Wednesday, November 14, 2001
SULLIVAN: Contraction - A reality show worth watching
By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Bud Selig's mistake the latest one, at least has been to conduct baseball's contraction deliberations behind closed doors.
This is a process tailor-made for television, the kind of reality programming the networks clumsily manufacture and ceaselessly hype. It's Survivor on a grander scale, with four floundering franchises competing for the right to remain in business. It's as cynical as Temptation Island, as cutthroat as The Weakest Link, and as compelling as Russian roulette.
Whether it's real remains to be seen.
In announcing baseball's intention to eliminate two teams before next season, Selig has left himself open to suspicion. The commissioner may well be serious, but his failure to specify the subtractions suggests a man looking for leverage.
Baseball owners need a powerful bargaining chip if they are ever to wring meaningful concessions from the players association. They need the threat of dissolution and/or relocation if they are to prod taxpayers to finance new ballparks in weak markets. Contraction, conceivably, could improve management's negotiating stance in both of these acrimonious arenas.
As someone once said but not, evidently, to Chris Berman less is more.
Putting on the brakes
Fewer teams would mean fewer fingers in the pie of shared proceeds. It would mean a reduction in revenue-sharing obligations and a deeper, perhaps cheaper, labor pool. If it means an end to reckless growth to short-sighted expansion and blind greed contraction is probably overdue.
The suspicion that baseball's position is probably overstated stems from its timing. Selig announced contraction curiously close to the expiration of baseball's collective bargaining agreement. In declaring a month's study period before a final decision, Selig afforded anxious politicians the opportunity for last-ditch stadium construction initiatives.
Sacrifices and savings
The owners have never been able to break the players' solidarity, but in vowing to eliminate 50 roster spots, they finally may have found a sabre worth rattling.
Previous efforts to impose artificial salary restraints on this monopoly business have persistently failed because of the divided interests of the owners and the dispassionate opinions of the courts.
The owners have colluded and been caught. They have declared intransigence, only to capitulate. They have tried to play hardball with the best hardball players on the planet and have been crushed consistently.
Union leader Donald Fehr already has filed a grievance against contraction, but it is hard to see how he can prevent it. No reasonable judge would require McDonald's to continue to operate unprofitable franchises to protect minimum-wage workers. To require baseball to prop up poor franchises for the sake of its millionaire labor force is laughable.
To save those jobs presumably through expanded rosters the union probably will have to forfeit some of its freedom. To secure a salary cap, the owners surely would sacrifice six or eight struggling teams.
Because contraction is such a drastic step, the negotiations should make for great drama. If Selig were smart, he'd let us watch.
Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456; fax: 768-8550; e-mail: email@example.com. Cincinnati.com keyword: Sullivan.
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