AS Ken Griffey Jr. tags a pitch for his 15th home run of the
season, the crowd roars and fireworks patter under the Kingdome
The star center fielder, who leads the league in homers, wields
one of several sizzling bats on the Seattle Mariners. But
pyrotechnics are notably absent from the club's financial
scorecard: The baseball franchise says it lost about $15 million
last year and expects to be $10 million in the red this season.
While many of the 28 teams in Major League Baseball are making
money, other teams - estimates range from half to one-fourth - are
not. Explanations range from poor management to the disparity in TV
revenues between big-city teams and those in smaller cities. Owners
say one factor is central: skyrocketing player salaries.
Mr. Griffey's 1994 contract of $5 million makes him the game's
highest-paid center fielder. In an effort to erase red ink while
making a bid for the Mariners' first division championship, Mariner
vice president Woody Woodward walked a tightrope earlier this year.
He retained a handful of big-name players with multimillion-dollar
contracts but cut the team's payroll to $29 million, from $33
million in '93. Even so, salaries devour two-thirds of the club's
At the other end of the spectrum are a few teams like the
Toronto Blue Jays, with payrolls 50 percent higher than Seattle's.
With teams bidding for top players in an effort to win pennants
and fans, owners say a cap on team payrolls is needed to restore
discipline and profits to the game. Basketball teams have had
salary caps for about a decade, and the National Football League is
operating under a new system that limits salaries to no more than
64 percent of revenues. In both sports, the lion's share of
industry revenues are shared so that teams are on a fairly level
playing field, economically.
This year, baseball owners are trying to renegotiate the
collective-bargaining agreement that governs player contracts,
hoping to introduce payroll limits. If players agree to the caps,
owners will share more of their television revenue. Currently only
the revenue from national telecasts is fully pooled in baseball,
with local broadcast and cable coverage giving big-city teams a
financial edge. The disparity is increasing this year, because
national broadcast income is being cut in half under a new contract
with the ABC and NBC networks.
Despite what owners argue are the game's dire straits, salary
caps are hardly a foregone conclusion. Foremost among the obstacles
is heavy resistance from the players union. …