The face of baseball this October could be Derek Jeter or Josh Hamilton, Joey Votto or Buster Posey, Chipper Jones or Bryce Harper.
The face of hockey this October? Donald Fehr. Just the mention of his name sends shivers down the spine of longtime baseball fans.
Fehr led the baseball players’ union through the only fall without a Fall Classic in the last 100 years. Since 1995, however, baseball has enjoyed labor peace while the NFL has locked out its players once, the NBA twice and the NHL twice.
Those three leagues all have a salary cap, the mechanism owners insist is mandatory for economic vitality. Fehr’s signature accomplishment was persuading baseball owners they could prosper by sharing revenue among themselves rather than forcing a salary cap on players.
Indeed, as revenue sharing has gone from zero to $400 million, MLB revenues have leaped from $1.9 billion in 1993 — the last full season before the player strike — to $7.5 billion this year. Commissioner Bud Selig, to his credit, has shouted down the occasional “salary cap” cries from assorted small-market owners.
From 1995 to 1999, according to an MLB report, all but three teams lost money. In 2011, according to Forbes, all but three teams made money.
Baseball must be good business, even without a salary cap. The San Diego Padres just sold for $800 million, the third-highest price paid for a major league team, despite the tiny market in which they play and the inability of the new owners to negotiate their own television deal or develop the land surrounding the ballpark.
Fehr now leads the hockey players’ union. The last time NHL owners locked out their players, they got a salary cap out of it. Now, at a time television revenues are soaring in every sport, NHL owners want the players to limit their already limited salaries.
Fehr does not surrender easily, let alone in the face of such absurdity. If he can keep the players united — as he did repeatedly with a much larger group of major leaguers — hockey fans ought to look for a long winter, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman ought to look for a new job.
No experience required
Brad Ausmus is expected to be on the A list of managerial candidates this fall. The former Dodgers catcher met with the Houston Astros about their managerial vacancy before withdrawing from the process. The Astros last week hired Washington Nationals coach Bo Porter.
With Mike Matheny leading the St. Louis Cardinals to the cusp of the postseason in their first season A.P. (after Pujols) and Robin Ventura leading the Chicago White Sox on an unexpected push toward a playoff berth, the stigma against hiring inexperienced managers is all but gone. Neither Matheny nor Ventura had managed at any level, and neither has Ausmus.
In and of itself, a respected playing career does not necessarily translate to leadership ability. But Ausmus certainly showed some last week, in his stint as manager of the Israeli entry in the World Baseball Classic.
With Israel needing a hit to advance in the WBC, Ausmus pinch-hit for Shawn Green, the former major league star and drawing card who came out of retirement for the tournament. Batting for Green, in what would have been his final competitive at-bat: UCLA product Casey Haerther, a double-A player not ranked among the Angels’ top 30 prospects by Baseball America.
Haerther popped up.
By the numbers
The most startling statistic this season: The Dodgers will have posted a better winning percentage under former owner Frank McCourt — and the patchwork roster suited to a team in bankruptcy — than under Guggenheim Baseball, the cash-rich new owners who took over May 1.
The Dodgers’ record through McCourt’s last day of ownership: 16-7 (.696). Since then, through Friday’s game: 66-68 (.493).