Contraction in baseball not realistic

March, 2, 2009
Uh-oh. Bill Madden went there

    The rumblings already have started. With three years to go in the basic agreement, baseball's owners are once again sounding the flashpoint "c" word -- as in salary cap. But this past week, events in Oakland and Miami -- where a new stadium plan for the A's was pronounced dead and one for the Marlins once again put on life support -- may leave the owners no choice but to revisit another ominous "c" word: contraction.

    In both cases, though, it's always been with an eye on their teams getting new ballparks and the accompanying significant increase in revenue streams. But the seemingly never-ending battle between the Marlins and the south Florida bureaucrats hit yet another impasse when the Miami city commissioners failed to approve the financing for the proposed $609 million retractable-roof stadium to be built on the site of the old Orange Bowl targeted for 2012.


    "It would be nice to have these kids play their entire careers with us," [Billy] Beane said. "I admit the toughest part for me has been turning over very good players every year. It's not good for fan loyalty seeing all these new jerseys every year. I love what I do. I love developing players. I just wish I could keep them. From that standpoint, it does wear on you a little. Larry Beinfest faces it every year too. Then again, I guess this has been going on throughout the A's history. Before me, Charlie Finley was selling off all his players and before him Connie Mack broke up all those great A's teams in Philadelphia."

    But at least Mack and Finley found buyers for the team and, in Mack's case, buyers who could move it. Baseball has run out of places to move struggling franchises and, especially in this economy, who in their right mind would buy either the A's or Marlins with their bleak stadium situations? And just as Wolff, his partner John Fisher and the Marlins' Loria are going to be looking for a way out from under their mounting losses, baseball can't afford to keep dumping revenue-sharing money into hopeless franchises. Like just about every other industry in this country right now, baseball is going to have to take stock of its situation and downsize. There are too many teams in baseball anyway and it makes no sense to continue operating them in places that can't or won't support them.

Look, the A's and the Marlins both have serious ballpark/revenue woes. No question about it, and Madden does a good job enumerating those woes. But it's a massive leap from "needing" a new ballpark to the c-word. For one thing, both the A's and the Marlins have, in recent years, been competitive. We're not talking about the St. Louis Browns here. We're talking about one franchise that won 93 games three seasons ago and another that won 84 games just last year. I mean, seriously: these are the two teams that might disappear?

What's more, even if both franchises were utter wrecks they still wouldn't be serious candidates for contraction. No franchise would be. It was, what, eight years ago when this spectre was first raised, regarding the Twins and the Expos? I said then that it would never happen; that Congress (among others) wouldn't allow it, and that the owners were simply floating the notion as leverage in their negotiations with the union.

I wish I were so right about something just once or twice every year.

Maybe baseball can't survive in Oakland or Miami in the long run. While I think that's unlikely, I'm happy to entertain the possibility. But either way, both franchises are worth a great deal of money to someone, and merely saying that baseball has "too many teams" doesn't make it true. I made a prediction eight years ago and I'm happy to make it again …

You'll see expansion before you see contraction. Baseball should expand, not contract. And it will, eventually. So maybe we should start talking about the e-word.



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