MLB must sleep in the bed it made

By Chris Morrison

This month, Major League Baseball voted overwhelmingly in
favour of contraction by a 28-2 margin. What this means is by next season at the earliest, two teams from small markets will be purchased by the office of MLB and their players will be redistributed through a dispersal draft.

The rumour on the playground is the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins will be gone as of December or January. Although a Minnesota court ruled the Twins must fulfil their lease at the Metrodome next year, it looks like the 1987 and 1991 World Series champs will be no more.

When I first heard that contraction would take place, I cheered. There are too many teams in every pro sport, and not enough quality players. There’s also not enough fans, and not enough dollars to pay for player salaries. The quality of play has diminished in all pro sports in recent years. Anyone familiar with the NHL of the ’80s when the Islanders and Oilers scored at will knows this to be true.

However, my cheers did not last long–baseball got itself into this situation. In 1990 they signed a multi-year $1-billion broadcasting deal with CBS and ESPN. The owners took the money and ran. Not only that, they expanded by two teams in 1993 and 1997. The money from the franchise fees allowed the owners to continue the charade that all was OK.

Hockey engaged in this exercise too. Haven’t you noticed that there are more NHL teams than there are dreadlocked white boys at a folk festival? In the case of baseball, the billion from CBS and ESPN dried up long ago. Right around the time that Rhodes Scholar, former used car salesman, former Milwaukee Brewers owner and current MLB Commissioner Bud Selig decided to cancel the Fall Classic in 1994. It would have easily been won by the Expos.

I do not and will not, blame the players. If somebody wanted to pay me $25 million to play baseball, I wouldn’t think twice.

The greed of the owners got them into this situation. They have ignored the real problem: the disparity in revenue among large and small market teams. There is no even playing field without revenue sharing between clubs. Something as simple as a 70-30 split of the gate receipts between the home and away teams or some sort of deal where teams like the New York Yankees share some of their millions in broadcast rights, with teams like the Expos and the Twins would have prevented this situation from happening in the first place. But owners saw salaries as the problem and unilaterally imposed a salary cap in 1995, which led to a shortened 144-game season.

The thing is, a salary cap without revenue sharing does not do much to help small market teams. It simply means that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Los Angeles Dodgers owner Rupert Murdoch are able to make more and pay their employees less.

Instead of contraction, MLB should try to actually solve the problem it created for itself. Share revenue among teams. Given the opportunity, Montreal might produce the best outfield in baseball–just like they did in 1981 and 1994. Maybe Minnesota can thrill us again like they did in going worst to first and World Champs in 1991.

However, if baseball chooses the easy way out–contraction–then the signing of Ken Griffey Jr. with the small market Cincinnati Reds instead of the New York Mets will become an anomaly. With Montreal and Minnesota soon gone, it will be up to Toronto, Seattle, Oakland, and other small market teams to continue to develop talent for the New Yorks and Atlantas of the world.

On the other hand, if baseball decides to drop the Florida Marlins and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays instead of the Expos and Twins, please ignore what I just wrote and cheer for contraction. Greed is not good. Unless it gets rid of the two ill-conceived Florida baseball teams.


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