Sports

DEBT OF A SALESMAN

The way he's going, Bud Selig's going to need a bigger coffin for all those nails he keeps hammering in. Not content merely to piss off the players' union, the House Judiciary Committee, and Youppi the Montreal mascot, the commissioner last week launched a new gambit—announcing plans to start enforcing MLB's 60/40 rule on team debt come June—that could land him in hot water with the people who pay his salary: the owners.

The rule in question, passed in the early 1980s, says that teams can carry no more than 40 percent of their franchise value in debt, ostensibly to prevent owners from leveraging their assets halfway to the cheap seats at New Comiskey. In the real world, however, it's never been taken seriously—as Baseball Prospectus columnist Doug Pappas has pointed out, car salesman Selig's own Milwaukee Brewers were at one point carrying debt equal to a whopping 97 percent of the club's value. Enforcing it now—and using a lowball estimate of twice annual revenues for "franchise value"—seems to indicate that Selig, unable to gain the salary cap he craves at the bargaining table, is hoping to force the union to strike by starving clubs of their ability to carry large multiyear contracts.

As hard-line bargaining tactics go, though, this cure could be worse than the disease. Sports economist Rod Fort estimates that anywhere from eight to 16 teams are in violation of 60/40 right now, based on long-term player contracts alone. (The Rockies have already publicly admitted being in noncompliance; other teams have been more close-mouthed, possibly thanks to Selig's gag rule prohibiting owners from discussing labor matters not only with the press, but also with one another.) Add in stadium debt, and still more teams would be in hot water with the commish.

"If Selig's serious about this, he could have an owners' revolt on his hands," says Pappas. "Any club that incurred significant stadium debt is permanently crippled. And any club that signed players to long-term contracts before the rule was enacted is crippled until those contracts run out."

Worse yet, adds Pappas, treating long-term contracts as team debt would most hurt clubs that lock up young players early to save cash. "If Oakland signs Barry Zito for $15 million over 2003-05, that $15 million counts against their debt limit. If they sign him for a series of one-year deals that cost $25 million, it doesn't count at all. It's insane." Insane? Bud Selig? Now there's a suggestion we haven't heard before.

SON OF KONG

The hype surrounding third baseman Drew Henson is all about biceps, benjamins, and spirals. The Yanks gave the Elway-esque 6-foot-5 prospect a $17 million deal last year before he'd played a day in AAA ball so he would stop playing quarterback at Michigan. A pituitary freak who matured before his peers, Henson set the national high school record for homers while striking out more than two batters per inning and being named the nation's best high school punter. Projected to be Scott Brosius's replacement, Henson struggled last year in AAA, batting .222 with just 10 walks and 85 strikeouts while making 16 errors in 68 games, forcing management to get Robin Ventura.

While his former Wolverine teammate Tom Brady is the toast of New England, our eyewitness perusal during this year's spring training revealed Henson as a ballplayer who, despite his size, looked more boy among men than man among boys. A slow first step often caused Henson to panic, either booting the ball or rushing his throw. As a part-timer this spring, he had made five errors, most in the majors, by mid March. At the plate, he showed an utter lack of strike-zone judgment, and he didn't run the bases well, either.

Poor batting eye, bad hands, a wild arm, oversized for a third baseman (only two of 25 Gold Glovers at the hot corner have been over 6-2), but capable of occasional moon shots. Hmmm . . . congratulations, Mr. Steinbrenner, you've secured the new Dave Kingman. The first Kong came up as a third baseman for the Giants, but 48 errors in 154 games didn't cut it.

The new Kong's equally erratic; if he ever plays a full season at third for the Yankees, get Keith Olbermann's mom a full suit of armor. This spring, Baseball America called Henson the top Yankee prospect, and the Record's Bob Klapisch claimed that he had the "grace of Derek Jeter." Yeah, sure, and Britney can sing, too.

FINAL FORTUNE

March mad props to the NCAA's most valuable player . . . Marion Peavey! Peavey is executive director of the NCAA Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the NCAA that, during the fiscal year ending August 31, 2000, doled out $132,000 for its "women/minority program" while giving Peavey himself $233,650 in compensation plus a $39,254 benefit package and a $3200 expense account.

How does he spend all that money living in Indianapolis?


CONTRIBUTORS: Neil deMause, Dean Chadwin, Ward Harkavy
SPORTS EDITOR: Ward Harkavy

 
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