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Ross Newhan ON BASEBALL

Angels Make Argument for Selig's Perfect Plan

November 15, 2002|Ross Newhan

TUCSON — As they continued to sort out the new, more restrictive bargaining agreement, and cautiously continued to feel out trade and free-agent possibilities, major league general managers ended their annual meeting Thursday by listening to a state-of-the-game talk by Commissioner Bud Selig, who later said he considered the Angels to be the first, true manifestation of the revenue-sharing plan that began six years ago.

Selig also said he expected ownership approval soon -- possibly even at an owners' meeting Wednesday in Dallas -- of a plan that would permit the Montreal Expos to play 20 games in Puerto Rico in 2003, and that he was satisfied with baseball's minority hiring progress.

With the appointment of Felipe Alou to manage the San Francisco Giants and the expected hiring of Dusty Baker to manage the Chicago Cubs, there will be seven minority managers, the same number as at the start of last season, although at one point during the year that number went up to nine.

There are only two minority general managers -- Kenny Williams with the Chicago White Sox and Omar Minaya with the Expos -- but Selig said, "I'm proud of what we've done and comfortable where we are with minority hiring at all levels. We've matured to a point with minority hiring that we don't have to talk about it all the time. The clubs have followed the [interviewing] memorandum to a T. I have no complaints."

In reflecting on postseason play -- the Angels beat the Giants in the World Series in a battle of mid-level payrolls, and the small-market Oakland A's and Minnesota Twins gave additional representation to what Selig has called aberrations in a playoff pattern dominated by high-payroll teams -- he said that he "liked to think the Angels are the first manifestation" of the revenue-sharing plan initiated to assist the smaller-revenue teams in 1996.

"I think revenue sharing at least helped [the Angels] develop players and keep players," Selig said.

While claiming losses of $10-$20 million a year, the Angels, according to baseball's labor relations department, have received about $40 million in revenue sharing over the last six years and could be getting another $10 million or more in the first year of the new agreement. Increased attendance and improved media and merchandising contracts should enhance their revenue position, however, reducing the amount they receive from other clubs.

Asked if it wasn't an incongruity for a team that plays in a booming population market with a healthy economic base to have been a recipient club for so many years, Selig said:

"That's a whole other issue. Given their revenues over the last 41 years, and given where they have been in [baseball's] economic order of producing and receiving revenue, I do believe that the one thing that has sort of gone unnoticed about [their World Series victory] is that without revenue sharing, I doubt they'd have been in the [championship] position they are.

"The debate over whether they should be [only a mid-revenue club, given their market location] is a whole other issue that I don't want to discuss right now."

Selig probably didn't care to discuss it because it would have meant criticizing the ownership approach of Gene and Jackie Autry, as well as the Walt Disney Co. -- the failure to market and take advantage of the population base until the Angels caught fire on the field this year.

He did say he was hopeful that the postseason emergence of the Angels, A's and Twins, in particular, represented a change in the landscape and that he considered it "a good thing" that would become representative of improved balance and parity under the new agreement.

"That's the objective," he said. "Let management take over. Let the skill of the front office take over, as opposed to just money."

An overall belt tightening and the reluctance of clubs to surpass the $117-million tax threshold in the new agreement -- even the New York Yankees are cutting payroll -- were expected to produce a difficult winter for free agents while compounding trade complexities. Those expectations began to surface at the general managers' meeting.

Kevin Towers of the San Diego Padres called it "the slowest meeting" of the eight he has attended, and Dodger General Manager Dan Evans agreed, saying, "It looks like it's going to take clubs even longer to sort out where they are and what they can do financially than we thought it would."

The Dodgers were $3 million over the new tax threshold in 2002 and are determined not to exceed it when implemented in 2003. Evans, who would like to make an early and aggressive stab at free-agent left-hander Mike Remlinger, reiterated he can do nothing until he determines whether he can create some flexibility by moving the seemingly immovable Eric Karros and/or Mark Grudzielanek.

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