Baseball's rich clubs reap the rewards Payroll figures show poor teams pay on field

November 14, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The cost of fielding a quality major-league baseball team continues to go up, even as management steps up the fight for a new economic system that will protect the game's richest owners from themselves.

Industry payroll figures for 1996 were released yesterday, confirming what everyone already knew. The rich teams are continuing to spend more and more money, and the poor clubs clearly are at both an economic and competitive disadvantage as a result.

The annual announcement seemed particularly timely with baseball's long-running labor dispute facing yet another deadline tonight. If there is no new collective bargaining agreement by midnight, the industry will have to operate under the rules of the previous Basic Agreement for another off-season and the owners apparently will have to abandon plans for interleague play in 1997.

Spiraling payrolls and concern about diminishing competitive balance have been the predominant management themes since the owners voted to reopen collective bargaining nearly four years ago.

The clubs combined to spend about $10 million more in salaries in 1996 than they did in 1995.

The New York Yankees weren't just the best team this year, they were the best team money could buy, setting a record with a total payroll of $61.5 million -- a record hard-line baseball owners hope will never be broken.

The Orioles were second with a total salary burden of $55.1 million, and are expected to maintain that level of spending -- or raise it -- after the free-agent market opens this week.

What does all this mean?

"It means that the problems that we [the owners] foresaw years ago are getting more and more realistic," said Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten, whose team finished third in baseball's spending derby at $53.4 million. "It means that the disparity is wider than it has ever been and the link between the winning and money is clearer than it has ever been."

That much seems apparent. The World Series was played between the highest payroll club in each league; the three

top-spending teams reached the league championship round; and all eight playoff teams were in the top half of the major-league payroll scale.

"Did we not see every single playoff series won by the team with the higher payroll?" Kasten continued. "This is just what we feared."

The owners originally wanted to address the problem with a strict salary cap plan that would have limited clubs to a range of 84-110 percent of the average payroll. The Major League Baseball Players Association was willing to agree to a luxury tax plan that would have a far more subtle effect on payroll growth, but the owners rejected that plan during last week's ratification meeting.

Many owners feel that the deal worked out between management negotiator Randy Levine and union chief Don Fehr would not have stopped free-spending clubs from remaining at a tremendous advantage, and want a plan that removes the incentive to try and buy a championship.

"It shouldn't be that you can decide in March exactly how the playoffs are going to go ahead of time," Kasten said. "The closer we get to that, the worse off we're going to be. If people come to believe that is the case, would anyone go to any regular-season games?"

Biggest bucks

The top five baseball payrolls in 1996:

1. Yankees $61,511,870

2. Orioles $55,127,855

3. Braves $53,422,000

4. Indians $47,615,507

5. White Sox $44,827,833

1996 team payrolls

1. Yankees $61,511,870

2. Orioles $55,127,855

3. Braves $53,422,000

4. Indians $47,615,507

5. White Sox $44,827,833

6. Reds $43,676,946

7. Mariners $43,131,001

8. Rangers $41,080,028

9. Rockies $40,958,990

10. Cardinals $38,595,666

11. Red Sox $38,516,402

12. Dodgers $37,313,500

13. Giants $34,646,793

14. Padres $33,141,026

15. Cubs $32,605,000

16. Phillies $30,403,458

17. Astros $29,613,000

18. Blue Jays $28,728,577

19. Marlins $25,286,000

20. Angels $25,140,142

21. Mets $24,890,167

22. Athletics $22,524,093

23. Twins $21,254,000

24. Royals $19,980,250

25. Tigers $17,955,500

26. Expos $17,264,500

27. Pirates $16,994,180

28. Brewers $11,701,000

Total $937,905,284

Note: Determined by management's Player Relations Committee. Totals for active players include prorated shares of signing bonuses and earned incentive bonuses. Income deferred without interest is discounted. Totals also include termination pay.

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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