Archive for Tuesday, December 12, 2000

Bank it: Stoppage coming in baseball

Texas Rangers prove they have lots of money by inking Rodriguez; other teams not so fortunate

December 12, 2000


— Congratulations, A-Rod. Not bad, not bad at all. What are you gonna buy first for a hundred-fifty-something million? The Minnesota Twins?

For my money, Alex Rodriguez is the best player in baseball. The Texas Rangers don't seem to need my money, of course, but the Twins do, and so do a lot of other teams. And next year, they're going to do something about it.

On Halloween 2001, major league baseball will commence with another work stoppage a lockout this time. Everybody knows it's coming, but nobody is doing what's necessary to avoid it.

Baseball needs its teams to share revenue and its players to agree to some sort of salary cap. This is as obvious as it is unlikely. The problem is that owners of big-market teams don't want to share money with owners of small-market teams.

The players association doesn't want any part of a salary cap.

But owners of those big-market teams must ask themselves whether the sport can survive without competitive balance. And the players association must decide whether having the highest possible average salary is worth it if half the players are stuck on perennially losing teams. And, you know, it wouldn't kill anybody to start thinking about this stuff before games are canceled.

But games will be canceled. In fact, the entire 2002 season might be canceled. Owners are determined to finally win one of these labor struggles. Players, used to drubbing the owners, won't give in.

For those keeping score, this will make it Strikes 5, Lockouts 4, in a game that started three decades ago, a game nobody is winning.

There were lockouts in 1973, 1976 and 1990 and strikes in 1972, 1980, 1981, 1985 and 1994-95. The beauty of baseball is that it never changes, but this is ridiculous. The last strike forced the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and accomplished nothing.

There are still at least a dozen teams that cannot compete for championships. They simply don't have the money. The teams that win consistently all have high payrolls.

It is true that the low-payroll Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics made this year's postseason. But neither team will be around for the long haul unless it doubles its payroll and only Chicago can afford that.

A decade ago, Twins centerfielder Kirby Puckett became baseball's highest-paid player $3 million per year. Now the Twins can't afford to pay their entire roster what Rodriguez will make in a year.

So while A-Rod looks for a town to live in, or purchase, almost half the teams know they won't make the playoffs in 2001. The Tigers, fresh off their stirring 2000 run toward mediocrity, are in that group. But at least they will lose in a shiny new park.

So will the Pirates and Brewers and most other teams with new parks in small markets. New parks don't level the playing field, not enough, because broadcast revenue is greater for big-market teams.

Nonetheless, the ballpark-building trend continues. New York politicians are trying to figure out how to build new stadiums for the Yankees and Mets. Thank goodness. Otherwise, how could they topple the Kansas City Royals juggernaut? Home-run king Mark McGwire has said that if a work stoppage creeps into the regular season, he'll retire. Maybe the whole sport should follow suit.

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