Foul Ball

Whitey Herzog takes a vicious swing at money-driven modern baseball, where only the wealthy win -- and the fans always lose

"Discipline" is the key word: Many in baseball would like to enforce it with a salary cap.

"We have to be looking at a number of things," says MLB's Alderson. "Start at the top, and that would be some sort of luxury tax, possibly a salary cap. The key is to slow people down. I don't know that you're ever going to stop the growth of payrolls -- I don't think that's necessarily the goal. But creating disincentives even for someone at the top end like the Dodgers is, I think, conceivable."

"This will never work without some kind of salary cap," Costas asserts. "This is where the Players Association has never been publicly challenged in a thoughtful way. All they do is make these proclamations about how America is based on a free market. Wait a minute -- the notion that a league is the same as other business is nonsense, total nonsense. Does General Motors trade its chief executive to some other automobile company? And yet these guys, the Players Association, agree to conditions that allow a league to be a league. The idea that all members of a league are like separate businesses is ridiculous. In a league, the competitors must simultaneously be partners. And it's not just for their own benefit -- it's for the benefit of all the players in the league. Because in a team sport, outside the context of a league with its ongoing structure and its history, the performances of the players have no meaning. When the big markets and the Players Association recognize that -- and recognize there's no heresy in some sort of modifications of a free market so that you can have a viable, competitive league -- that's when this thing can get straightened out."

Costas also points out that a salary-cap system could even prove beneficial to many in the Players Association. "In any system that I would approve," he explains, "you would have not only salary caps, you would have salary minimums. A team would be required to at minimum pay $40 million. If you capped it, let's say, at $60 million -- I'm making these figures up, the figures are obviously negotiable -- you would also want a rule that says the least the team could spend is $40 million. That would benefit a majority of the players. All you'd be asking is that people who are potentially as rich as sultans -- the top superstars -- be content to be only as rich as emperors."

The distance between identifying a solution and implementing it, of course, is often as vast as the gulf separating MLB's haves and have-nots.

The Players Association, for example, looks with skepticism and disfavor on owner proposals to limit salaries through a cap. "It has no logic," Miller flatly asserts. "The problem is not the salaries. That's an absurd kind of concept. Whatever limitation you're talking about -- whether it's a salary cap, whether it's an absolute ceiling on the percentage of revenue that can go to salaries -- these are all provisions which separate competitors cannot, repeat cannot, cooperate with each other on under the antitrust laws unless there is a union there and they get the union to agree. So what they're trying to do is to get the union to agree to provisions which would result in a salary structure lower than if the union disappeared. That's illogical -- unless you've got a company union, like you do in basketball or football. Then anything's possible." Miller even speculates that in agreeing to such limitations, "the union would be violating its mandate under the law."

Miller can be forgiven his umbrage: Since the union's inception, baseball's owners have pleaded poverty without ever opening their books and have endeavored -- with absolutely no success -- to break the Players Association or bend it to their will. Despite continual cries of impoverishment, owners over the years have failed to offer any evidence of real loss.

"Not once," emphasizes Miller. "Not once. You know, when I first began, we were dealing with salaries that were a pittance compared to what we have now, yet every time I would talk to reporters, I would get this business: 'You know, don't you, that two-thirds of the teams are losing money?' This was when the average salary was $19,000 a year. I was new to baseball at that time, and I would say, 'What evidence do you have of that?' And they would say, 'Well, I talked to this guy ...' 'What guy?' 'Well, he's a scout in Davenport, Iowa.' 'He's a scout, and he told you that? I'm told' -- and this was true at the time -- 'that not even the commissioner of baseball gets reports from those companies, that they won't tell him, and you're going to write a story about the poverty of baseball based on what a scout told you?' That kind of nonsense continues to this day. People who have never seen a financial report of a ballclub, and if they did they would not understand how to analyze it -- I'm not denigrating them, it's a technical job -- still will write a report that says X number of clubs are losing money, this percentage of clubs can't make it, etc., and it's based on nothing except allegations."

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