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Savran: Steelers' Rooney good to his word

Saturday, June 15, 2002

Dan said it would. While stumping for a new stadium, the major plank in Dan Rooney's platform was that the Steelers needed the additional revenue a new facility would provide so that they could remain competitive with the other teams in the old AFC Central. The others already were enjoying new digs and gorging themselves on cash flow.

I wondered at the time, "Wait a minute. Isn't there a salary cap in this league? Isn't each team getting a television handout of $75 million annually? Where's the need for this torrent of new revenue? Is it to further line the owners' already deep pockets?"

Turns out the Steelers have served only as a holding fund for those additional money, transferring it to the pockets of players they consider critical to their success. What they've done in the past year or so in terms of retaining key performers exceeds even the wildest imagination of the wildest Steelers fan. Dan said they would. Obviously, he's a man of his word.

A reason the Steelers have been able to hold their own is that your own often comes cheaper. A team recruiting free agents from outside bids against other teams, which drives the price up. In addition, a player must have inducement to leave one situation for another. Generally, given players' value systems, that inducement is money. Jacksonville and Baltimore are in cap hell because they romanced and signed hired guns, overpaying in many cases. It can be argued that in the case of the Ravens, it was worth it. In Jacksonville's case, it wasn't.

If, however, you spend money to re-sign a player, he knows the organization, the system, the town, the coaches and his teammates. He might be willing to accept just a few dollars less as a quid pro quo for the comfort of familiarity. That's not to say the Steelers paid under-market value for many of the players they've retained, but they were smart to avoid having to worry about matching inflated market values based on undisciplined bidding.

When a ballclub is hitting, few fans know name of the hitting coach. When the team's in a slump, he's the cause of every strikeout and weak roller to short. During the regular seasons of 1990-92, hitting coach Milt May was mentioned less often than the equipment manager. When the Pirates' bats roared in silence in the playoffs those three years, May was not only called on the carpet by fans, they rubbed his nose raw with it.

Now Dave Clark wears the can't-win-for-losing goat horns. Well, before you blame him for Aramis Ramirez or Kevin Young, give him a large measure of credit for Craig Wilson, who is challenging Brian Giles for best ratio of RBIs to at-bats. By watching hours of videotape, Clark discovered a flaw in the positioning of Wilson's hands. Detected and now corrected, Wilson is perhaps becoming a legitimate major-league bat in an organization that can count them on one hand. And maybe it's the name, because Jack Wilson's hitting has improved as well. Certainly the bulk of the credit must, and should, go to the players. But if you're going to blame the hitting coach for the lows, he ought to get at least a smidgen of credit for the highs.

The Penguins might have believed they had a good chance to re-sign Robert Lang, but the truth is they kept him beyond the trading deadline because they desperately wanted to make the playoffs. It's not just hindsight to suggest that Lang could have come back, had the greatest three weeks of his career and that team still wouldn't have made it. And, if making the playoffs was the sole objective,, why trade Darius Kasparaitis?

Bottom line is, the Penguins gambled and lost. Lang isn't a superstar, but he's a responsible two-way player, as good a second line center as you're going to get for the money. Now he's gone with nothing to show for it. But hey, in this business you can make any decision you want. As long as you're right.

News Flash of the Weak: The WNBA players are threatening to go on strike. If only that were a guarantee. My question is, if they take their incredibly inferior product to the picket line, will anybody notice?

Speaking of inferior products, how's that women's soccer league doing? About to collapse, I hear. Good.

Speaking of inferior, indifferent and interminable, when's that World Cup thing supposed to begin?

Stan Savran is the co-host of SportsBeat at 6:30 p.m. weekdays on Fox Sports Pittsburgh.

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