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Boston owner John Henry renews salary cap call

By Howard Ulman
AP Sports Writer / February 19, 2009
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FORT MYERS, Fla.—Boston Red Sox owner John Henry renewed his call for a salary cap on Wednesday after an offseason in which the New York Yankees added three free agents for $423.5 million.

Or, as Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said, "the Yankees have spent like the U.S. Congress."

That drew a quick response from Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner.

"Along with a few other teams, we're basically baseball's stimulus package," he said.

While Boston's chief rival opens a new $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium on April 3, Lucchino said Fenway Park, built in 1912, should be around for another 50 years.

More immediately, the Red Sox owners are troubled by the wide disparity in team payrolls that they say limits competitive balance -- even though Boston had the second-highest payroll at the end of last season.

A salary cap, Lucchino said, is "as inevitable as tomorrow."

The Yankees ownership and even major league players might agree to a salary cap, Henry said.

"It depends on the overall picture," he said. "How does that relate to revenue sharing? We've gone as far as we can go with revenue sharing at this point.

"I think we all agree that competitive balance is an issue and if there was a way to put together an enlightened form of a salary cap, I think everybody among the ownership parties would support it. I think it's quite possible to put together a partnership between the players and owners going forward," Henry added. "I think it's something that should be at least explored."

Henry, Lucchino and Red Sox chairman and part-owner Tom Werner held their annual session with reporters Wednesday, the first official workout day for the entire squad.

Henry's call came exactly five years after he first proposed a salary cap in the wake of the Yankees' trade for Alex Rodriguez after the Red Sox failed in their attempt to obtain him from the Texas Rangers.

At that time, Henry advocated a cap "to deal with a team that has gone so insanely far beyond the resources of all the other teams."

Last season the Yankees finished, as usual, with the highest payroll in baseball, $222.5 million. The Red Sox were second at $147.1 million. But that's a gap of $75 million.

Then, in the offseason, the Yankees signed first baseman Mark Teixeira and pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett for $423.5 million while the Red Sox handed out mostly one-year deals to free agents.

Lucchino acknowledged that a salary cap could hurt the Red Sox but the Yankees "would be impacted even more."

Big payrolls don't always produce championships.

Last year, New York missed the postseason for the first time in 14 years, and Boston lost the AL championship series to Tampa Bay, whose $51 million payroll was the third-lowest. Philadelphia won the World Series with a payroll that ranked 10th.

Still, a salary cap "has proven to be an effective method in other leagues" of providing long-term competitive balance, Lucchino said.

Convincing the players' union to adopt one when the current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2011 season is a major obstacle.

"You have to make an intelligent, persuasive case for it," Lucchino said, "but I do look around and I see a hockey league, a basketball league and a football league all with forms of a salary cap or a payroll system.

"And I think that it's as inevitable as tomorrow that there will be some kind of system like that in baseball. It's just not as imminent as tomorrow."

Lucchino preferred the phrase "payroll zone" to "salary cap" and said all teams would have to be within that zone.

"That's being addressed at the highest levels by baseball and its labor negotiators," he said.

New York thinks it has the right to spend after paying at least $110 million in revenue sharing and luxury tax last year.

"As long as we're doing that and giving all this money to other teams in revenue sharing, a staggering amount, we should be able to spend on salaries what we want to," Steinbrenner said. "Because of revenue sharing and because of the popularity nationwide, the Yankees are critical to baseball."

Henry is beginning his eighth season as principal owner of the Red Sox. Each year the team has upgraded Fenway Park and plans to complete that process in 2010.

Once repairs to the seating area and waterproofing of concrete are complete, "Fenway Park will be stable and solid and, with normal maintenance, will be around for another 50 years," Lucchino said.

The stadium, tucked into a city neighborhood and known for its Green Monster in left field, may be the biggest reason the Red Sox have sold out their last 468 regular-season home games, a major league record, Henry said.

But with the economic downturn, it will be harder to maintain that.

"It's going to be tested this year, no doubt about it," Henry said. "I think we have nine games in April and May that are not sold out yet."

He also said some corporate sponsors left the Red Sox but have been replaced. Overall, the Red Sox, with their passionate fan base, are holding up well.

"Certainly, nobody's immune to what's going on in the economy," Werner said, "but we've been very fortunate. Our fans have been just very supportive of our efforts this offseason. I think our season ticket rate is as robust as we could ever ask it to be."

The owners were less eager to discuss Rodriguez's admission that he used banned substances from 2001 to 2003, but Lucchino did say it's "unfortunate" that the confidentiality that was part of the testing was violated.

"I feel more comfortable talking about the Boston Red Sox than talking about the New York Yankees," Lucchino said before being interrupted.

"When did that change?" Henry said with a grin.

Lucchino once sniped that the Yankees were the "Evil Empire" after they signed Cuban right-hander Jose Contreras in December 2002 for $32 million over four years.

Now they've added three high-priced free agents during a recession.

"An old adage says (there's) three things money can't buy -- love, happiness and the American League pennant," Lucchino said.

------

AP freelance writer Mark Didtler in Tampa contributed to this report.

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