Another lost season for baseball?

By Allen LaMountain
Assistant Sports Editor
alamountain@starhq.com

   The current baseball season is unfolding with some mild surprises, and some major ones as well, but will we get to see it to its conclusion?
   It looks doubtful right now as the Major League Baseball Players Association has set an August date for a walkout if the owners and MLBPA director Donald Fehr don't come to a new collective bargaining agreement between players and management.
   Owners have vowed not to lock out the players during the season, but the unspoken threat here is the cancellation of the postseason once again. The first threat of ownership was contraction, which has been at least temporarily shot down, and thankfully permanently shot down in Minnesota.
   For the Montreal Expos, and even possibly the Florida Marlins however, contraction is still a very real possibility.
   Until June 6 that is, when an independent arbitrator is expected to order MLB to abandon its contraction solution altogether. But does that solve the problems that exist in Major League Baseball? Not in the least.
   MLB's problems go to the very core of something that is all too human. Greed.
   The players have it good and they know it. Why should they make concessions to the owners after fighting so hard for so long to get where they are today?
   The owners argue that small revenue franchises like Montreal, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Minnesota are at a competitive disadvantage when compared with the likes of the Dodgers, Red Sox and of course the Yankees.
   The owners argue that the players union will destroy any salary structure MLB attempts to put into place, including a salary cap, which owners say is key to competitive balance.
   That the owners are their own worst enemy, and have created the problem in the first place, seems to be of no concern to them as they once again attempt to demand that the players accept controls on salaries that the owners have proven time and again that they are incapable of containing themselves within.
   And it isn't just the Yankees, although George Steinbrenner has been at the forefront of the 'Spend to win' congregation. Peter Angelos of Baltimore has spent more than anyone over the last five years and what does he have to show for it? A team that hasn't been over .500 in years and has had to live off the glory of Cal Ripken, Jr's accomplishments.
   Los Angeles has also stretched the salary structure, with the mighty contract lavished upon Kevin Brown, who is now disabled with elbow problems.
   The owners need to realize that it's how you spend your money that counts.
   The Kansas City Royals were once a model franchise, winners of a World Series championship and had a tradition of being a team that built through the farm system. No longer.
   The Milwaukee Brewers also had some shining moments in the '80s with players like Robin Yount and Paul Molitor keeping them in contention year in and year out, but now Selig says they can't compete.
   The answer is because the owners forgot about the fundamentals of building a ballclub through the farm system. Too many times owners of marginally talented teams have thought that they were just one slugger, one pitcher or one closer away from winning it all and roll the dice on a free agent 'savior,' only to see it collapse like a house of cards, with fans staying away in droves.
   The Red Sox have tried repeatedly through the years to win this way, thinking that if they out-spent the Yankees they would finally overtake the Yankees, only to fail in that endeavor. The teams that succeed do so because they have strong management that puts an emphasis on player development and smart spending.
   The Twins understand this and are starting to reap the benefits of a strong farm system. The Twins right now have second, third and fourth-year players, fresh from the farm system, that are making their marks in the majors. And at least two more on the way that will be with the big club in the next year or two, including Michael Restovich and Grant Balfour, who got their starts right here in Elizabethton.
   The Kansas City Royals do not understand this, as their farm system has failed to produce a major star since Brett Saberhagen and Frank White. The Brewers also have seen a major drought when it comes to home-grown prospects panning out. Ditto Pittsburgh.
   Dave Kindred wrote in The Sporting News a column that quoted commissioner Bud Selig, when he said of the Twins that, "Winning on the field doesn't solve their problems".
   But, ownership has pointed to that very thing when they talk about competitive balance, and now they say just the opposite.
   It comes down -- for Selig, and those of a like mind, wrote Kindred -- that it has nothing to do with competitive balance, but rather it comes down to having 28 team owners splitting revenue rather than 30.
   I agree with Kindred's assessment of the situation.
   The owners cannot defeat the beast that they say is destroying them, because like the saying goes, "I have seen the enemy and it is us." But that doesn't mean that they aren't still going to try, and it is the fan who will suffer for it.