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High court to settle Indians tax issue

By Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 17, 2000

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court agreed Monday to settle a back-pay and taxes dispute involving major-league baseball players that could affect the way taxes are paid on all kinds of labor settlements.

The case involves Social Security and unemployment taxes the Cleveland Indians owners were assessed in 1994, when players received money from the 1980s collusion settlement

The case turns on which tax rates to apply. The government wants to use the 1994 rate. The Indians want to use the lower rates in effect in 1986 and 1987, when the players would have earned the money they eventually got in 1994.

The Indians were among 26 major-league teams found guilty of collusion by arbitrators Thomas Roberts and George Nicolau, who ruled they conspired not to sign free agents following the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons. The teams then agreed to settle the cases for $280-million.

The Major League Baseball Players Association split up the money among the affected players -- a process still ongoing. Twenty-three Indians players split nearly $2.7-million from that pot in 1994, awards that made up shortfalls in salaries that occurred for the 1986 and 1987 seasons. They and the team then paid taxes at the 1994 rate.

Team owners filed for a full refund. Their lawsuit claims, among other things, that an earlier court ruling dictated using the lower 1980s rates.

Social Security taxes were 5.7 percent in 1986 and 1987, but had risen to 6.2 percent by 1994. Employers and employees pay the same tax. Unemployment taxes, paid only by the employer, were 6 percent in 1986 and 1987 and 6.2 percent by 1994.

Longer ballgames

NEW YORK -- Even with good things, sometimes more is not better. Sometimes more is just more.

That's been the case with post-season baseball, as games routinely stretch past three hours. And it doesn't seem to matter whether a lot of runs are scored or just a few.

In the opening game of the American League championship series, Seattle shut out the New York Yankees 2-0 in a game that lasted an exhausting 3 hours, 45 minutes. Compared with that, the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals were positively economical in Game 4 of the National League series, packing 20 hits and 16 runs into a relatively speedy 3:14.

Three-hour games have become routine in baseball. The regular-season average was 3:02, five minutes longer than last year. But post-season games push well past that barrier without blinking an eye and are edging closer and closer to the four-hour plateau.

The Yankees and Mariners went 4:14 for Sunday's fifth game -- and that was just for 81/2 innings.

League championship series games are averaging 3 hours, 35 minutes, up 20 minutes from last year's 3:15. The division playoffs averaged 3:14, an increase of seven minutes.

So what is taking so long?

Television plays a part. The networks are allotted 2 minutes, 25 seconds between each half-inning for commercials. That's a shade under five minutes per inning for nine innings or almost 45 minutes without a pitch being thrown or a bat swung in anger.

Most regular season baseball telecasts get 2:05 each half-inning for commercial time.

The best pitched game of the league championship series was Roger Clemens' one-hitter against Seattle in Game 4. It also was the only one that came in under three hours, a tidy 2:59.

ATHLETICS: Oakland declined to exercise its option to extend the contract of outfielder Matt Stairs through the 2001 season. Stairs, 32, remains on the Athletics' roster and will be eligible for salary arbitration.

BREWERS: Milwaukee will open the new $400-million Miller Park with exhibition games against the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox on March 30 and 31, team officials said. The Brewers will move into Miller Park next season after playing at County Stadium since 1970 when the Seattle Pilots moved to Milwaukee.

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