KOHLER, Wis. -- Large-market baseball clubs, including the Orioles, caucused among themselves last night on the first day of a meeting designed to bring about economic reform to the sport.
The large-market teams have the power to block proposed increases in revenue sharing among the clubs because 21 votes are needed to adopt any change. The chief proponents of change, Executive Council chairman Bud Selig and management labor negotiator Richard Ravitch, looked disconsolate after meeting with the large-market caucus for about 30 minutes.
The Orioles, Boston Red Sox, California Angels, Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies, Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, New York Mets, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays were among the clubs at the caucus. All except Texas have been mentioned as possible votes against Ravitch's plan.
Any change would be tied to the Major League Baseball Players Association agreeing to a salary cap, a move unlikely to occur unless there is a strike or a lockout.
Ravitch wants teams to agree to a plan in which the percentage of local revenue they share and the amount of a salary cap is tied to the amount of local revenue on what would amount to sliding scale.
Currently, all clubs split all national broadcasting and licensing revenue, but each team keeps most of home gate receipts and local broadcasting money.
It would take eight teams to block Ravitch's proposal.
"We have a job to do here, and that's what we're going to keep focused on," said Selig, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and de facto commissioner. Selig characterized the meeting as "very constructive," and said, "There's been a year's worth of work, the likes of which I've never seen in my years in baseball."
But, Selig said, "Obviously, there's a difference of opinion."
Bill Bartholomay, chairman of the board of the Atlanta Braves, said: "We have a better understanding of each other's problems. That's good for the process."
A series of meetings continued until early this morning. The large-market caucus finally broke up just before 1 a.m. EDT, though Orioles president Larry Lucchino said other groups of owners would be meeting into the early morning. The entire group of owners was expected to reconvene at 8:30 EDT this morning.
There was little public comment from the owners. Yet, the few words that did trickle through pointed out a sense of concern.
"There's some sense of urgency, and if it doesn't happen here, it ought to happen soon, because there are problems in our industry that have to be addressed," said Stan Kasten, president of the Braves.
But the approval of a salary cap almost certainly would send the players association out on strike, perhaps as soon as Sept. 6, before the owners receive nearly $250 million in postseason television money from CBS.
"It is labor which is the most significant problem for our sport," said George W. Bush, Rangers managing general partner. "If we can address it and get the players and owners on the same side of the fence, the game will be better off."
Kasten said players association chief Donald Fehr has not been consulted on the matter because the owners are concentrating on "solving our own problems first."
* Bush was reluctant to talk about the proceedings at hand, but he turned positively chatty on the subject of William O. DeWitt, the leader of a minority group of investors that joined Peter G. Angelos in purchasing the Orioles this month for $173 million.
DeWitt, who will divest himself of his 4 percent interest in the Rangers to own a larger share of the Orioles as well as supervise their baseball operations, got a huge thumbs-up from Bush.
"He's been my partner for a decade in other ventures. I'm sorry to lose him, but Baltimore will be a real winner with Bill DeWitt, because he cares about the game," said Bush.
Bush said he did not object to the Aug. 2 purchase of the Orioles in bankruptcy court, but wasn't happy with the notion of teams being sold in auctions.
"Any time you put anything up for public bid, it's not in the best interest of the sport, because it needs to be done in an orderly, private way," said Bush, who quickly quipped, when asked how to keep teams out of bankruptcy courts, "revenue sharing and a salary cap."