- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

Not since 1969 have Major League Baseball owners and players negotiated a collective-bargaining agreement without a work stoppage. Since 1972, there have been eight contract negotiations and eight work stoppages. Sometimes owners locked the players out, and other times players struck. The worst work stoppage occurred during the negotiation of the last agreement, when a strike canceled the 1994 World Series for the first time in 90 years and chopped 18 games off the 1995 schedule. Indications are that history may well repeat itself this year.

Negotiations, as expected, are once again going down to the wire. Major issues such as revenue sharing, luxury taxes and drug testing are far from resolved. Amazingly, not even an epidemic of record-distorting, health-destroying steroid drug abuse can move these implacable foes toward a substantive, meaningful agreement on that issue. Such is the mutual animus that permeates these negotiations.

Today, the players are expected to announce their strike date. It is all so unnecessary. It is all too disgusting.

Talk about "infectious greed," to borrow a phrase from the recent congressional testimony of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. Both sides are afflicted. Indeed, it's not as though the pie isn't big enough for the owners and players to divide in a way that keeps all of them fabulously wealthy. There is, moreover, more than enough money available to be spent in order to reinstate the competitive balance between small- and large-market teams. Perhaps most frustrating of all is the fact that much of that money is taxpayer-provided in the form of publicly financed palatial ballparks, which generate tens of millions of dollars in annual revenues that go into the pockets of owners and players.

In fact, since the 1994 strike, baseball revenues have virtually doubled, rising from about $1.8 billion to $3.5 billion. During the same period, average player salaries have more than doubled, increasing from $1.17 million per year to $2.38 million. Meanwhile, competitive balance has plummeted. With a $135 million payroll fueled by more than $100 million in local broadcast and cable revenues, the New York Yankees have appeared in five of the last six World Series, winning four of them.

According to the well-informed Fay Vincent, a former baseball commissioner, the Arizona Diamondbacks, who beat the Yankees in last year's World Series, were rescued from imminent bankruptcy in the offseason. In other words, fielding a competitive team from Phoenix proved to be a colossally money-losing proposition.

Beyond Arizona's singular experience, consider this statistic: Only five of the last 225 playoff games have been won by teams whose payrolls were in the bottom half. Meanwhile, the payroll differences between the flush Yankees and the other teams have been growing seemingly exponentially. As Bob Costas recently observed, in 1991 there were 26 teams. Of the 25 teams that were not the Yankees, 19 of them had payrolls within 75 percent of the Yankees'. Among the 30 teams playing this season, of the 29 teams that are not the Yankees, only two of them Boston and Texas have payrolls within 75 percent of the Yankees'. Equally telling is the fact that 17 teams have payrolls less than half the Yankees'.

Afflicted as they are by their mutually reinforcing infectious greed and given the fact that more than enough revenue exists to keep both sides fabulously rich, owners and players will deserve the consequences each is likely to suffer if they cannot agree on how to fairly divide their game's vast wealth.


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