This is not to knock the idea of making a profit at business, for the better the boss does, the better the sporting columnist does. But there is so much flapdoodle coming out of the courtroom these days that a fellow would be derelict in his duty if he didn't jump on the nearest typewriter and say the baseball and football owners care about one thing only: $$$$$$$$.
From California we hear the pigskin poohbah, Pete Rozelle, saying Al Davis isn't being fair to the fans of Oakland when he wants to move the Raiders to Los Angeles. We hear Davis, in keen response, saying the football fans of L.A. deserve a team, too. L.A., remember, losts its team to Anaheim when Carroll Rosenbloom divined that the Orange County fans deserved the NFL. Only coincidentally, of course, some few million bucks were involved in a real estate deal for the Rams.
From New York we hear the bleating of the lords of baseball, who are busy denying the existence of Bowie Kuhn and/or money problems as they may or may not relate to the current labor negotiations. The lords of baseball tell us they have in mind only preserving the game for the fans. To use the quaint words of Edward Benett Williams, master of the Orioles, owning a ball club is like operating "a public trust."
Imagine. The Orioles as a public trust. What a wonderful picture. We can see it all now. The benevolent and kindly owner, Massah Williams, calling together the million or so customers who came to Memorial Stadium for a year's worth of baseball games. Can't you see him there now, holding aloft a balance sheet?
Listen and you can hear the counselor speak. "Out of love for baseball, a game I have loved for all the years I have owned the Orioles, I have endeavored to run this team as a public trust. It belongs to you fans out there, not to me."
Here the massah would stop and wait for the applause to die down before saying, "I have in my hand a balance sheet from the 1983 season. It shows that your Baltimore Orioles -- not my Orioles -- made an after-tax profit of $4 million this season. Because this franchise is a public trust, I want to announce that this $4 million will be divided among you, small children and widows first."
Atop the third base dugout, Wild Bill Hagy would twist himself into a dollar sign.
No, no, this is not to attack the idea of making money, for it is the profit motive that has made big league football and baseball the very best games we have. The question is, why won't the owners fess up to it? Why is it so difficult for them to say they want to make money?
Most owners are multimillionaires with tax shelters on three continents. They have built their lives on making money, and if owning a ball club is an ego trip -- you get sporting columnists writing you up as a benevolent massah -- it also is a nice way to make more money.
Some dear readers may buy Bowie Kuhn's flapdoodle speech of Dec. 8 in Dallas. He said baseball was in big trouble. The way things were going, he said, the average player salary would be $320,000 in 1984. There in Dallas, Boo-Hooie said baseball would need to strike oil behind second base. d
One needs ask only a handful of elementary questions to discover that the columnist is being hyperbolic to a fault. He made a transparent appeal to the widely accepted, and grossly unfair, idea that money-hungry professional athletes are the destroyers of the games the fans love so much and the kindly, benevolent owners take such loving care of.
Answer these following questions, dear reader, and then tell me if the athletes are breaking millionaires' banks.
When's the last time an Nfl team went bankrupt?
When did a baseball team last fold?
When did any owner, in baseball or football, get out without making a profit?
If basketball and hockey are such terrible rat holes for money, why doesn't Abe Pollin trade Elvin Hayes for a brick of gold?
Without putting you to sleep with a hypnotizing lesson in accounting that shows it is impossible to lose money forever in big-time sports, I submit two pieces of evidence: 1) Each NFL team gets $5.6 million a year from television, guaranteeing an aftertax profit even if the team doesn't sell a single ticket or beer all season, and 2) The words of Minnesota Twins owner Calvin Griffith, who said, after hearing Boo-Hooie wail about owners going belly up, "I've never heard of any ball club crying poverty in baseball, so I don't know where that stems from."
It stems from a widespread campaign to make the athletes the villains.
This is a campaign fostered by some owners who cynically manipulate the fans. They know the fans love the game as a game, not a business. They know the fans can't believe anyone is actually paid to play ball. Why, shucks, Melba, I'd play right tackle for nothing. The owners know the fans think this way because, for decades, the owners have done their very best to encourage such vicarious connections.
The owners want the fans to think of baseball and football as "games," not corporate enterprises. The owners want us to think Reggie Jackson ought to work free. Who needs to get paid for "playing"? The team, then, doesn't belong to the owners; it is the fans' team, it is "a public trust" held by a benevolent, kindly fellow whose only interest is giving the fans the "games" they want.
Baseball and football are so attractive to Americans because we grew up playing them. We know the moves, the feelings. We identify with a ground ball off Doug DeCinces' shins. We know the anger of a fumble. Soccer and hockey are alien games to most of us, mysteries of logic and emotion.
So we, the fans, have a real stake in baseball and football, and our emotional investment in the games assures the owners of eternal wealth. Whatever happens in the baseball legalities, and whatever happens next year when pro football goes through the same stuff, the fans will keep paying to see their games.
And the owners, the cursed lot of them, will blame "greedy players" for the escalating prices of tickets, hot dogs and parking. They will even blame the layers of "imminent catastrophe," to quote Boo-Hooie again.
It is a common business practice, surely known to millionaires with tax shelters on three continents, to never pay anyone more than he is worth. You may rest assured that if Reggie were not worth $600,000, if Dave Winfield didn't guarantee $1.4 million in income a year, George Steinbrenner would put his money in building more boats.
Whatever money professional athletes are paid, they earn back at the box office.
The "games" have never had it so good, and yet we are reading about courtrooms all the time.That's because the owners are greedy ones; they see the incalculable potential of pay television and cable television, and they want to keep the players' hands off a fair share of that money.
So as part of their strategy to that end, the owners today cry out that the players are killing the game. The owners want the fans who love the games to rise up in anger at the players. That way, the owners cynically can beat down the field hands and say they are doing it for the fans.
Give Al Davis this, though. He is, if nothing else, up front about hijacking the Raiders to L.A. None of this misty-eyed romantic stuff for him. He admits he wants to move to L.A. because he can get a better deal there.
Among other things, he asked L.A. to give him a $1.5 million in Bel Air.
Just for fun, suppose John Matuszak came to Al Davis and said, "Al, baby, in perusing the classifieds today I saw a neat place for sale across the bay. Only $1.5 mill. If you can't give it to me I'm quitting football."
We blush to imagine Al's response.