Saturday, January 15, 2000

Selig's ploy actually may work for Reds

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Bud Selig wants more power. Now there's a scary thought. Ordinarily, the commissioner of baseball is a man who needs to be kept on a Barney Fife-length leash.

        You give Selig his bullets one at a time, and you pray he never presumes to transfer any from his shirt pocket to his revolver. You hope he doesn't exceed his authority or his brain power.

        Yet the best interests of baseball, at least insofar as it is played locally, may hinge on the success of Selig's power play at next week's owners meetings in Phoenix. Heaven help us.

        The commissioner wants the authority to order increased revenue-sharing among the owners. Specifically, he wants the power to distribute baseball's national television income unevenly, to slice up the broadcast pie on the basis of need. His goal is to give clubs such as Cincinnati, Kansas City and Milwaukee a reasonable chance to compete with the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves.

        Increased revenue-sharing cannot solve all of baseball's inequities, but it could help the Reds justify signing Ken Griffey Jr. to a long-term contract. To that end, it may be the home team's biggest deal of this offseason.

        It's bound to be an epic battle. Big-market clubs can be expected to fight to retain a proportionate share of baseball's shared cash flow. Small-market clubs will continue to paint doomsday scenarios. Selig must seek to create a consensus among 30 owners who are hard-pressed to agree on what day it is; 30 owners who regard revenue-sharing as taxation by another name.

        He might have an easier time rehabilitating John Rocker.

        “This country is based on free enterprise,” said John Allen, the Reds' chief executive officer. “Literally all the owners, in order to obtain the wealth that they have to own a team, have benefitted from free enterprise in their other endeavors.

        “If I'm an owner of a team in a big market, I bought that franchise based on the understanding that that was the market I wanted to be in. With revenue-sharing, are you taking away value from my franchise?”

Look at the NFL
        If there is a single source of the NFL's preeminence, it is parity. The notion that every team has a reasonable chance to win — every team but the Bengals, at least — makes the product more popular and its presentation more compelling. Playoff potential in the NFL is more a function of sweat and skill than market size, or the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans would not be contending for the Super Bowl.

        This is only possible because the NFL owners pool their largest source of income — network television revenue — and distribute it equally.

        “We're 28 Republicans,” Art Modell said, a couple of expansions ago, “who vote socialist.”

        Baseball, by contrast, is proof of the pitfalls of capitalism. The teams are both independent and interdependent. Each franchise generates most of its income from local sources, but the revenue range is so wide that shared income barely dents the disparity. The result is playoff matchups that are practically preordained and too many towns where the pennant race is effectively over in April.

        Selig's aim is to give the little towns a fighting chance, to make victory as viable for the Brewers in Milwaukee as it is for the Packers in Green Bay.

Bud is behind balance
        Though the Reds managed to win 96 games last season, their success was an aberration that will be difficult to repeat. Financial considerations already have cost the Reds the services of slugger Greg Vaughn and starting pitcher Juan Guzman. Jim Bowden is among baseball's most resourceful executives, but the industry trend clearly favors deeper pockets in bigger towns. The Los Angeles Dodgers now employ two players — pitcher Kevin Brown and outfielder Shawn Green — whose combined salary of $29 million is as much as the combined 1999 payrolls of the Montreal Expos and Florida Marlins.

        Bud Selig wants better balance. The Reds want Ken Griffey Jr. Increased revenue-sharing would make both goals more realistic.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at


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