It's batter up for realignment

January 20, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- There will be no new baseball commissioner any time soon, but the 28 major-league owners settled another major issue during the final session of a three-day meeting.

Chief labor negotiator Richard Ravitch announced yesterday afternoon that the owners had accepted a playoff compensation proposal by the Major League Baseball Players Association to settle the dispute that stood in the way of realignment.

The owners agreed to give the players 80 percent of the gate receipts for the first three games of each extra playoff series, the finalstep in a realignment process that will break each league into three divisions for the upcoming season.

The traditional playoff split gave the players 60 percent of the gate for the minimum number of games necessary to win the League Championship Series and World Series. That won't change, but the players asked for more for the extra playoff tier because the new television contract ties ownership revenue directly to the number of games played.

"We gave them a series of alternative suggestions and they agreed to one of them today," players association director Don ++ Fehr said.

Ravitch said he persuaded the owners to give in on the issue, hoping to move ahead quickly into full-scale collective bargaining negotiations.

"We all felt it was in the interest of the game to proceed [quickly] with this," Ravitch said. "Because of fundamental changes in baseball economics -- in that baseball will get more benefit from the number of games -- the union felt the situation had changed. I felt this was not the time to have extensive bargaining over what is a small amount of money."

In effect, the concession was an olive branch, intended to improvethe fractured relationship between the players and owners in advance of a management campaign for a revenue-based salary cap. Whether it will have that effect will not be known until the negotiations are in full swing.

The deal finalized the six-division format and an extra playoff tier that will include the three division winners and a wild-card team from each league, but the agreement with the union only covers the first year of the realignment plan. The arrangement will become permanent when the owners and players agree on a long-term labor agreement.

"Nobody's quite sure what the public's response will be," Ravitch said, "so it's a one-year deal without prejudice toward the collective bargaining process."

The amount of money standing between the owners and an agreement was relatively modest. Assuming a ticket price of $20 and an average stadium capacity of 50,000, the first three games of the four best-of-five playoff series in the new tier would generate a total of $12 million. The traditional split would have called for the players to receive $7.2 million. The new plan would give them $9.6 million.

Ravitch felt it was more important to settle quickly than to open months of collective bargaining negotiations with an early skirmish over a sum that small. He apparently felt even a clear victory on this issue would be a losing battle in the greater quest for salary cap concessions.

"I made the recommendation because a prolonged negotiation is not the best thing for the game at this time," Ravitch said, "and because the players had no incentive to come to a fast deal. This could have gone on for months on end, and the monetary advantages did not compare to the importance of forming a collegial relationship with the union."

Fehr seemed skeptical. He has been a major player in the contentious labor relationship between the players and the owners too long to buy into any overly optimistic outlook for labor harmony.

"He can characterize this any way he wants," Fehr said of Ravitch. "Hopefully, we can put it into place without any glitches."

The alignment of the divisions already was a matter of record. The Orioles will be in a five-team American League East that also includes the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers. Each league will be divided into two five-team divisions and one four-team division.

In each league's first postseason tier, the division winner with the best record will play the wild-card team (unless that team is from the same division) and the other two division winners will meet in the other playoff series. The two winners play in the League Championship Series for the chance to reach the World Series.

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