Selig brushes off salary cap suggestions
MILWAUKEE Baseball commissioner Bud Selig says the game’s economic structure has come a long way and still could use some tinkering.
And while the man who bought the Milwaukee Brewers from Selig’s family, Mark Attanasio, has suggested a salary cap might be the solution, Selig isn’t ready to take a stand on an issue that could revive dormant tensions between owners and players.
The current collective bargaining agreement doesn’t expire until 2011, and Selig suggested securing long-term labor peace with continued economic reforms could be his final major achievement as commissioner.
“The last year of my commissionership will be devoted to that,” Selig said Tuesday during a seminar with students at Marquette University’s law school. “So there’s no sense in me sitting here today and engaging them on (a salary cap). We’ll just watch how the system develops and what we need to do.”
Whatever economic tweaks to the game might be forthcoming, Selig said they will be made with one goal in mind. He calls it hope; others might call it parity.
“Our job is to give hope and faith in as many franchises as possible on April 1st,” Selig said. “That’s the intent.”
Toward that end, Selig praised measures baseball has taken to help teams in smaller media markets compete with big-market teams, such as revenue sharing and a luxury tax on teams with lofty payrolls.
Selig used Tuesday’s hour-long session with students to make the case that baseball is stronger than ever despite increased competition from an ever-expanding universe of entertainment options.
Selig said baseball is “more popular than it’s ever been” in the U.S. and has significant growth potential overseas, adding he would like to see games played in Europe.
Selig also went out of his way to praise franchise owners for showing restraint on ticket prices. By his own count, Selig said eight clubs have cut ticket prices, 15 or 16 have kept them the same and others have raised prices “very judiciously.”
But when asked afterward about his personal economic well-being, Selig was less forthcoming.
Selig brushed off a question about this week’s revelation that he made nearly $17.5 million in 2007, according to Major League Baseball’s latest tax return.
Is that commensurate with the success the game is experiencing?
“I let others make that decision,” Selig said. “I’m not going to comment on that.”
Selig also sidestepped reports that financially troubled Citigroup was rethinking its sponsorship of the New York Mets’ new stadium.
“Believe me, that’s a very complicated issue,” Selig said.
Nor was Selig ready to offer an opinion on a salary cap, an idea recently put forth by Attanasio after the New York Yankees snapped up Brewers ace CC Sabathia as part of a three-player, $423.5 million free-agent spending spree.
“I’ve talked to Mark about that, and I’ve talked to other owners,” Selig said. “But I’m just not going to comment on that. ... The cap has been talked about a lot. All caps are different. Some of them have worked, some haven’t.”
Teams already have been more cautious with their money this offseason because of concerns about the slumping economy, and almost half the players who filed for free agency remain unsigned. Manny Ramirez, Ben Sheets and Adam Dunn are among the players still on the market, and the players’ union is keeping a close eye out for evidence of collusion.
“We are, as always, looking at the market,” union head Donald Fehr said in an e-mail. “When conclusions are drawn, it won’t be a secret.”
Selig pointed to the success of the Brewers, who made the playoffs for the first time since 1982 last season, and other small-market clubs as evidence that revenue sharing and the luxury tax already are helping to level the playing field.
“There’s more competitive balance than ever in the history of baseball,” Selig said. “The reason you’re seeing small-market teams do better is because the economic system allows them to be better.”
Selig said the outlook for small-market teams is far different today than it was in the 1990s, when his family still was running the Brewers.
“We didn’t really have much of a chance,” Selig said. “We couldn’t say that, but it was true. Today, they do. And can it be made better? We’ll see. I meant what I said today. I’m just going to watch it. We’ve got three more years.”