Baseball Prepares to Open 2007 Season Robert Siegel looks forward to the upcoming major league baseball season with sportswriter Stefan Fatsis of The Wall Street Journal. Stefan points out that the ownership succession of the premier New York Yankees has been thrown up in the air by the divorce proceedings of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner's daughter.
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Baseball Prepares to Open 2007 Season

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Baseball Prepares to Open 2007 Season

Baseball Prepares to Open 2007 Season

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel with the question that arises almost every year around this time: Will the New York Yankees win the World Series?

And this year we can ask a different question about one of the most valuable properties in sports: Who will run the Yankees after George Steinbrenner? That question became very relevant this week. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis of the Wall Street Journal joins us, as he does most Fridays. Welcome back, Stefan.

Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Sportswriter, Wall Street Journal): Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: One of Steinbrenner's daughters, Jennifer, filed for divorce from Steve Swindal, whom George Steinbrenner had anointed publicly to be his successor. And that would seem to eliminate him from becoming the new boss, no?

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, pretty much. According to leaked information in the New York media, Steinbrenner has said that Swindal is out and the family is unwinding a small financial stake that he was given in the team. And this is really more than just page-six New York gossip. The Yankees are a billion-dollar franchise. Steinbrenner, no matter what you think of him, has been a transforming figure in the business of sports since he bought the Yankees for $10 million back in 1973.

SIEGEL: And he is getting on the news.

Mr. FATSIS: He is. He turns 77 this summer on July 4th. There has been speculation about his health. He is not seen terribly frequently at games anymore. He tends to speak publicly only through statements issued by his friend, the prominent New York public relations executive Howard Rubenstein. The team of course has plenty of executives who run the business side, but who is in charge ultimately of the New York Yankees matters.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Steinbrenner has four children - two sons, two daughters. And it seems to be telling that unlike other dynastic sports families, in this one no one seems to have been groomed to take over.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, that's right. Neither of Steinbrenner's two sons, who are 50 and 38 years old, neither of them have climbed through the ranks of the team. They have worked at other family business holdings. The same thing for the two daughters. One of them, Jennifer Swindal, who's divorcing Steve Swindal, worked briefly for the team after college. But she told the New York Times a few years ago that even if I wanted to move up in the organization, I would have never been allowed, not in this family.

Steinbrenner has said he has no plans to sell the Yankees, and that really means that one of the sons or another son-in-law who oversees the team's spring training complex in Tampa could be next in line.

SIEGEL: Now, there are of course 29 other teams in major league baseball. And together, they have won six more World Series than the New York Yankees have over the last six years.

Mr. FATSIS: That is true. Ten different teams have reached the World Series since 2001, and that's of course been a very, very important bullet point for the sport in what has been a real transformation this decade. A few teams still have no chance coming into this season. But even those clubs, like the Kansas City Royals, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, they seem to be shedding the poor management and some of the fiscal disadvantages that have hurt them in the past.

Revenue sharing in baseball and new sources of income, especially baseball's online business, are having a real effect on teams.

SIEGEL: Well, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Detroit Tigers in last fall's World Series. What do you think the chances of repeat of those two teams meeting again?

Mr. FATSIS: Well, we haven't had a repeat World Series champion since the Yankees in 1998, 1999, 2000. The Cardinals won only 83 games last year. They lost two starting pitchers to free agency. I don't think they're going to be around in late October. The Tigers are fielding a slightly better team than last season, so they could be back.

SIEGEL: Yankees could be around in October; the Red Sox could be around in October too.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah. And the Yankees spent this winter on the other side of the looking glass. They traded players with fat contracts like Gary Sheffield the outfielder and Randy Johnson the pitcher in exchange for a lot of young minor league talent. They'll still have a payroll of around $190 million, but they are a different sort of team. Boston shelled out over $100 million just to sign the Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. And he's done very well this spring, by the way. And they're also spending another $70 million for the outfielder J.D. Drew. The Chicago Cubs are in a weak division in the National League. They could make the playoff. Both Los Angeles teams, the Dodgers and the Angels, look pretty good. You might see some surprise contenders like the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers, the Philadelphia Phillies.

SIEGEL: Or the Washington Nationals?

Mr. FATSIS: I don't think so. They look like the worst team in baseball right now. They are looking ahead toward when they open a new stadium in downtown D.C.

SIEGEL: Okay. Thank you, Stefan. Stefan Fatsis of the Wall Street Journal, who talks with us Fridays about sports and business of sports.

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