Union has stashed away more than $170 million

August 12, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

The Major League Baseball Players Association began this strike year with a formidable war chest at its disposal: more than $170 million in cash and securities, largely raised through the sale of trading cards.

According to the union's annual financial disclosure filed last month with the Labor Department, the 1,000-member players union ended 1993 with $174.8 million in assets, including $155.6 million stashed away in Treasury securities and $18.5 million in cash.

That money -- about $175,000 a player -- represents a strike fund of historic proportions and no doubt has grown since the filing was made.

"That's a lot of money, especially for a union of that size," said Greg Tarpinian, executive director of the Labor Research Association in New York.

By comparison, a 1990 Labor Department report showed the 2 million-member National Education Association, the nation's largest union, with assets of $86 million. The United Auto Workers had $907 million, and the Teamsters had $196 million.

But baseball players have something most teachers and truck drivers don't: photographs of themselves that people are willing to pay for.

The players union markets the group rights for photographs of members to manufacturers of trading cards, board and computer games and other licensed merchandise. As a result, it receives rights fees or a percentage of revenues raised from sales of these goods.

If a team name or team logo appears on the product, Major League Baseball also gets a cut.

Licensed good sales have been doing well in recent years. Last year, the union raised $74.8 million from those sales, up from $59 million four years ago. It is by far the union's biggest source of income, dwarfing the $3.9 million raised last year through the $20-a-game-day dues paid by players.

This extraordinary income not only has made the union one of the richest in the country, but also one of the few that actually pays its members money each year. When cash is not needed for contract talks, protracted legal fights with owners or operating expenses, the union rebates it to the players.

Last year, the union distributed $25 million -- or about $25,000 each -- to members, and in March made another $5.3 million rebate. It decided to keep the rest to cover bargaining and strike costs.

The players already have received about three-quarters of their salaries, and the union says it will pay members during the strike, according to a formula based on the amount of time played this year. On average, the union could have $150,000 to $200,000 per member in reserve, with more money coming in from licensing deals.

"If you can support your members while they are out on strike, it greatly increases your leverage," said Tarpinian.

The union would begin distributing money from the strike fund on Sept. 15, the day the players would miss their second paycheck. Because players do not get paid during the off-season, the second payment from the fund would not be made until next April -- when it presumably would be even richer.

The players aren't the only ones benefiting from this largess. Union executive director Donald Fehr, who is leading the players in the contract talks, got a salary of $950,000 last year, $1 million this year, and will make no less than $1 million next year, according to the union's Labor Department filing.

And his predecessor -- the man who pioneered the use of licensing revenue among sports unions -- is also well taken care of. Former executive director Marvin Miller receives a pension of $113,100 a year.

IF SEASON ENDS TODAY . . .

A look at the division winners and wild-card qualifiers if the baseball season were to end today:

American League

Div. ... ... ... Team ... ... W-L

East ... ... ... Yankees ... 70-43

Central .. .. .. White Sox .. 67-46

West ... ... ... Rangers ... 52-62

Wild card .. ... Indians ... 66-47

National League

Div. ... ... ... Team ... ... W-L

East ... ... ... Expos .. ... 74-40

Central .. .. .. Reds ... ... 66-48

West ... ... ... Dodgers ... 58-56

Wild card ... .. Braves ... 68-46

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