Owners face crowded agenda, extra innings on revenue plan

January 17, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The 28 major-league owners will try again to agree on a revenue-sharing plan and attempt to settle on a commissioner when they convene today for three days of meetings at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort. But there is plenty of room to wonder if anything will get done.

The agenda for the second joint owners meeting in less than two weeks includes the supposed culmination of the commissioner search, a report on realignment and another attempt at finding a way to share the wealth, but it doesn't promise a resolution on any of those fronts.

Though a search committee is expected to recommend a candidate for commissioner to a meeting of the Executive Council tonight, competing ownership factions could hold up a decision -- just as they have on their economic agenda.

Two weeks ago, the owners came together near Chicago for the purpose of settling the revenue-sharing issue. They left one vote short of a plan proposed by Player Relations Committee president Richard Ravitch, but they might as well have missed by a mile.

This was supposed to be the commissioner meeting, yet revenue sharing remains a divisive issue that could hold the sport hostage.

It won't matter much who is installed as commissioner if the owners cannot agree on a way to share revenues, because it is considered the first step on the road to a long-term labor %J agreement.

The owners want to put a ceiling on payrolls, but the Major League Baseball Players Association has told them to put their ++ own economic house in order before they come to the union looking for concessions.

No doubt, the owners had hoped that revenue sharing would not crowd the agenda at this three-day session, but it may affect consideration of other issues. If the slow progress made at previous ownership summits is any indicator, the whole agenda could be tabled for another couple of months. Here's a closer look at the major issues.

The commish

There was a time when the owners seemed reasonably confident that they would elect a commissioner at this meeting, but that was before negotiations on several other fronts began to lose momentum. The search committee will present at least one candidate to the full ownership body, but it is unclear whether anyone will come up for a vote.

What's the problem? There apparently is an ownership faction that still holds out hope of persuading acting commissioner Bud Selig to accept the job, though he has insisted he has no interest in the job. There also is the widespread belief that the owners would prefer not to elect anyone from outside the game until after the labor situation is resolved.

Atlanta Braves chairman Bill Bartholomay, who heads up the search committee, said recently that it will present at least one candidate at these meetings, but was noncommittal on whether anyone would come up for a vote. Another committee member indicated that one strong candidate would be presented to the Executive Council today.

"I don't know exactly how it's going to be presented," Bartholomay said, "but we'll present at least one guy. We're on schedule."

The committee is believed to have narrowed the field to a handful of names -- including U.S. Olympic Committee executive director Harvey Schiller and outgoing Northwestern University president Arnold Weber -- but Bartholomay only would say that there were fewer than five names left under consideration.

Schiller and Weber seem qualified, but each may have trouble assembling a solid base of support among the 28 owners. Schiller is perceived by some as being too close to New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Weber may suffer from a similar friendship with Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

How do the owners get out of this mess? By persuading Selig or another baseball management insider to remain as acting commissioner for another year so they can continue the search.

Revenue sharing revisited

The PRC got 20 teams to vote for a revenue-sharing plan at the Chicago meeting, but adjourned quickly enough to indicate that they had little hope of convincing one more team to go along.

It won't get any easier this week. The eight holdout teams seem steadfast in their opposition and have put together their own proposal, which garnered 11 votes two weeks ago, yet several owners expressed confidence at the Chicago meeting that a deal would be struck here.

The large-revenue clubs are willing to agree to a plan that would call for them to contribute more than $40 million to a pool that would help the most beleaguered small-revenue teams. The small-revenue plan, when fully phased in, would call for the richest clubs to contribute nearly $60 million per year.

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