Ueberroth's office put out a multicolored brochure boasting how profitable baseball has become. In the last two seasons, according to the commissioner's office, players' salaries rose a meager 4.7%, while attendance increased 11.5%, local-television revenue climbed 34.3% and Major League Baseball licensing profits soared from $2.5 million to $13.2 million. What's more, the value of teams has risen. Last week the estate of Edward Bennett Williams sold the Orioles to a consortium led by club CEO Lawrence Lucchino for $70 million. Williams had purchased the club in 79 for $12 million.
Two other developments make the future look even brighter for the owners. First, the Yankees signed a 12-year, $500 million contract on Friday with the Madison Square Garden cable television network—a deal that should have a major impact on local broadcast-rights negotiations in other markets. Second, baseball's new national TV contract, the terms of which will be announced soon, is expected to produce revenues of $1.2 billion over the next three years. Some clubs, it seems, have already started to spend the money.
"Nearly 18 teams think they can win next year," said one general manager. "[Expos owner] Charles Bronfman told his front office to win. Autry told Port to win at all costs. The same's obviously true with Joan Kroc in San Diego."
And don't forget the Dodgers, who blithely picked up Murray's three-year, $8 million contract, though they'll get some help from the Orioles in covering Murray's deferred income. Of course, they didn't have to give up much to get him: only minor league shortstop Juan Bell, whom they had already planned to dump, and two second-line pitchers, Brian Holton and Ken Howell.
The acquisition of Murray, who had 28 homers and 84 RBIs in '88, helped compensate for loss of second baseman Steve Sax, who signed with the Yankees on Nov. 23. During the playoffs Sax said, "I wouldn't live in New York for $10 million." But he changed his mind and agreed to a three-year, $4 million deal after Dodger general manager Fred Claire tried to play hardball with him during the negotiations. Los Angeles filled its hole at second base on Saturday by signing Willie Randolph, whom the Yankees had made no effort to re-sign after making the deal with Sax.
Another trend that became apparent at the meetings is the growing dominance of the Western Division in each league. A few years ago the National League West was the laughingstock of baseball. But last season five of its six teams finished at better than .500, and San Diego, which went 67-48 after Jack McKeon replaced Larry Bowa as manager, will go into 1989 as the club to beat in the division.
Before the Padres acquired Hurst, they sent infielder/outfielder Keith Moreland and third baseman Chris Brown to the Detroit Tigers for righty pitcher Walt Terrell. Hurst and Terrell should make San Diego's starting rotation, which also will include Dennis Rasmussen, Eric Show and Edd Whitson, one of the best in the majors. The offense looks impressive, too, since the Padres acquired Clark, who had 93 RBIs in '88, from the Yankees for Jimmy Jones, an ineffective righthanded starter, and Lance McCullers, a righthanded reliever who has never quite cut it as a closer. And they can still deal prized young catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. for more talent.
Since the start of divisional play in 1969, the American League East has looked down its nose at the West. But in '88, the Red Sox won the East with only 89 victories, and the Athletics swept them in the playoffs. Since then, Oakland has added Moore, Minnesota has picked up second baseman Wally Backman from the New York Mets, the Angels have acquired righthanded pitcher Bert Blyleven from the Twins and catcher Lance Parrish from the Phillies, and Texas has begun a major overhaul.
After finishing 33½ games behind the Athletics last season, the Rangers have realized that they can't rely entirely on their youth movement anymore. So Grieve traded reliever Mitch Williams, lefty starter Paul Kilgus, utility infielder Curtis Wilkerson and three other young players to the Cubs for Palmeiro and two lefthanders, Jamie Moyer and Drew Hall. Then Texas dealt first baseman Pete O'Brien, second baseman Jerry Browne and outfielder Oddibe McDowell to Cleveland for Franco. "We had to have a couple of batters in our lineup who can hit the good pitchers," says manager Bobby Valentine. "We got two of the best in Palmeiro and Franco, two .300 hitters. Now the free-swingers, who tend to strike out a lot, are balanced off."