Thursday, May 17, 2001
Sacrificing teams isn't only solution
Let's assume Bud Selig is serious. Let's assume contraction is not another transparent ownership ploy to win better terms from the players association and newer ballparks in problem markets.
Let's assume the commissioner of baseball is prepared to sacrifice the Florida Marlins, Minnesota Twins, Montreal Expos and Tampa Bay Devil Rays or some combination thereof for the greater good of the grand old game.
Let's assume the players don't see it as a strike issue and Congress doesn't see it as a reason to revisit anti-trust issues. Let's assume everyone directly affected owners, players, front office employees can be bought off and everyone indirectly affected
Has it really come to this?
Is baseball's economic order so far beyond repair that the best alternative is to euthanize the most feeble franchises? Are the Marlins, Twins, Expos and Devil Rays destined to be destitute, or are their difficulties the product of baseball's defective business model?
Is there not some solution that saves these franchises and enables baseball to save face? Or must the major leagues be pruned to allow for new growth?
With the Basic Agreement between management and labor due to expire at the end of the 2001 season, much of what Selig says can be dismissed as strategic saber-rattling. Yet management's inability to gain meaningful concessions from the union has made desperate measures more attractive and contraction more plausible.
If the owners are unable to secure a better deal this time around, they might fold several floundering franchises and blame the inflexibility of the players for making it necessary. The players, in turn, could blame the greed of individual owners for their inability to share a $3 billion pie.
Both sides might make a persuasive argument. What remains to be seen is whether either side is equipped to make a constructive deal.
It makes little sense for Fox's Rupert Murdoch to continue subsidizing the Expos when only 4,714 spectators showed up to see the Dodgers at Montreal's Olympic Stadium Tuesday night. It makes less sense for players to accept salary restraints when Alex Rodriguez commands a $252 million contract from Texas.
Yet it makes no sense to abandon huge markets such as South Florida and Tampa-St. Petersburg after less than a decade. The Minnesota Twins have been given up for dead for years yet were in first place going into Wednesday's games.
The Expos remain vulnerable, but that's not to say they must remain in Montreal. Solutions can be found, if both sides see enough incentive.
From the players' perspective, contraction would mean fewer jobs at both the major- and minor-league levels. From the owners' perspective, eliminating four teams might save less than what would be lost in legal fees, settlement costs and alienated customers.
Let's assume Selig is considering the consequences. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/sullivan.
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