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Savran: Eliminating teams isn't the answer

Saturday, November 10, 2001

Medieval medicine. That's what contraction is as a cure for what's ailing baseball. It's little different than attaching leeches as a remedy for all infirmities. "Heart attack, sir? Bring me some leeches, nurse. The flu, you say? Let's hook you up with a couple of these suckers!"

Contraction is no different than applying leeches to drain baseball of two teams, but it doesn't address the problem; therefore, it can't solve the problem.

The most debilitating element making baseball dysfunctional isn't the amount of revenue, it's the disparity of revenue among teams.

That's what has created the existing competitive imbalance.

It's not that the Pirates don't make enough -- although that's an issue -- it's that the Pirates don't make anywhere near as much as the Yankees or Mets or Braves.

How is eliminating the Expos and Twins, if that's the way it shakes out, going to change the revenue disparity between the Dodgers and Royals?

It can't.

Just for the sake of argument, let's assume there were no big-market teams. Let's say the Pirates were in a league with Kansas City, Cincinnati, Oakland, Tampa Bay, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Seattle. All markets of approximately the same size.

If the Mariners and Cardinals generate better revenue streams, it's because of their baseball and/or their marketing expertise. Excellence should be rewarded, not penalized.

The Mariners and Cardinals were playoff teams because of their prowess in those areas, not because of a geographical windfall which enabled them to gobble up local television dollars 10 times more than what's available to their competitors.

And it's not only the size of the market. Philadelphia and Miami are top-10 television markets, yet they are small-revenue teams.

In his address to the baseball nation, Commissioner Bud Selig said two franchises would be dissolved because "they cannot produce enough revenue to be competitive."

Excuse me, but if we define being competitive as having a chance to win a championship, or at least make the playoffs once in a blue moon, doesn't that statement apply to about three-quarters of the teams?

And many of the remaining 25 percent have to operate at a substantial loss in order to be competitive.

And there are those like the Pirates, who have to throw what little operating capital they have just to achieve mediocrity.

And while much was made of the Pirates bloating their payroll to a fiscally irresponsible $50 million, what good does that do when the Yankees are at $120 million?

Again, the imbalance in baseball is because of the differential in revenue, not the total amount of revenue.

Eliminating two franchises doesn't address that fact. It might improve the quality of the game with the inevitable dispersal draft.

The Pirates, and teams like them, might get a very good player or two in the process 3/4 if they can afford them and if impending free agency doesn't scare the teams away. But everyone will get additional players, so the net gain may be negligible.

When you're in competition, all gains are relative.

Baseball's answer to the revenue disparity issue for the past decade has been, "Build us a new ballpark. Then we can compete." How about them Pirates, Brewers and Tigers!

Will the Reds be contenders next season because they move into a new palace?

The Mariners won at Safeco, but did so without the superstars they had in the Kingdome. And what happens when virtually every team has a new park?

How does that give a have-not a competitive edge?

We turn to Yogi Berra for the ultimate disposition of contraction, because in his immortal words, "It ain't over 'til it's over." The lawyers are going to get rich(er), the politicians are already involved, and the hair on the neck of the players union is standing at attention. Oh yes, there are miles to go before we sleep.

And most important for the short term, hidden in Selig's contraction announcement was that the owners will not lock the players out. Which means there will be no interruption of play next season, which means no interruption of the horribly distorted system for the length of the next collective bargaining agreement. Which means a broken sport will go unmended yet again.

It has been suggested that contraction is the first of several steps designed to fix baseball.

Fine.

But when has baseball made one correct move, let alone several?

In Bud we trust?


Stan Savran hosts a sports talk show weeknights from 8 to 9 p.m. on WBGG-AM (970).

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