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This Week in 1983: Feb.27-March 5 - MLB gets rich(er)

Tale as old as time...

Boston Red Sox v Philadelphia Phillies

Bill Giles, Dealmaker

Owners have always been about money. Don’t let any of them tell you otherwise. Championships have been preferable at one time or another for maybe some of the owners, but as with any businessman, the goal is to make money.

Lots and lots of money.

We live in an age now where seeing the leagues sign massive television deals feels almost commonplace among the four major sports. If the NFL agrees to something that will pay them something in the ten digit categories, we think nothing of it. In 1983 though, tossing those kinds of numbers around felt almost incomprehensible. Imagine telling someone forty years ago that MLB was going to be making somewhere in the $9 billion territory in terms of revenue and they might not even realize that kind of money exists in the world. Today, it’s almost the bare minimum of what we’d expect.

During this week in 1983, MLB made a huge television rights deal that would give the league $500 million of NBC’s money to broadcast games over the following five years. And that was only half of the deal. MLB was looking to secure a deal that would bring in even more money once another station could be found willing to pony up the cash. Now, when these kinds of deals are made, there is usually a person running point on the deals, a person to get all the principals in a room to hash out the details. That person?

Bill Giles.

“I’m pretty happy, to say the least, about the way the negotiations have gone.” 1

I’ll bet you were, Bill. Giles would go on to talk about the same owner speak about how the money would help offset “spiraling” costs to operate a team, but this was a major boon for MLB. The article goes on to talk about how NBC might pick up the other $500 million portion of the package, but the important thing to remember is that they were getting $1 billion from television rights forty years ago.

Steve Carlton, money maker

The long, national nightmare was over.

Steve Carlton was going to be the highest paid pitcher in the game after all. 2 It took some doing, but there was “an economic understanding” between Carlton and the Phillies that took the tension out of the air. As you might recall from last week, Fernando Valenzuela was awarded $1 million in arbitration, upsetting the fragile Phillies ace. He wanted more, enough to let him keep the tag of “highest paid pitcher” in the game. According to Giles, the terms of the deal were the same, just the money was being shifted around. That meant that Carlton was going to make $1.15 in 1983, with $1 million on each of the next three seasons. It was a change from the $700,000 he was due to make in ‘83, so it was not insignificant.

Kudos to the team and Carlton for working something out. Would hate to see what the pitcher was like if he was moody.

1 Pascarelli, Peter. (1983, March 1) “NBC accepts $500 million pact for baseball coverage.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 3-C

2 Conlin, Bill. (1983, March 3) “Carlton Becomes Top-Paid Pitcher.” Philadelphia Daily News, p. 65.