ON BALANCE, QUITE COMPETITIVE
Maybe it's time that Bowie Kuhn, who keeps saying the free-agent market is going to destroy baseball's competitive balance, took a look at the major league standings. Destroy competitive balance? The defending champion Yankees and Dodgers are down, traditional have-nots Montreal and Houston are up and, of the four current division leaders, only Baltimore has ever won a pennant—and it last did so eight years ago. The Phillies, who added free agent Pete Rose after winning three straight divisional titles, are mired in fourth place. As Boston Red Sox Manager Don Zimmer notes, "The races are close all the way around, in both leagues."
Zimmer's assessment is borne out by the fact that with the season nearly two-thirds over, most clubs are within at least striking distance of .500. Indeed, only two teams, Oakland and Toronto, can be dismissed. Oakland has been decimated by the free-agent draft, but owner Charlie Finley's recent operation of that franchise is a bewilderingly special case; Baltimore and Minnesota, also stung by free-agent defections, are doing just fine. Toronto is a 2-year-old expansion club that has chosen to rely on young players. There is certainly nothing wrong with that but the Toronto Star suggested in a recent editorial that the Blue Jays might achieve respectability more quickly by also going after free agents.
That was the course followed by California and Texas, onetime weaklings that have become powerful largely by boldly fishing in free-agent waters, thereby increasing competitive balance. Nor have the two clubs necessarily overextended themselves in the process. Buzzie Bavasi, California's executive vice-president, says that the acquisition of free agent Rod Carew has more than paid for itself in season-ticket sales.
Of course, it is still conceivable that, as Kuhn fears, one or two wealthy teams will wind up monopolizing talent. "You've got to wait a couple more years to see," says Dodger President Peter O'Malley. "The dust hasn't settled." But many baseball men privately agree with Bavasi, who says cautiously of Kuhn's alarums on the subject, "it appears right now he may have been wrong."
FIE ON THE FEES
Last year the National Football League began considering a new rule that would have prohibited team owners from holding financial interest in franchises in other major team sports. Jay Moyer, the NFL's legal counsel, said, "Because we compete with the other leagues for the entertainment dollar, we feel that cross-ownership is a conflict. You don't see Ford people sitting on the board of General Motors, do you?" Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and 90% of the North American Soccer League's Dallas Tornado, was understandably concerned. The proposed rule would have forced him to divest himself of one or the other of his holdings and he didn't like the idea. "I don't think soccer is a threat to the NFL," he said.
If Hunt was unhappy then, he was unhappier still when the NASL, contending that a prohibition against cross-ownership would violate antitrust laws, sued the NFL last fall in the U.S. District Court in New York. The court temporarily enjoined the NFL from adopting the rule, and the case is now heading for trial. As an owner in both leagues, Hunt finds himself on both sides of the suit. He says, "Somebody pointed out to me the other day that I can't lose. But I don't think it's funny. I'm paying 100% of [1/28] of the NFL's legal costs and 90% of [1/24] of the NASL's legal costs." In other words, he can't win, either.
Molly the Dolphin is cavorting this summer in the aquarium in Hull, Mass., but don't bother taking the kids to see her. The aquarium has been closed to the public since going broke a couple of years ago, and Molly is being prepared for two projects as dramatic as they are hush-hush. If all goes according to plan, she will 1) track down and take pictures of the Loch Ness Monster and 2) help recover sunken treasure off the Florida Keys.