Sunday, March 11, 2001

Reds' plan: Hang on until 2003

Stadium, revenue sharing keys to prosperity

By Cliff Peale and John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As recently as two years ago, the Reds articulated a plan of where they wanted to be when the new Great American Ball Park opens in 2003.

        The team was going to be full of young, talented players, mostly locked up under long-term contracts. Veteran free agents were sprinkled in, all poised to make a run for a World Championship. The turnstiles would whir.

        Now, the 2003 “plan” doesn't come across quite as focused.

        “I don't want you to think we're rudderless,” says John Allen, the Reds chief operating officer. “We're not. There's a plan. (But) I'm not comfortable discussing it (publicly).”

        According to interviews with officials close to the Reds and owner Carl Lindner, today's plan looks like this:

        • Break even: The new owner wants to avoid calls like the one he had to make last year, when he told his partners that the Reds had lost money and they would have to make up the loss.

        • Get to 2003: The Reds estimate the new ballpark will add about $25 million in annual revenue. They will use that to spend more on players and promotion. In the meantime, the team will rely on superstars Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin to help the team win and bring fans to the stadium.

        • Share the wealth: Baseball Commissioner Bug Selig appears determined to help the least-wealthy of the baseball teams with a dramatic revenue-sharing plan. Mr. Lindner believes this is crucial to the Reds.

        But Mr. Selig's plan does not have the support of the players' union, and many baseball observers believe a work stoppage is likely when the labor contract expires Oct. 31.

        Until then, there is little talk of increasing player payroll for the new ballpark or of paying more to sign young players like Sean Casey or Pokey Reese to long-term contracts.

        Like most of the Reds' younger stars, they are operating under one-year deals. Ultimately, the Reds risk paying more later or losing the player to free agency.

        Reds general manager Jim Bowden, whose job it is to assemble the team that Reds manager Bob Boone will try to lead into the postseason, knows the framework of the Reds plan and has been trying to work within it.

        “Mr. Lindner is a great owner,” he says. “His philosophy is to break even — he's not asking the club to make money — and you can't ask for better parameters than that. The fans will dictate the payroll. The more season tickets we sell, the higher the payroll can be.

        “(But) for the Reds to be (ultimately) successful, there has to be a better way of sharing revenues,” he says. “(Mr. Lindner) is working with John Allen and Bud Selig toward getting better parity in the game.”

        The Reds have a stronger belief than do many teams that Mr. Selig's revenue-sharing proposal will be successful.

        St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt, a Cincinnatian, won't comment on Mr. Lindner's ownership. But he says he supports revenue sharing even though his team currently pays into the system.

        “The disparities have gotten too wide,” says Mr. DeWitt, son of a former Reds owner. “The commissioner is committed to changing the system, and I'm optimistic that some changes can be made.”


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