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Tim Kurkjian
September 16, 1991
From Bad to Worse
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September 16, 1991


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From Bad to Worse

As the season winds down, the Mariners are shooting for a goal they've never reached in their 14-year history: a .500 record. If they fail to attain it this season—they had lost eight of their last nine and were teetering at 68-69 on Sunday—they will tie the 1919-33 Red Sox's and the 1953-67 Athletics' American League record for most consecutive years under .500, and move within one losing year of tying the major league mark set by the Phillies from 1933 through '48.

But even a winning record would do little to relieve Seattle's financial woes. After this season, nine Mariners will be eligible for arbitration: pitchers Scott Bankhead, Erik Hanson, Brian Holman, Mike Jackson, Randy Johnson, Mike Schooler and Bill Swift, and outfielders Greg Briley and Jay Buhner. Those nine are making $4.4 million among them this year. It will probably take more than $12 million to sign them all for 1992. Byway of comparison, the Indians had seven arbitration-eligible players going into this season. The combined salaries of the seven went from $5 million to $12 million. And those players weren't nearly as good as Seattle's.

The Mariners' payroll already has jumped from $8 million to $17 million since Jeff Smulyan bought the club two years ago. "Our gross revenue is lower than the payroll of three other clubs," says Smulyan. "We have not found a way to generate new revenue in Seattle. It's a great organization. We have a great young team. We have great fans. But does Seattle care enough to keep the team? Six years ago, local businesses said they'd buy 10,000 season tickets. They didn't. They didn't buy one. It's a bleak picture."

The pressure on Smulyan increased last week when it was revealed that Security Pacific Bank had told him to repay by Feb. 1, 1992 a $39.5 million loan, which he got to buy and operate the team, either by refinancing the loan or by selling the Mariners. Last Friday, Smulyan began meetings with members of the local government and the King County community in hopes of coming up with a plan to generate more revenue.

Don't count on Smulyan getting much support from businesses or local government. Don't count on him getting much help in local television revenue, either. According to Smulyan, the TV contract he is currently negotiating would pay the Mariners $2 million a year at best.

So, what is Smulyan's future in Seattle? "He has no future there; he can't make it," says one American League general manager. "I like Jeff. Everyone in baseball does. He's tried hard. The Mariners have increased attendance, but that's not enough. With a payroll going up, and with no support, he's got no chance."

It's looking more and more likely that the Mariners will try to move to Tampa- St. Petersburg within the next two years. That subject was not on the agenda at this week's meeting of major league owners in Baltimore, but you can bet that there was a lot of cloakroom discussion of Smulyan's plight.

No Experience Necessary

Last Thursday, before his 16th game as interim manager of the Blue Jays, Gene Tenace held his fourth team meeting. That's more meetings than Cito Gaston, the man Tenace is replacing, had called all season before he was hospitalized with an extremely painful herniated disk on Aug. 21. The Toronto players had better get used to such sessions, because Gaston may not return in 1991.

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