Arts » Hall

David Is Goliath

Wal-Mart's union killer faces baseball's heavy hitters.


This is the time of year when homemade "I lost 40 pounds" signs pop up on every street corner, overpass and telephone pole from Olathe to Liberty. Next winter, look for this message on Kauffman Stadium: "We spent $30 million and lost our asses ... while working part time at home."

After Alex Rodriguez signed a ten-year, $250 million deal with the Texas Rangers in December, the Royals went into terminal sticker shock. David Glass, the Royals' rookie owner, had hoped to sign Johnny Damon to a long-term contract for about $6 million per year. But A-Rod's quarter-billion-dollar contract made that impossible and may have jammed a broken Louisville Slugger through the heart of the Royals' future.

"This game is based on comparables," says Allard Baird, the Royals' general manager, explaining why A-Rod's contract will squeeze our team. "What it does is it escalates everybody up."

The Royals had been negotiating as though Damon were a nice, dependable four-door Ford Taurus, but the price suddenly soared to what they would expect to pay for a limited-edition Jaguar. The team decided to trade Damon rather than pay the going rate.

Losing Damon hurts, but this city is in danger of losing its franchise if baseball doesn't right itself.

How can Glass hope to compete with the Yankees and Braves when he can't even sign broken-down has-been pitchers, such as Tom Gordon and David Cone? Gordon, who is coming off major reconstructive surgery to his throwing shoulder, snubbed the Royals for the Cubs -- a team that hasn't won a World Series since 1908. Cone, who turns 38 this year, won just four out of eighteen games last season, giving up nearly seven runs every nine innings. He spurned his hometown Royals for a chance to start for Texas.

Who did the Royals sign while Texas was inking A-Rod? Doug Henry. Or is it Henry Doug? Wasn't Doug Henry the guy who used to do the weather on television? Henry, who will be used as a setup man out of the Royals' bullpen, has a career record of 32-40. He'll make almost $3 million over the next two years losing games for the Royals.

The team's problems are purely economic: If the Royals sold out all 81 home games in 2001, ticket sales would bring in about $43 million. If they plowed every penny of that into player salaries and David Glass added another $10 million out of his own pocket, the Royals would still rank in the bottom ten in payroll for 2001.

Realistically, they will sell only about 22,000 seats per game this year and gross just over $23 million in ticket sales. Last year's Royals' payroll was reported to be $24.5 million. The New York Yankees won the 2000 World Series with a payroll of over $113 million. The Mets lost the series to the Yankees, while paying $90 million.

How does baseball heal itself? Baseball's collective bargaining agreement expires October 31, 2001. The owners are quietly planning to lock out the players until the players' union agrees to a salary cap. The union has no intention of ever agreeing to a cap and has never lost a labor fight with the owners.

As president and CEO, Glass built Wal-Mart into the world's largest retailer over the past ten years. Wal-Mart is larger than J.C. Penney, Sears and Kmart combined. Under Glass' watch, company revenues increased from $16 billion in 1988 to $165 billion in 2000.

Wal-Mart has fought the unionization of its "associates" at every turn. "It's no secret that nonunion discounter Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and organized labor are sworn enemies," Wendy Zellner writes in BusinessWeek Magazine.

One of Wal-Mart's most popular tactics is the old-fashioned stall. Expect to see the owners try to starve out the players by dividing them with patience. "Baseball owners have never had the nerve to go all the way with the players' union before," says New York's Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica. "They will when the next collective bargaining agreement is over."

So if you enjoy spending summer nights at Kauffman Stadium watching the best baseball players in the world, start rooting for their enemy -- the owners. Should the players' union win yet another labor war, the casualty list surely will have a Royal blue tint to it.

Add a comment