Ask the owners and players whether they want to wipe out...

Q & A

August 11, 1994

Ask the owners and players whether they want to wipe out the last two months of the season and the answer from both sides is a resounding no. Still, a players strike set for Friday may do just that. The key dispute is whether the owners really are losing money and headed toward financial ruin, as many hard-liners contend. The players don't believe that, nor does Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College professor and author of "Baseball and Billions," a 1992 book exploring the sport's economics. Zimbalist, a former consultant to the players union, spoke recently with Sun Staff Writer Mark Hyman.

Q: The owners have made numerous claims that baseball is in deep financial trouble, yet they refuse to disclose their records to the public. Why?

A: What they say is that it's proprietary information, and they're not obligated. Which is right. From time to time, they do make summaries of their books available, but always in a form that allows them to hide juicy information.

Q: Under what circumstances might the owners open their books to the fans?

A: Their claim of economic hardship -- you guys in the media don't give them a hard-enough time. I think the press ought to say: 'We are not on owners' side or the players' side. But we're not going to print anything until we see the owners' numbers.'

Q: Assuming the owners have something to hide, what `f information do they least want to reveal?

A: First, front-office expenses. You could be hiring 15 relatives or pay a salary to yourself and your wife. Another are related-party transactions, where an owner of a team also owns a media outlet, for example. It becomes very easy for the Tribune Co. [owner of the Cubs] or Ted Turner [owner of the Braves] to move profits from one pocket to another.

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