Angelos' game plan puts owners in the ballpark

July 28, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The baseball owners say they need a salary cap to save the industry. They say they need revenue sharing to enable weaker clubs to survive.

Peter Angelos is their worst nightmare.

He's got a plan all his own.

It doesn't involve give-backs from the players. And it doesn't require teams like the Orioles to subsidize less profitable clubs.

No, the Angelos plan is simple:

Build more ballparks like Camden Yards.

Makes sense, but the other owners aren't going to appreciate Angelos' state-of-the-game address, because it's everything they don't want to hear.

The truth hurts.

Angelos says a salary cap would be only an "interim" solution to the game's problems. The owners view it as an all-or-nothing issue that is worth the risk of a work stoppage.

Their insistence on a cap is expected to result today in the players announcing a strike date, the first step in a process that could wipe out the rest of the season, playoffs and World Series.

Angelos takes an almost opposite view, suggesting that baseball should resolve its problems by maximizing revenues with new ballparks in cities large enough to support major-league teams.

So much for a united front.

The strike is weeks away, yet Angelos' comments reflect the owners' age-old problem -- the differences created by the self-interest of each club, the differences the owners claim to have resolved.

One minute, Angelos says the owners are united behind a salary cap. The next minute, he says the cap isn't a "long-term solution," shifting the onus from the players to the owners.

"The long-term solution is to duplicate the Baltimore experience," Angelos said. "It's happening in Cleveland. It's happening in Texas. It's going to happen in Denver.

"[Detroit owner] Mike Ilitch has been here. [Cincinnati's] Marge Schott has come to look at this ballpark. I believe ultimately there will be a Camden Yards facility in each city that has a major-league team.

"The quicker that day comes, the quicker the concept of revenue sharing can be put aside. Each team will be able to support itself and put a competitive team on the field."

Angelos opposes revenue sharing because it would shift some of the Orioles' profits to teams generating less revenue -- in effect, penalizing his club for achieving financial success.

He says, however, if revenue sharing is a necessity, part of the money redistributed to struggling clubs should be set aside for new stadium projects.

"If we're going to give up $40 or $50 million to keep a team from failing, let it contribute part of the money to their government and say, 'Here, build us a Camden Yards like the governor and state of Maryland built for the Orioles.' "

Angelos says he believes the owners' cries of economic distress are genuine, and he supports the idea of a short-term salary cap. Still, he expresses divergent views on a number of other labor-related issues.

* Expansion.

Rather than add new teams, Angelos says baseball should satisfy baseball-hungry cities such as Phoenix by approving franchise shifts for unprofitable clubs.

Angelos declined to name any clubs that should move, but he identified possible candidates as teams playing in outdated parks within metropolitan areas where the population is below 2.5 million.

Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and San Diego would fit that description, according to the 1990 census. Oakland and Minnesota, two teams up for sale, also could be possibilities.

"These are hard decisions -- I don't want to be the person who makes those judgments," Angelos said. "But if I have to analyze, give it an opinion, I'd establish the criteria and implement it."

* Local media revenue.

Angelos says he has "no problem" with clubs sharing such income, an idea that might persuade the players that the owners are serious about addressing the game's inequities.

The owners share revenue from their national radio and television deals, but not the money they earn from their local contracts.

The resulting discrepancy is enormous -- the New York Yankees draw $50 million annually from their local media contracts, the San Diego Padres only about $2 million.

The Orioles' take is about $10 million, which explains Angelos' position. Naturally, he wouldn't mind having some of George Steinbrenner's money.

* Financial disclosure.

Angelos maintains that the owners must release team-by-team financial statements to support their contention that the industry will lose $100 million in 1994.

"That's an absolute prerequisite," Angelos said. "If the owners don't open their books, I can understand the refusal -- not just the reluctance -- but the refusal of the players to go along with the salary cap.

"When someone says, 'I don't believe you,' that's a challenge, that's throwing down the gauntlet. It's incumbent upon baseball as an industry to put the facts on the table and prove its case.

"It's inevitable. It makes sense. It's not something that requires ingenuity. It's a fundamental, common-sense move: 'This is what I contend. This is how I resolve it.' You can't just say, 'You've got to believe what we're saying.' "

Of course, that's exactly what the owners are doing.

And, as usual, they can't even agree among themselves.

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