Monday, August 30, 2010

Buy Me Some Peanuts and ...Bush Leaguers

A report last week from Deadspin showed that teams like the Royals, Marlins and Pirates make money despite fielding lousy teams which can't draw flies.   Because they keep costs down?  Yes, but also because of revenue sharing.

Since the mid-1990's, baseball has had a system where "big market" (think New York, LA, Chicago) teams share revenue with "small market" (think Kansas City, Tampa, Cleveland) teams.  The idea was to level the playing field, redistribute wealth, so other teams could compete.

This year, for example, the New York Yankees (baseball's Microsoft) have a payroll of $206 million, while the Pittsburgh Pirates have a payroll of $35 million.  In fact, the Yanks Alex Rodriguez ($34 million) makes as much as the entire Pirates roster.  I picture *A-Rod walking up to the Pirates batting cage and saying "I can buy you guys."  Would he want them? 

Revenue sharing hasn't worked.  Come October, big spenders dominate while little spenders make tee times.  "Moneyball" theories aside, money rules.

There are exceptions.  The Florida Marlins have won two championships and the Tampa Bay Rays won a pennant a couple of years ago.   Cleveland came within a game of the World Series a few years ago. 

Rooting for a small market team means rooting for exceptions.  Baseball does not have a salary cap like other sports or shared TV revenue like the NFL.  Baseball has the strongest players union, by far, of any professional sport and owners who often are their own worst enemies. 

(As an aside, check out "Lords Of The Realm" by John Helyar for more on the "real" history of baseball.) 

And there is revenue sharing (this year's pool is about $450 million), but now comes word that a number of owners pocket the dough for themselves.  While the idea was that teams would spend away on new players, there aren't strict guidelines on what to do with the money. 

Reminds me of the episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" where Robert goes to his brother for money due to some hard times and promptly spends it on a weekend in Vegas. 

When baseball's labor agreement is up next year and owners cry about player salaries, they won't have much leverage will they?

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