Money. Baseball's real Green Monster.

There's just no substitute for deep pockets. "Have cash, will win" has become a megafranchise mantra. To be sure, in theory every team has a chance to win the World Series. But recent history shows otherwise: Only big spenders play in October. The topology of Major League Baseball shows it to be a land of haves and have-nots. Only a handful of teams can afford to pay premium prices for an Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter: There's a close correlation between payroll size and post-season prospects.

Build it and they ... ... will come.

From Detroit to Baltimore, 11 teams have constructed new ballparks in the past decade. Adding luxury seating was the most popular way to pad the bottom line. The Detroit Tigers were expected to haul in $24 million in luxury seating at its new park, a 650 percent increase, according to Forbes Magazine. The Red Sox, with the smallest ballpark in the majors, charged the highest average ticket prices ($28.33) last year, in part to fund the payroll. In 2001, the Fenway Faithful will average $35 per ticket. The league average in 2000 was $16.67; the Twins were lowest at $9.33.

Some blue-ribbon answers

Opening Day: April 1, 2001.

Closing Day: Oct. 31, 2001.

But will they return next season? As Major League Baseball heads toward a decisive deadline - the collective-bargaining agreement runs out Nov. 1 - there is already a low rumble of impending doom. Can owners and players reach a new agreement that makes financial sense?

One topic to be addressed is competitive imbalance. According to a blue-ribbon panel report released last year, the revenue gap between baseball's richest and poorest teams is widening at an astonishing clip. In 1995, it was $74 million. In 1999, it grew to $129 million. To level the playing field, the report by Richard Levin, president of Yale University; Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve; George Mitchell, former US senator; and George Will, political commentator, suggested:

* Teams should pool up to 50 percent of their profits and then distribute them evenly among all the ballclubs.

* Set maximum annual player payrolls of $84 million per team. Teams above the limit would pay a 50 percent "tax."

* Encourage minimum annual player payrolls of $40 million.

* Give financially strapped teams the option of relocating.

* Give each of the bottom eight teams the opportunity to select a nonroster player from one of the top eight clubs.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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