Major league baseball club owners lost at least $36 million last year, Lee MacPhail, their chief labor negotiator, said yesterday in New York.
MacPhail said the figure, which included data from 24 of the 26 teams and other financial information requested by the Major League Players Association, had been delivered to the players union.
The owners, who never before had made their clubs' figures available, have said they were doing so because the sport is having severe economic problems and they want the union to be aware of that during the ongoing contract talks.
MacPhail, president of the owners' Player Relations Committee, said in a news release that 18 of the 24 teams reporting had operated at a loss last season, "despite the infusion of a $72 million increase in national television network revenues under baseball's new contract."
MacPhail also said the accounting firm that prepared the report, Ernst & Whinney, had "observed that the financial ability of several clubs to continue their operation was uncertain."
The news release stated that preliminary information supplied by the two teams not included in the report indicated they suffered losses totaling approximately $6 million in 1984. That would bring the industry loss to $42 million.
None of the teams was identified, and the PRC said it would not release a team-by-team breakdown.
MacPhail said that last year Ernst & Whinney prepared a five-year projection for baseball that predicted an aggregate loss of $41 million for 1984.
"This gives me even more concern about the increased losses pro-jected -- $58 million in 1985, $94 million in 1986, $113 million in 1987 and $155 million in 1988," he said.
MacPhail said the union has been provided with individual club financial statements and tax returns from 1978 through 1984; stadium leases; contracts for concessions, television and radio; trademark licensing information, and executive salary data.
The acting excecutive director of the union, Don Fehr, appearing on "The MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour," said the union had not processed the information provided by the owners.
"There are all kinds of ways to show losses," he said. "For example, a team purchased for $50 million can show $9 million in losses each year by depreciating its players, and it would be difficult to show a profit if that's the kind of thing that's happening. But that's not the kind of loss that's significant nor does it mean anything economically."
Fehr said earlier this week that next Thursday in Chicago he would ask player representatives from each team to consider getting strike authorization from the players. Eugene Orza, associate general counsel to the players association, said yesterday's disclosure would not immediately affect the strike authorization request.
The owners' negotiators have said they will make comprehensive proposals to the union next week.