Peter Bavasi, president of the Cleveland Indians, says the "typical team" in the major leagues lost $3 million last year. Bobby Brown, president of the American League, says "18 or 20 of 26 teams lost money last year." An accounting firm reporting on baseball's finances says club owners lost at least $36 million in the 1984 season.
So what's all this talk about expansion?
"If you've got those kinds of problems, you have to look at expansion carefully," said Brown.
Is expansion a certainty, as it has been approached in some of the nine areas around the country trying hard to get a team now?
"I don't think anyone can answer that question," said Brown, a member of baseball's long-range planning committee that is studying the expansion issue. "The committee hasn't made a decision."
The committee is expected to consider expansion at the summer meetings in Anaheim this August, but that doesn't mean a decision will be made. Although Commissioner Peter Ueberroth appears committed to the idea of eventual expansion, at the moment, with the issue of drug testing and player contract negotiations going on, adding teams is not baseball's top priority.
"The weight of the expansion question (at the summer meetings) will depend on whether negotiations with the players union have been consummated," Brown says.
Why expansion? "There's one school of thought that we'd better expand or somebody is going to start another league," said San Diego Padres President Ballard Smith, a member of baseball's executive council. "That may well be the reason we expand, but I don't like it."
The reason Smith prefers is a philosophical one.
"I start from the position that those of us who are lucky enough to be involved in baseball have an obligation to see that every city that can support baseball gets it," said Smith.
The more pragmatic Major League Players Association wants expansion because it would provide more jobs. It is pushing the point in current collective bargaining negotiations with owners.
Those working for expansion teams say they don't expect it before the 1987 season. Some expect six new teams then, some expect two then and four in a second wave, perhaps into the 1990s.
"I don't know of any timetables that have been set and the only way the numbers come in is with scheduling," Brown said. "Thirty-two teams is the easiest way to schedule teams."
There are 26 major league teams now, 14 in the American League and 12 in the National League. Most teams wind up the last month of the season playing within their division, but this doesn't work with seven teams in each of the two AL divisions, so one East team plays West competitors then. Adding two teams to the NL would balance the leagues but would add to the scheduling imbalance.
Those skeptical about expansion say it will dilute baseball's talent pool, reduce each team's share of the game's annual $200 million take from television and add to the existing problems of unstable, financially unsuccessful franchises.
"I think you have to be very realistic," Brown said. "There are teams losing $5 million a year that aren't in expansion cities."
Some expansion advocates suggest reducing rosters from 25 to 24 players to avoid talent dilution and point to the expected entrance fee for each expansion team -- perhaps as much as $30 million -- as added revenue.
Some suggest that the best thing for baseball to do is allow teams that are struggling financially to simply pack up and move, something Ueberroth has said he opposes. Smith doesn't like that option, either, and the reason again is philosophical.
"A lot of the cities having problems have been great baseball cities -- Pittsburgh, Cleveland (both with attendance under 1 million last season)," Smith said.
One situation is slightly different, in the San Francisco Bay area. There, both the A's and the Giants are struggling, with Oakland drawing only 1.3 million last season and San Francisco drawing 1 million.
Giants owner Bob Lurie earlier this year took his team off the market, but the A's are still looking for investors, he said. Lurie said Jack Kent Cooke, who has said he hopes to bring a team to Washington, has spoken to him twice about buying the Giants and moving them here, but now Lurie wants to keep the team in California. A move to San Jose is a possibility, he said.
In the meantime, the teams there remain the subject of frequent speculation, especially in cities seeking an expansion team.
Ueberroth has listed three criteria for cities that want a team: fan support, political support and multiple, grass-roots ownership. This spring, he told The Washington Post fan support can most visibly be measured through "hard commitments for season tickets." Political support, he said, can often be expressed "in a stadium" lease. As for ownership, Ueberroth said he wanted "roots in the community. Multiple, so that if one guy gets a divorce . . . or wants to sell . . . it doesn't disrupt the whole town."
Smith said, "There's been a big change in the type of owner you have in baseball. We are moving toward not only corporate ownership but owners who look at baseball as a product, programming for, say, WGN or TBS (superstations that are properties of the owners of the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves).
"I don't know whether that's good or bad."