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Henry: Salary cap would garner support

2/18/2009 - MLB Boston Red Sox

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.