Commissioner calls for ‘sweeping changes’ in baseball economics


Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Putting owners on a collision course with players, baseball commissioner Bud Selig told a Senate panel today "it is time for sweeping changes" in the game’s economics.

"It is my job to restore hope and faith," Selig testified before the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee. "I can assure you this system will be changed."

Players, however, like the system of free agency and salary arbitration that had been little changed since the advent of free agency following the 1976 season. They went on strike for 232 days is 1994-95, wiping out the World Series for the first time in 90 years, to block a salary cap.

Sen. Mike DeWine, the subcommittee chairman and a Cincinnati Reds season ticket-holder, repeatedly pressed Selig on how owners could convince the players’ association to accept substantial salary restraints when the labor contract expires Oct. 31.

"Isn’t it going to depress wages?" asked the Ohio Republican, the only senator who attended the hearing.

"I think if we as an industry do this right, I don’t think it has that effect at all," Selig answered.

He said 18 to 20 of the 30 teams will lose money this year, and revealed that the New York Yankees will pay $17 million in revenue sharing this year and the New York Mets $15 million. The five teams with the lowest revenue received amounts ranging from $11 million to $23 million.

He said approximately 30 percent of baseball’s revenue is shared this year.

"The economic landscape of the game must be changed, and the way we do business must be changed," Selig said.

He offered no specifics during an hour of testimony. Union head Donald Fehr declined an invitation to the hearing, citing a personal commitment, but has said repeatedly that the union does not agree that there is a fundamental problem.

DeWine’s subcommittee held the hearing because of baseball’s antitrust exemption, which was granted in a 1922 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, a member of the owners’ latest economic study committee and a director of the Florida Marlins, also testified, as did broadcaster Bob Costas and commentator George Will, a director of the Baltimore Orioles and San Diego Padres.

"Baseball is not Bangladesh," Will said. "It can get well by deciding to get well."

Mitchell defended the recommendations of his panel, which called for a 50 percent luxury tax on the portions of payrolls above $84 million and a floor of $40 million.

This year, the Yankees had a payroll of $114 million, using the average annual values of contracts for players on its 40-man roster. Some teams were as low as $25 million.

"Before the patient dies, remedial action should be taken," Mitchell said.

Selig cited statistics that only three of 189 postseason games since the 1994-95 strike were won by teams that didn’t have payrolls among the top half.

"At the start of spring training, there no longer exists hope and faith for the fans of more than half our 30 clubs," Selig said.

"In an age when the Yankees are rumored to be in line for a $100 million-per-year local media contract, it is difficult to have hope in Montreal, which for the 2000 season had no television contract and local revenue of just $14 million," he said.

The Yankees, who have won three straight World Series titles and four of the last five, had revenue in excess of $185 million this year.

Disregarding baseball’s history, which has seen eight work stoppages since 1972, Selig said he hoped the union would agree to change.

"I know that our players are aware of and concerned about baseball’s competitive imbalance," he said, "and I am hopeful that in our upcoming negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, both sides will work together to create a new economic structure in which everyone will benefit. It is time for sweeping changes that will, hopefully, reinvigorate all of our clubs."

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