Philadelphia Inquirer - January 13, 1980
Why spring training is threatened
By Allen Lewis, On Baseball
It is sometimes difficult to comprehend the changes baseball has seen n the past quarter-century and, especially, in the last decade.
For more than half a century, baseball was played in the same major, league cities, largely under the same Owners. Babe Ruth and the lively ball caused the greatest changes until the 1950s. Then, franchises began to move, the major leagues expanded and baseball headed for its greatest popularity.
In no area has there been greater change than in the matter of money, and that snowballed in the last few years with the advent of free agency.
Consider that back in 1955, the minimum salary in the major leagues was $6,000 and the average salary a mere $14,000. The average attendance per club was slightly over one million and the gross income just over $2 million.
By 1972, the minimum salary was up to $13,500 and the average to $32,500, with 18 players making $100,000 5r more. Attendance had climbed only minimally, but revenue from radio-television contracts in some cases matched ticket-sale income.
By 1976, the average salary had reached $50,000; by 1978. it was at $95,000; last year, it hit $125,000.
In 1970, there were 10 players making at least $100,000, including three still-active players, Carl Yastrzemski, Pete Rose and Willie McCovey. In 1972, the total had risen to 18; in 1973, to 23.
Then came the decision which enabled players to become free agents by playing out their option year, and salaries soared as never before following the first re-entry draft of free agents after the 1976 season. By 1978, there were 78 players making $200,000 or more. Last season, more than 100 players were in that bracket.
Attendance hit a record 43 million last season. Network-television revenue, a mere $3,250,000 back in 1961, was $92,800,000 in 1979, the final year of a four-year pact. The 1980 contract should pass $125,000,000. (In addition, of course, individual clubs get millions for local telecasts.)
Maybe the best examples of how things have changed is demonstrated by these figures:
After the 1943 season, the Carpenter family bought the Phillies for $400,000. In 1955, the club's 25-man payroll was $360,250; in 1977, the club's 25-man payroll was $3,497,900. And that, of course, was before the signing of Pete Rose.
Even allowing for inflation, those are whopping increases. In the 1950s, stars were drawing $225,000; in 1979, bench-warmers were paid 10 times as much.
The escalation of the last few years has many owners worried that the game is headed for financial trouble. Apparently, it also has them ready to endure a work stoppage if they do not get some relief in their current negotiations with the Major League Players Association.
On the other side, Marvin Miller, the brilliant executive director of the Players Association, maintains that the owners never had it so good.
Unless something unexpected happens to bring about an agreement soon, it's almost certain that spring training will be delayed. And the championship season itself is in jeopardy.
The answer to last week's Trivia Question: Tom Seaver, with 235 victories from 1967 through 1979, and Iron Man Joe McGinnity, with 219 from 1900 through 1908, are the only 200-game winners in this century who never had a losing season.
This week's Trivia Question: Which last-place major league team finished closest to first place in games behind?