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McClatchy Tune, But You Can't
2003-02-04 15:00
by Mike Carminati

McClatchy Tune, But You Can't Dance To It

ESPN reports that Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy has another solution for the low offers to free agents. It's not collusion but rather the slow economy that is affecting the proposals from almost all major-league clubs.

"It's the economy,'' McClatchy told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Money is tight. Teams are no different than any other business. Look at the challenges the NHL is facing right now (with the bankrupt Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres). We need to watch our bottom line in order to be able to continue to operate and be successful. In the long run, that's in everyone's best interest -- including the players.''"

He does, however, acknowledge that collusion occurred, the first such admission by an owner ever:

"No, unequivocally no. That happened several years ago, before I came on board. I'm sure everyone learned their lesson,'' McClatchy said.

Though he recanted later:

"I never said there was collusion,'' McClatchy said. "I wasn't involved in the game then and I can't talk about it. I'm not a lawyer. I have no idea what was going on then.''

Whatever, we don't need an admission on the owners' parts. Collusion not only occurred in the mid-1980s; owners colluded for about 60 years to bar African-Americans from the game even though the teams could have improved their prospects by signing black players.

But that's the past. The question is whether collusion is happening now. As far as the national economy's effect on the sport's economy, I don't buy it. The sport has tripled revenues in the last decade according to MLB's own Blue Ribbon Panel. Yes, that was a few years ago, but baseball profits don't dry up over night. Attendance was slightly down, but the T.V. and cable money were still there. Look at the Dodgers more than doubling their worth in less than 5 years.

This is about power. The owners won major concessions in the last collective bargaining agreement, and they smell blood. The owners have stadiums thrown at them. They have a devoted group of consumers. Payroll is the only cost they cannot control-at least it was until now. The owners are non-tendoring arbitration-eligible players to drive down their value. They low-ball free agents. They offer young players almost exclusively one-year contracts. And often these are players that they are interested in.

The non-tendors are especially difficult to reconcile. They are players that the original teams cannot re-sign until May 1. Basically, they cause a glut on the free agent market, further driving down prices. The original clubs do gain some benefit from the residual downturn in salaries, but they are basically cutting loose a good number of young, somewhat valuable players en masse. Who benefits from this? The rest of the owners. He non-tendors make a good circumstantial argument for the existence of collusion. It seems a convenient way to avoid the dreaded arbitration process.

With McClatchy's awkward collusion non-admission, MLB may have to extend its nefarious labor gag rule to statements related to collusion. If collusion exists, one of them is going to inadvertently kill off their newfound golden goose, otherwise. If collusion is not being used, one couldn't tell from their poorly worded, facile but demonstrably illogical excuses.

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