Monday, January 18, 2010

Loria not McGwire Embarrasses Major League Baseball

Loria not McGwire Embarrasses Major League Baseball

By Evan Weiner

January 18, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- The New Year is less than three weeks old but Major League Baseball has already endured one very embarrassing moment and it has nothing to do with Mark McGwire steroids usage admission or that a former Kansas City Royals errand boy and flunky named Rush Limbaugh again opened his mouth disgracefully after the earthquake in Haiti. Whether Limbaugh likes it or not, Major League Baseball is donating $1 million to relief efforts in Haiti.

The embarrassing moment came last week when the Major League Baseball Players Association, Major League Baseball and the Florida Marlins organization reached an understanding that the Marlins franchise will actually spend some of the revenue sharing revenues earmarked for them and other struggling franchises to pay players. Florida has been receiving stipends along with other teams but apparently has not been using the money to spend on talent.

The revenue sharing issue has been around for years and the 2002 Collective Bargaining Agreement was hatched to spread around baseball’s wealth from say George Steinbrenner’s baseball revenue generated pockets to lesser lights like the Montreal Expos franchise, Florida, Limbaugh’s old employer, the Royals, Pittsburgh and others. But there has always been a question as to whether the owners of the lesser lights were going to spend Steinbrenner’s money or pocket it or pay down the operating debt.

The players could have filed a grievance against the owners and try to prove that the lesser revenue generating teams were not spending on players salaries.

In a news release released by MLB, the MLBPA and Florida, the three parties said: “The Basic Agreement requires that each Club use its revenue sharing receipts in an effort to improve its performance on the field. This requirement is of obvious importance to all players, Clubs and fans of the game. In recent years, the Union has had concerns that certain Clubs have not lived up to this requirement, and has consulted regularly with the Commissioner’s Office about those concerns. The Florida Marlins are one of a number of Clubs that have been discussed.

“After extensive discussions, the three parties are pleased to announce that they have reached an agreement regarding the Florida Marlins’ continued compliance with Article XXIV(B)(5)(a) of the Basic Agreement.

“MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner said: In response to our concerns that revenue sharing proceeds have not been used as required, the Marlins have assured the Union and the Commissioner’s Office that they plan to use such proceeds to increase player payroll annually as they move toward the opening of their new ballpark. Today’s agreement, which covers the period 2010 through 2012, calls for ongoing communication among the Marlins, the Commissioner’s Office and the Union as the Marlins proceed with that plan. It also permits, after consultation among all parties, adjustments in the Marlins’ plan to respond to unforeseen developments, and calls for arbitral intervention if disagreements arise. We greatly appreciate the willingness of the Commissioner’s Office and the Marlins to engage with us and ensure that all terms of the Basic Agreement are met.”

“Marlins’ President David Samson said:

“The Marlins have consistently made every effort to put the best product on the field and our record supports the fact that we have been successful in that regard. Throughout the discussions, the Marlins maintained that there had been no violation of the Basic Agreement at any time. While we know that the Marlins will always comply with the Basic Agreement, we were happy to work cooperatively with the Union and the Commissioner’s Office on this matter.

“MLB Executive Vice President, Labor Relations Rob Manfred added:

“The Basic Agreement contains confidentiality provisions that preclude the parties from publicly discussing the specifics of the Marlins’ finances. There will, therefore, be no comment by any of these parties on any further specifics of this agreement. All three parties agree that the Basic Agreement provision on the proper use of revenue sharing dollars is an important part of our agreement. Today’s announcement is the product of a positive dialogue between the MLBPA, the Commissioner’s Office and the Club.”

Florida will be moving into a mostly taxpayers funded new stadium in 2012 at the site of Miami’s old Orange Bowl. Since Miami city officials are partnering with the Marlins franchise perhaps they should allow taxpayers to see Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria’s books as taxpayers are paying the freight on a stadium that theoretically will make Loria more money on his investment.

The price tag on the new stadium is estimated to be $645 million with some of that picked up by unsuspecting snowbirds through hotel and motel taxes. Miami-Dade County officials approved $563 million worth of bonds, with $378 million coming from Dade County’s sports tax, another $130 million from tourist taxes (no one knows whether there will be enough tourists to fund that fund) and $55 million from a general obligation bond. Loria and the Marlins owners are putting up $120 million and will pay back a $35 million loan from Dade County.

Loria will get all of the revenue generated in the city-owned stadium. But Miami has come up with a big plum. Loria will rename the team the Miami Marlins. That certainly is a great reason to fund a stadium. One time Charlotte, North Carolina Mayor Pat McCrory once suggested that Charlotte needed a new team and a new arena after George Shinn took his National Basketball Association team to New Orleans because of arena issues in 2002 because of the many times Charlotte would be mentioned on ESPN SportsCenter in game highlights and how much free advertising the city would get from ESPN.

The fact that MLB and the MLBPA had to go public with dirty laundry and that Loria wasn’t spending money is quite embarrassing and that Loria agreed to spend more money on players has validated George Steinbrenner’s big fears that his Yankees money would be pocketed by other owners instead of paying for players.

McGwire did not embarrass baseball in anyway with his admission of steroids usage. Again the guardians of baseball’s gate, baseball sportswriters, are upset this time with the quality of McGwire’s announcement and his subsequent interview with Bob Costas. Too bad for the baseball scribes. In a public appearance in St. Louis on Sunday, McGwire was cheered by Cardinals fans which no doubt baffled the guardians.

People who attend or follow baseball games want to be entertained. They don’t care about steroids or off field behavior which is something the guardians don’t understand. There are fewer guardians these days as the newspaper industry retrenches but baseball writers still think they matter. After all they still judge who belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame or who is not worthy of the Cooperstown, NY shrine even though it is a blatant conflict of interest to vote for any baseball awards or the Hall of Fame. True journalists should not vote on subjects they cover, particularly when their vote can conceivably put more money in an award winner or Hall of Fame inductee’s pocket. It is an ethical issue that no one really wants to take up although some newspapers did bar writers from voting.

The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) is one of the last vestiges of a bygone era, the writers are “real baseball men” or at least in the world of one of the newest Hall of Famers Whitey Herzog who preferred to talk to the “real baseball men” instead of radio or TV reporters. Perhaps it is fitting that Herzog and New York Daily News writer Bill Madden, one of the BBWAA dinosaurs (and strike breakers and why the Major League Baseball Players Association members still talk to Bill Madden is curious considering how the MLBPA dealt with players who were in training camps during the 1994-95 strike) will be honored as inductees later this summer.

The BBWAA is sort of like McSorley’s Old Ale House in Manhattan. McSorley’s was one of the last bars in Manhattan to allow women inside the premises in 1970 after being sued and losing. The BBWAA is an old boys club in a 21st century environment which no longer works. But baseball writers and newspapers have given the sport free advertising and publicity for well over a century and even though baseball and sports gets a lot of money from TV, newspapers and baseball writers still retain a special role in the industry.

Loria has promised to put more money into his payroll although that could change depending on how the stadium financing goes. Next up? Maybe Pittsburgh, another franchise that has a special relationship with taxpayers.

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