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Exposing the myth of the "greedy" players
Lies they tell about a baseball strike

August 30, 2002 | Page 9

THE MEDIA are up in arms about a possible strike by baseball's "greedy" and "overpaid" athletes. But the arguments put forward by baseball's owners and Commissioner Bud Selig about the state of the game are either deliberately misleading, or outright lies.

A labor agreement on the terms demanded by the owners would be bad for the sport, bad for the fans and bad for the people on the field who play the game. Here, STUART EASTERLING provides the facts.

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IS BASEBALL facing an economic disaster?

SELIG AND the owners argue that last year 25 of baseball's 30 teams lost money, totaling $500 million. But there's an old saying about baseball: "Since 1890, no franchise makes money, and there's not enough left-handed pitching."

The owners' claims are hard to believe, given that revenues last year were more than $3 billion--an all-time record--and player salaries haven't grown as fast as revenues since the last strike. Even Forbes magazine thinks they're lying. Their study found that owners made a $130 million profit last year.

If the owners want people to believe them, they could open their books to the players' union, but they have refused.

DOES BASEBALL lack "competitive balance" because of money?

MANY PEOPLE will say: "The Yankees win because they have a lot of money." This is only partly true. The key is that the Yankees have money and spend it well. In the recent past, the Devil Rays and Orioles spent lots of money, and their teams were terrible. This year, it's the Mets and Rangers.

Meanwhile, last season, the Oakland Athletics had one of the lowest salaries in baseball and still made the playoffs. The Chicago Cubs are in one of the country's largest markets, and yet can't seem to win consistently. The Seattle Mariners are in a much smaller city, yet are an excellent team.

In all, the game is more balanced today than in the past. The problem isn't market size or player salaries--it comes down to how much the owners spend out of their profits to field a good team (again, look at the hapless Cubs).

Besides, some "competitive imbalance" is a fact in all pro sports. The Memphis Grizzlies are not expected to dethrone the LA Lakers this season, even though the National Basketball Association (NBA) has a hard salary cap.

WHO ARE these owners anyway?

Most teams are owned by a cabal of corrupt, self-serving, dishonest, greedy businessmen. The remainder are owned by faceless media conglomerates. Nelson Doubleday, co-owner of the Mets, recently broke ranks to criticize the owners' tactics, saying that baseball is "determined to manufacture phantom operating losses and depress franchise values…[as] the cornerstone of Major League Baseball's labor strategy and an incredible public relations campaign."

In fact, the most "hard-line" owners are those who have lost money in their extensive interests outside of baseball. The San Diego Padres' owner is one of them, and has said he's willing to shut down the game for a year to get concessions.

WILL MORE revenue sharing or a salary cap make things better?

BASEBALL CURRENTLY has some revenue sharing, in which the "rich" teams give some of their profits to the "poor" teams. The owners want more of this in the form of a "luxury tax" on higher-spending teams.

But there is no guarantee that this will make "poor" teams better or hot dogs cheaper. Many teams now use their revenue-sharing money to pad their profits or executive salaries.

Plus, look at other sports. A salary cap in the NBA has not drastically changed the competitive landscape--the big-market Lakers have won three straight championships. And salary caps haven't made it any cheaper to go to football, basketball or hockey games.

WHY SHOULD we side with the players' union?

THE PLAYERS Association is composed of about 400 major leaguers. A lot of them are rich. This is because they are entertainers, like successful actors or musicians. Like all top-level entertainers, they often fight with their employers to get more of a very large pie.

Baseball gets billions from TV networks, who get billions from advertisers. And despite the large salaries for some, it's still by far the cheapest sport to attend.

Players usually spend several years in the minor leagues honing their skills and earning very little money before they can make it to the big leagues (unlike football or basketball, very few major leaguers jump straight from high school or college). When they arrive, it can take several years even to get a multi-year contract. If they get seriously injured before then, it's over.

Unlike the owners, who make money from their wealth, players make money because of their physical skills. Because of this, someone like Ricky Gutierrez, an infielder for Cleveland, hid the fact that he had a major spinal injury for most of this season.

The players may not have the same concerns as the average worker, but many of the "populist" arguments used against them in the media are dishonest and antiworker. And in the end, any capitalist beating any union, even one of baseball players, would not be a good thing for workers in general.

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