Baseball's cash register rings bit off-key

November 23, 1993|By Jerome Holtzman | Jerome Holtzman,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- Baseball's money game continued yesterday with two major free-agent signings: first baseman Will Clark to the Texas Rangers for what is becoming the standard $30 million for five years; and pitcher Sid Fernandez to the Baltimore Orioles, $9 million for three years.

The signings are further evidence player salaries will continue to escalate. Clark is coming off his worst power season, only 14 home runs and 73 runs batted in, but will earn $6 million a year through 1998, an approximate 25 percent increase from his previous wage.

Fernandez, often injured and on the disabled list during two of the past three seasons, jumped from $2.1 million a year to $3 million. Considering he had a losing record last year -- 5-6 -- he and his agent should be congratulated.

The Orioles also were in pursuit of Clark. The Baltimore brass entertained Clark and Jeff Moorad, his agent, last weekend.

It can be assumed the Orioles also offered big money, probably $25 million for five years. Baltimore insiders expected Clark would accept unless he got a higher offer from the Rangers, who were the next stop.

That the Orioles, supposedly a small-market club, have been a major player in the free-agent hunt is not surprising. The players association is using the Birds as Exhibit A in its quadrennial struggle with management for higher wages and ancillary benefits.

It's hard to know who to root for. The average 1993 player salary, including incentive bonuses paid by the clubs, was $1,064,149, certainly a hefty wage. The average pay on two teams, the Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays, was closer to $2 million; $1.731 million for the Yankees, $1.726 million for the Jays.

These numbers do not include an additional $100,000, each player's share of the monies earned by the union's merchandising operation. The merchandising program, alone, is a good barometer of the union's enormous success.

News item: The Atlanta Braves have raised their overall ticket prices enough to possibly produce $8.5 million in additional ticket revenues to balance an anticipated $7 million reduction from network television. Their top ticket is now $20, an increase of $10.50 for those seats since 1991. In 1993, the Braves sold out 37 games, and out of the 3.925 million tickets available for the 81 home games, fans snapped up all but about 45,000.

And so the baseball industry is not unlike all the others. In the end, the consumer pays. A 10 to 15 percent hike in big-league ticket prices is estimated. Last season, the increase was a modest 1.7 percent, the year before 7.7 percent.

It is my opinion that the baseball ticket prices no longer are within the reach of the common man. The proliferation of sky boxes are the best example of the changing times. They have become a major source of club income but, in the main, have had an undesirable affect.

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