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Face it: Baseball needs to be fixed



Published: Fri, August 10, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Kansas City Royals had a nice lineup in the works. Johnny Damon batting leadoff, Jermaine Dye batting fourth and Mike Sweeney batting fifth. The Royals offense pounded teams, though they never had pitching to match their potent offense.

Still, that had little to do with trading two of their best players, Damon and Dye. Sure, they got a much needed closer for Damon in Tampa Bay's Roberto Hernandez. And yes, they did get a top shortstop prospect for Dye in Colorado's Neifi Perez. But the reason for the trades is simple: economics.

Damon and Dye, both free agents at season's end, would likely be gone, because the Royals can't afford to pay either of them the money they can command in today's market. That's why the Royals couldn't get any pitching.

Even Sweeney, perhaps the Royals most popular player, noticed his team crumbling around him. In baseball's current state, the Royals will never make it back to another World Series.

Already bad: It might be too early to start talking about ideas for the new labor agreement, but if baseball doesn't think fast, the league is going to implode.

Some might disagree, but look at baseball's ratings. The big Subway Series last year? The lowest rated series ever. So much for New York, New York.

All-Star games? Does anybody watch them anymore?

And in small towns across the country, kids are spurning baseball to play soccer. Soccer?! Soccer?!!

I know salary caps are un-American. In a capitalist society, the idea is to make as much money as possible, free of restrictions (except taxes, of course). But sports are different. They're supposed to be for entertainment. But if more than half the teams are bad, how entertaining is that?

And, of course, the little guys in baseball can't afford to pay their players. Based on Forbes Magazine's list of the most valuable teams in baseball in 1999, the New York Yankees claimed a total revenue of $195.6 million. The Montreal Expos claimed $47.1 million.

The highest payroll that year was the Yankees at $91.99 million. The Florida Marlins were the lowest at $14.65 million. That's a difference of $77.34 million.

As recently as 1988, the difference between the highest and lowest salaries, the Yankees and Mariners, respectively, was $14.98 million. It's only getting worse.

What to do: Here's how I see it: Take half of everyone's television revenue (I can just picture George Steinbrenner's face) and divide it among the 30 teams.

Using total revenue as an example, each team would receive about $58.68 million. Those '99 numbers? The Yankees would still dominate with $148.48 in revenue, but the Expos would be up to $74.23 million.

Then throw in a team salary cap, but don't follow the NFL and force teams to stay under the cap and cut good players. Use the luxury tax. Say, $1 million for every $1 million over the cap value, which should be somewhere near the average revenues of all teams, and give it to the lowest revenue teams (Oooh, I can just see Steinbrenner's face).

This is extreme, but I think it can work. The players would hate it, because it will mean no more A-Rod-type contracts. But if the game becomes more competitive, more people might watch, thus increasing the total pot and giving teams more money to work with.

Now, Dye and Damon play for the small-market, wild-card-chasing Oakland A's with Jason Giambi and a terrific young pitching staff. But Giambi's a free agent at season's end, and could command as much as $17 million to $20 million per year on the open market.

His agent has already informed the A's front office they will no longer get the home-team discount (probably no less than $15 million per year). And even if they do pay him, they'll never be able to afford their great young pitchers, such as Mark Mulder, in a few years.

This is the current state of baseball, and if the league doesn't do something fast, the game will implode, nobody will watch and soccer will be the next generation's national pastime.

Nooooooooo!!!!!

XPhil Novak is a staff writer for The Vindicator. Write to him at pnovak@vindy.com.




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