A serious violation of trust

Aug 24, 2010, 6:57 AM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:52 pm

By Mike Salk

There is a major baseball story in the headlines and I have a feeling people are only giving it a fraction of the attention it deserves. Perhaps you’ve read by now that the financial statements of the Pittsburgh Pirates were leaked to the media. I won’t pretend to be an accountant nor will I pretend that I’ve read these reports cover to cover. But based on what I’ve read from the people that understand it: the Pirates essentially took the money they received in revenue sharing and pocketed it.

And that’s not cool.

When the Pirates’ ownership group decided to use it’s team as a money-making venture instead of a means towards a winning end, they violated trust. They violated the trust of their fellow owners, the players, and the fans.

When the last collective bargaining agreement was reached, it allowed for revenue sharing. While the owners weren’t willing to impose a salary floor (anymore than the players wanted a salary cap), there was a belief that the revenue sharing would accomplish the same goals. Many people thought the fear of a luxury tax would curb some of the high budget spending while the added income would increase payrolls for the small market teams. But if the Pirates (and probably others) were simply pocketing that extra revenue rather than investing it in their product, the system broke down. If I’m the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies or even Mariners, this rankles me. I’d ask, why am I paying into a system where some people are just making a profit?

Of course, the owners of those teams get off easy. At least, they can say, the Pirates aren’t trying to win. For every other team that doesn’t try to win, their own shots of a playoff spot are that much easier.

The players have a little more reason to be upset. After all, every dollar that is used for profit rather than re-invested into the team comes out of their collective pocket! The players (and their their union specifically) have long suspected that ownership is not sharing the profits equally with the players and this is simply the proof they’ve been waiting to see. Remember this when they start negotiating again. Because the players aren’t going to listen when the owners cry poor.


Pittsburgh Pirates fans hold a sign meant for Pirates owner Bob Nutting during a 12-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds in a baseball game inPittsburgh Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

While the other owners and players may have a right to be upset today, no one should be nearly as angry as the Pirates fans. They should be furious. They should be riotous. I jokingly said on the radio today that as a Pittsburgh radio host, I might encourage fans to throw batteries at the owner’s box. Maybe that’s going too far, but they should picket. They should let their displeasure be known.

Because more than anything else, the Pirates took advantage of their fans. They said they were trying to win when they were just trying to make money. They cried poor when actually they were rich. They bought the team saying they would operate in the best interest of the fans, when actually they cared about only the almighty profit.

The Pirates violated the trust of their fans. And while people have railed against the evils of the Steroid Era for years now, I would argue that this violation is worse for the game. Say what you want about steroid users, but they did what they did in the name of competition. Was it unfair? Yes. Did it alter the game? Certainly. But at least they were trying to win. Not trying to win is the biggest sin of all. We’ll be discussing this topic on the show on Tuesday – we’d love for you to weigh in.

I understand that this is America, land of capitalism. And I understand that there are those who believe everyone has a right to make a profit. And clearly the Pirates have found a way to make that profit. But I think owning a baseball team is a privilege, not a right. In order to own a team, I think you should have to demonstrate that your goal is to win. Sometimes, in the pursuit of winning, teams will break even or even lose money. Should an owner have to endure losing money year after year? No. But why do they need to use their baseball team as a money making tool? They are, for the most part, wealthy. Why can’t their baseball team be something they own for the public good?

Everyone likes to play the “If I were commissioner” game. Well, if I were commissioner, I would insist that prospective owners be willing to lose money short term in order to win. I would insist that owners be interested primarily in winning and not in making money. Then the fans would win.

Finally, it should be noted that Deadspin also released the Mariners’ statements from 2007 and 2008. Again, I’m not an expert and for the most part these statements read like Greek to me. But based on the top lines, it looks like the M’s ownership made just under $18 million in 2007. The next year, their payroll increased by $13 million and they suffered a $4.5 million loss. That works for me! They took the money they had made and invested it right back into the team. That’s exactly what we want our teams to do. Now spending it on Erik Bedard etc…..that’s a different matter!

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A serious violation of trust