CHICAGO (AP) -- Commissioner Bud Selig won't have a hard time convincing baseball owners that the game is facing an economic crisis.
The problem is finding a solution that everyone can agree on.
"The inequity in this system is now so apparent," Selig said Wednesday. "The question is, how do we fix it and what do we do?"
Baseball's economic disparity widened even further in the last week at the winter meetings, where teams committed $738.95 million to just 24 free agents. Alex Rodriguez signed a $252 million, 10-year deal with the Texas Rangers, double the previous record for a sports contract.
Small market teams -- like the Milwaukee Brewers, the team Selig once ran -- have said repeatedly they can't compete with big spenders like the New York Yankees. And with baseball's labor contract set to expire next Oct. 31, many are bracing for a possible work stoppage, the ninth since 1972.
"Something is wrong when you have about 22 percent of players making 70 percent of the money," said Bill Bartholomay, chairman of the board of the Atlanta Braves. "It just doesn't work right."
Selig was supposed to address baseball's economic problems in a speech to The Economic Club of Chicago on Wednesday night, but he couldn't make it because of a winter storm.
Instead, Bartholomay, Cubs president and general manager Andy MacPhail and Louis Susman, a former member of the St. Louis Cardinals' Executive Committee, fielded questions.
Part of the problem is the owners themselves, Susman said. While most owners agree that there's a problem, there's always someone like Texas owner Tom Hicks willing to hand out a fat contract.
"It's all about ego," Susman said. "The owners don't have to pay these salaries. They can't blame the union. They don't have to pay the salaries."
Baseball needs some kind of revenue sharing or salary cap, Bartholomay said. The other leagues have it, and teams have prospered. Take the NFL, where revenue sharing allows a small-town team like the Green Bay Packers to compete with a revenue-generating monster like the Dallas Cowboys.
Or the NBA, where there are maximum limits on individual salaries. Players also have to give back 10 percent of their salaries next season because of an escrow tax that kicks in if players receive more than 55 percent of basketball-related income.
"Something like that has to be worked out with the players," Bartholomay said. " ... They have to recognize what other sports have done, bite the bullet and everybody will do better."
While economic restructuring would help small-market teams compete, it's really fans who will benefit, Susman said. Teams are raising ticket prices to help pay for the big contracts, and the average fans is being priced out of the game.
Baseball used to be one of the most affordable games around. Now, if a family of four wants to go to a game, it can expect to pay at least $100 for tickets, parking and food, Susman said.
"The owners have a trust they must maintain," Susman said. "If that continues, you're going to see more and more people going to soccer games."
Speaking at a news conference to announce Miller Park will host the 2002 All-Star game, Selig said he's confident owners and players can put a new economic framework in place. But he didn't give any details.
"The system has to be changed," he said, "and it will be changed."
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