Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In defense of Randy Levine

Yankee President Randy Levine is not exactly on my BFF list - the way he helped push the new Yankee Stadium into being the playground for the rich was disgusting - but I thought he was spot-on in his recent comments about revenue sharing.

Here's the story. In a USA Today article about baseball salaries, one owner griped about the Yankees salaries:
"We're struggling to sign (first baseman Prince Fielder)," Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said, "and the Yankees infield is making more than our team."
Levine lashed out at Attansio, pointing out the flip side of the Yankees' spending - that they have to contribute to revenue sharing and luxury tax funds to keep the smaller teams afloat:
"I'm sorry that my friend Mark continues to whine about his running the Brewers," Levine told in a phone interview Tuesday morning. "We play by all the rules and there doesn't seem to be any complaints when teams such as the Brewers receive hundreds of millions of dollars that they get from us in revenue sharing the last few years. Take some of that money that you get from us and use that to sign your players.

"The question that should be asked is: Where has the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue sharing gone?"
Oh, snap!

Squawker Jon and I argue about this subject a lot - he concedes that the Yankees are indeed playing by the current rules, but thinks there should be a salary cap - and a salary floor - in baseball.

I think Levine is absolutely right - the Yankees do spend a lot, but they also do, indeed, pay hundreds of millions into the system. If anything, Levine didn't go far enough in enumerating how much money these small-market teams get before selling a single ticket.

So how much are they getting? ESPN's Jayson Stark estimates that all these numbers add up to at least $80 million per small-market team each season, before they even sell a single ticket. He figures that the Central fund which "includes national TV, radio, Internet, licensing, merchandising, marketing, MLB International money," adds up to "slightly over $30 million per team if you deduct the $10 million in pension and operations fees, or just over $40 million if you don't." And keep in mind that even though the Yankees (and the Red Sox, of course!) may draw the lion's share of interest there, they still each only get that 1/30 share.

Levine is right to wonder, "Where has the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue sharing gone?" All too frequently, it looks like that money has bought a whole heap of nothing. As Stark noted this winter, after Scott Boras brought up the subject:
We count a minimum of a dozen teams, depending on how you define "total payroll," that aren't spending that same number -- $80 million -- on their major league payroll. So it isn't just Scott Boras who has the right to ask: What's up with that?
You may remember that the MLB players union went after the Florida Marlins this winter to get them to increase payroll, and that the Marlins worked out an agreement with them to do just that.Will that happen with other teams? It should.

Because what is a bigger danger to the game? The Yankees overspending - yet putting hundreds of millions into the baseball coffers that goes to the smaller teams? Or those smaller teams - most of which have owners way richer than the Steinbrenner family could ever dream to be - pocketing that money, and crying poverty?

I know which side I'm on. But what do you think? Tell us about it!

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