Bud Selig has many stories he can tell about George Steinbrenner, but he often tells one in particular. It’s about the time the Yankees’ owner was in Milwaukee to watch his team play Selig’s Brewers.
As often happened with Steinbrenner, something was going on that the reporters traveling with the Yankees wanted to talk to him. Mickey Morabito, the Yankees’ media relations director, sought out Steinbrenner where he was sitting and told him the writers wanted to talk to him.
“Tell them I’m not here,” Selig recalls Steinbrenner telling Morabito.
The only problem with that idea, Selig always says laughing, was that Steinbrenner was sitting in Selig’s glass-enclosed box, which was next to the press box, where the reporters had a clear view of the Yankees’ owner.
Selig, now the commissioner, doesn’t have the same relationship with the sons of Steinbrenner as he had with George, and in Selig’s experience, the older one, Hank, is heard more than seen.
That was the case this week when Selig heard or read what Hank Steinbrenner said about Major League Baseball’s revenue-sharing program. Hank’s remarks to reporters at the Yankees’ spring training camp in Tampa, Fla., prompted the commissioner to call Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine, the club president.
Selig reportedly did not berate them for Hank’s outspoken view on revenue sharing. Nor did he direct them to literally put a muzzle on Hank. But figuratively? That’s a different story.
Selig has imposed a ban on all owners’ comments on labor matters. As negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement get under way before the start of the season, Selig will come down hard on owners who make comments publicly about labor matters.
Selig adhered to his own ban when I asked him for comment on Hank Steinbrenner’s comments on revenue sharing. “Nothing I can tell you,” he said. “Thank you for calling.”
Selig won’t talk about revenue sharing and doesn’t want anyone else talking about it because it figures to be the most sensitive and explosive topic in labor negotiations.
However, it appears that the contentious tone on the topic will occur not between the owners and the players but among the owners themselves.
The point of contention is the amount of revenue that is shared has grown far more than ever was envisioned, and the great bulk of it falls on a handful of teams. With the Yankees being one of those teams and also paying the heaviest luxury tax, theirs is the heaviest economic burden.
The Yankees have contributed about $1.2 billion to the revenue-sharing pool and have paid $192 million in luxury, or competitive balance, tax.
“We’ve got to do a little something about that, and I know Bud wants to correct it in some way,” Steinbrenner said. “Obviously, we’re very much allied with the Red Sox and the Mets, the Dodgers, the Cubs – whoever’s in that area.”
I’m not sure where Steinbrenner got the idea that Selig wants to “correct it in some way.” Perhaps he read too much into a recent remark the commissioner made in a radio interview:
“Is the system perfect? No. I didn’t say it was perfect, but I said that I think what exists today is pretty darn good. In the next labor negotiation, we have to tweak it in some areas, and it’s significant tweaks.”
I don’t know what tweaks Selig was talking about and in what direction, but the owners of some teams – Mark Attanasio of Milwaukee is one – have been vocal about the need to increase the amount of revenue to be shared. They don’t think that the Yankees’ payment of $120 million ($138 million including luxury tax) for 2010 is enough.
In the next few months some owners will lobby Selig for greater revenue sharing and steeper luxury taxes, with higher tax rates and lower thresholds that will trigger the tax.
The Yankees have always been the target of the luxury tax. It came into existence after players refused to accept a payroll cap, which exists in other sports. Clubs agreed to the tax hoping it would deter the Yankees from having outrageously high payrolls.
But the Yankees didn’t blink. They seldom shied away from a big contract if they wanted the player, figuring the tax they had to pay would be the equivalent of another player signing.
The Mets, on the other hand, have always avoided the tax, making sure their payroll didn’t exceed the threshold. Fred Wilpon, the Mets’ owner, obviously preferred giving his money to BLM than MLB.
The Mets, however, will join the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Cubs and the Dodgers in pushing for lower revenue-sharing contributions. Those five teams are the biggest payers and are said to contribute more than 80 percent of the money that goes to poorer teams.
Steinbrenner had something to say about those poorer teams, too.
“At some point,” oldest son of George remarked, “if you don’t want to worry about teams in minor markets, don’t put teams in minor markets, or don’t leave teams in minor markets if they’re truly minor. The socialism, communism, whatever you want to call it, is never the answer.”
Acting on Steinbrenner’s thinking, Major League Baseball would have maybe half the number of teams it has now. Get rid of teams like the Pirates, the Reds, the Royals, the Twins, the Marlins, the Rays and the Athletics, and the Yankees and the Red Sox, the Mets and the Cubs would have to play each other 40 times.
Many of the teams Steinbrenner was suggesting didn’t belong because they are in minor markets that served as the foundation of baseball as we know it today. Some preceded the Yankees.
In Steinbrenner’s ignorance, he failed to understand that the Yankees need someone besides the Red Sox to play.
That’s why the Yankees agreed to the revenue sharing system even though George Steinbrenner used to say, when the idea was initially proposed more than 20 years ago that he would share his revenue if Calvin Griffith, then the owner of the Minnesota Twins, agreed to let Steinbrenner help him run the Twins.
That never happened, of course, and Steinbrenner never demonstrated that he could run a team other than by throwing a lot of money on the table.