Bud Blows His Own Horn

On November 6, 2001, Commissioner Selig announced that Major League Baseball's economics were so bad that it had no choice but to contract by two teams. A month later, he told Congress that some clubs "have no chance of achieving long-term competitive and financial stability ... even under some of the most aggressive revenue sharing models which are being contemplated. Revenue sharing alone will not enable certain clubs to be viable over the long term."

That was then. This spring Gloom and Doom Bud suddenly vanished, replaced by The Happy Commissioner. It was like someone was spiking Selig's water with lithium. Greater revenue sharing, once deemed inadequate to help small-market clubs compete, was now solving all of baseball's problems. On July 13, Selig told the Chicago Sun-Times that "[h]istorians will look back on last August 30, when we reached the [new collective bargaining] agreement, and say, 'Boy, they really changed the game.'" All of a sudden "we've made more progress than anybody could have dreamed."

In fact, MLB was never as sick as Selig claimed in 2001. But Selig, who never tires of reminding interviewers that he was a history major in college, has his eye on his own place in history. Having announced his intention to retire when his current term expires on December 31, 2006, Selig wants to be remembered as the Leader Who Saved Baseball, not the man who presided over the 1994-95 labor debacle and who tried to kill the Twins and Expos.

Let's look at the record. Selig certainly deserves credit for presiding over the first labor agreement in recent years to be negotiated without a work stoppage. But his claims for the new revenue sharing formula are wildly overstated, and the luxury tax, the other key component of the new CBA, is likely to have no effect at all.

Under the new CBA, clubs share 34% of their local revenues. That's significantly more than the 20% under the previous CBA, but much less than the 50% the owners originally proposed. If, as Selig said in 2001, some clubs would not be viable even under such "aggressive revenue sharing models," the revenue sharing contained in the new CBA couldn't solve their problems.

Neither could the luxury tax. Figures released after the All-Star break confirm what everyone had long suspected: the New York Yankees are the only team over the tax threshold, and since they're $63 million over, it's hard to argue that the luxury tax hast affected their spending. Indeed, it now appears likely that the Yankees are the only club that will ever pay the luxury tax.

As for teams which have benefited from greater revenue sharing, the Cinderella team of 2003 is the Kansas City Royals, who play in one of MLB's smallest markets and receive millions from the other clubs. Yet Royals owner David Glass seems almost disappointed that his club's unexpected success has prevented him from auctioning his best player, All-Star center fielder Carlos Beltran, to the highest bidder before Beltran becomes eligible for free agency. That's the attitude revenue sharing was intended to eliminate.

Unfortunately, one ugly remnant of 2001's Gloom and Doom Bud remains. The Montreal Expos escaped contraction, but are still owned by MLB, and still don't have a permanent home. The Relocation Committee charged with finding them a home is negotiating with groups from Washington, D.C., northern Virginia and Portland, Oregon -- "negotiating" much as a bank robber "negotiates" with a teller. After the winning market agrees to contribute more than $300 million of public money toward a new stadium, the winning bidder will be asked to pay MLB up to $300 million for the Expos.

Selig's other major innovation for 2003 was to award home field advantage in the World Series to the league which won the All-Star Game. The Mariners, Yankees or Red Sox will thus have Hank Blalock of the last-place Rangers to thank for their extra home game this October. This scheme was intended to increase interest in MLB's midsummer showcase, but succeeded only in halting its ratings decline. The 2003 All-Star Game's 9.5 rating matched that earned by the 2002 fiasco, and was actually lower than the game's 9.8 rating in Japan, where it began at 9:30 AM.

Does Japanese baseball need a slightly used American Commissioner?

Copyright © 2003 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the August 2003 issue of Boston Baseball.

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