Habel Sounds Off About Possible Major League Strike

Habel Sounds Off About Possible Major League Strike

CBC’s Vice President and General Manager of the Durham Bulls George Habel wrote the following opinion article for the News & Observer. The article appeared in the Sunday, July 28, 2002, edition of the paper.

George Habel
George Habel

If there’s a strike, fans should riot
By George Habel

George Habel is vice president/baseball clubs of Capitol Broadcasting Co. and general manager of the Durham Bulls, the class AAA farm team of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

My company owns two Minor League baseball clubs, but I am writing as a fan. Minor league ball is all about the fans — intimate ballparks, low ticket and concession prices, family entertainment — so I am compelled to adopt a fan’s perspective.

Sadly, the fans don’t have much of a voice in this dispute. Even though we buy $50 seats, $6 hot dogs and $10 beers in fan-funded Major League stadiums, we don’t have a seat at the negotiating table. If the owners and players fail to resolve their differences without a strike, a European-style soccer riot is in order!

It is awfully ironic, given our sputtering economy, that the nation’s major labor issue is a possible strike by millionaires against moguls. We have reached the apex of absurdity in a service economy. It’s doubtful that I could win a debate with union director Don Fehr or Commissioner Bud Selig, but I see 30 team owners who can’t agree on a sensible business strategy and players who have lost touch with reality. Indeed, baseball is a mess.

Maybe Selig has overstated the owners’ financial woes, but the economics of baseball are completely out of whack. When the Yankees’ payroll is $126 million and the Devil Rays weigh in at $34 million, the competitive disparity is obvious. Meanwhile, the players (the average Atlanta Braves’ salary is $3 million) resist any attempt to rein in their compensation while most of their employers flirt with insolvency. Here are the issues:

Revenue sharing and salary caps: Owners need to split revenue more equitably within the Major Leagues, and the players should accept a salary cap. This seems to be working in the National Football League and National Basketball Association. Baseball should get on board. Proposals are on the table to share more revenue and to set a minimum salary standard, but these are Band-Aids. A more aggressive approach is required to ensure baseball’s fiscal stability. It may not be to the advantage of certain teams or players, but it’s for the good of the game.

Player contracts: They should be based on performance. In the NFL, if a player does not make the roster, his contract is settled with a buyout. In baseball, a nonperformer still gets paid. Our Devil Rays are paying four big-name players a combined $24 million this season. I suspect those players would have been cut were it not for iron-clad player contracts.

Steroids: I hope it is just a negotiating ploy, but the notion that players will not submit to drug testing is morally bankrupt. Come on! Even if the owners and players can’t get along, there must be integrity on the field.

This off-the-field drama is too much about power, greed and mistrust, but baseball deserves better. I hope there is a moment of clarity when both sides recognize and agree to do what is right for the game they profess to love. The fans will not forgive another strike.

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