Anti-sharing group, O's caucus alone Owners realize solution needed BASEBALL

August 12, 1993|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

KOHLER, Wis. -- Like most of the other 27 baseball owners and front-office representatives huddled here for talks on potential revenue sharing and a salary cap, George W. Bush yesterday was reluctant to talk about the proceedings at hand.

But Bush, the managing general partner of the Texas Rangers, turned positively chatty on the subject of William DeWitt, the leader of a minority group of investors that joined Peter 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."

Those subjects were the focus of talks that began yesterday morning in the theater of the posh American Club resort hotel here.

The participants generally were silent -- there were rumors that any leaks would be punished by $100,000 fines -- before and after the meeting, which extended into the evening.

However, the Orioles and six other teams -- the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers, Blue Jays and White Sox -- apparently caucused during a dinner break. Though the subject of their meeting wasn't known, the seven are presumed to be against revenue sharing. Two other teams, the Cubs and Braves, also are thought to be against the plan. It would take eight teams to defeat revenue sharing.

"We have a job to do here, and that's what we're going to keep focused on," said Bud Selig, owner of the 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."

The concept of persuading wealthier teams to surrender some of their revenue to clubs with reduced earnings was so sensitive that New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, never known for ignoring a camera, notebook or tape recorder, ran the gantlet of assembled reporters without so much as acknowledging the muggy weather.

Yet, what few words that did trickle through pointed out a sense of concern among the owners.

"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.

"It is labor which is the most significant problem for our sport," said Bush. "If we can address it and get the players and owners on the same side of the fence, the game will be much 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."

And even though the sale of the Orioles isn't on the meeting's agenda, their $173 million selling price has become a point of discussion.

At a time when owners are claiming austerity and asking players to help fix the sport so that struggling franchises can get healthy, the price would seem to discredit the notion that baseball is in financial trouble.

"To isolate one team, which is at the apex of success economically, is good, but that's not the entire industry," said Kasten. "If we analyze with the same care the rest of the industry as the media has done recently with the Baltimore situation, you'll get a great deal more troubling picture of where our economics are."

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