AL to share ingredients but only get crumbs from expansion pie

On baseball C ^

June 07, 1991|By Jim Henneman

In addition to one of the most curious decisions ever handed down by the baseball commissioner's office, Fay Vincent also issued a classic understatement yesterday.

"My decision will surely disappoint some owners . . . others may be tempted to claim victory," Vincent said in a prepared statement after "resolving" the dispute between the National and American leagues over upcoming expansion money. "It is not at all clear to me which owners will fall into which group."

Let's resolve that in a hurry. The disappointed group will number 14. The satisfied will have 12. Does that give you a clue about how the AL feels about this "solution."

Vincent decided yesterday that each American League club will get $3 million from the $190 million franchise fees of the two (as yet unnamed) expansion teams that will join the National League in two years. He also dictated that each major-league team would provide three players to the pool that will stock those teams.

The commissioner's verdict will undoubtedly send shock waves through the AL, which is seemingly caught in an overwhelming imbalance when it comes to dollars and players. "I've read the decision, but not the entire report," said Orioles president Larry Lucchino. "Obviously there were strong feelings on both sides.

I'll have more to say after I've had a chance to read it entirely."

Vincent's edict was accompanied by a strong message to the 26 club owners. Basically, it said: "Hey guys, we're all in this together, so let's stop this in-house squabbling."

Good idea. But a better place to start would have been during the labor dispute with the umpires, when disagreement between the two leagues delayed a settlement.

If the American League doesn't realize it has been taken in this latest go-around, then home plate isn't 17 inches wide and the bases aren't 90 feet apart. But these things often happen when greed permeates the offices on Park Avenue.

Consider the facts. The National League is going to add two teams for the 1993 season at a tidy cost of $95 million per team. The last time there was expansion in baseball (1977), the American League acted on its own and added Toronto and Seattle for a measly $7 million each.

A primary reason for expansion in 1977 was to avoid a mammoth lawsuit filed because of the AL's defection from Seattle after only a one-year run in 1969.

Seattle built the Kingdome on the premise there would be a major-league baseball team as the primary tenant. The ensuing litigation was strong enough that the settlement stipulated the 1977 teams came in at 1969 expansion prices [did Toronto ride a $7 million coattail or what?].

With that scenario as the background, the American League decided it wanted a piece of the National League's expansion pie this time around. Little did the AL know it would supply more than half the ingredients and end up with the crust.

For the last 15 years, because of talent spread over 14 teams instead of 12, the American League has struggled in All-Star and World Series competition.

If the National League had to stock two new teams with talent from its existing 12 members, the American League immediately would have gained the upper hand in talent. But remember, we're talking about $190 million in expansion money, as opposed tTC to the $14 million the AL took in back in 1977.

Forget the fact you can count on three fingers the AL teams (Kansas City, California and New York) that are still under the same ownership. It's the principle that counts. Or is it the principal?

Knowing that further expansion is a long way down the road, and therefore out of the grasp of the current crop of greedy owners, the AL made a magnanimous offer. Give us half the money, they said, and we'll give you half the players.

In other words, after playing on an uneven field in all inter-league competition for the last 15 years, the AL said let's $hare the dilution -- and the money. The National League, more concerned about money than dilution, said thanks, but no thanks -- we'll bite the bullet and handle this our$elve$.

For months Vincent implored the two leagues to resolve the issue, probably knowing all along the ball would be dumped in his court.

Yesterday the verdict was dumped on the AL. Big time.

In negotiations, the NL reportedly offered the AL 20 percent of the expansion money in return for an undisclosed part of the player pool. The AL rejected the offer, preferring to let Vincent decide the case.

That apparently was a major mistake. The $3 million Vincent awarded each American League team amounts to 22 percent of the expansion pie. And, by ordering all teams to supply three players to the expansion pool, Vincent is forcing the American League to supply 54 percent of the talent.

Meanwhile the National League will add two teams, each of the 12 existing teams will receive $12.3 million while supplying only 46 percent of the talent.

And that's not all. Vincent also knocked the AL out of the expansion bonanza by declaring that all future new franchise fees be divided equally by teams in both leagues. "In my opinion, what matters most is whether this conflict and my decision will permit baseball owners to work together, plan intelligently for the future, and execute strategies in a unified and proper fashion," said Vincent, who obviously doesn't believe that has happened very often in the past.

"The squabbling within baseball, the finger-pointing, the tendency to see economic issues as moral ones . . . all of these are contributing to our joint fall from grace. If we in baseball seek the respect and loyalty of the fans who are the true owners of the game, we must be deserving in our actions. I suggest we start now."

The AL, however, might not want to start until somebody explains how 22 percent (of the money) equals 54 percent (of the player supply). Something is definitely missing from this equation.

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