Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"A Victimless Arrangement?"

It is, I am aware, the definition of curmudgeonliness to complain about a situation that is never going to change.  But here I go anyway.  Again.

Even in the off-season, baseball, for those interested, has a way of remaining in the headlines, showcasing specific events, such as the recently completed “Winter Meetings”, where major trades and “free agent” signings are triumphantly announced. 

If you, as I am, are a regular viewer of the MLB (Major League Baseball) Channel, you will be kept up to date on the latest front office maneuvers, listen to authoritative reports concerning trade rumors, insider scuttlebutt and consummated deal announcements, along with discussions about what all the horse-trading means for the futures of the teams involved – who came out on top and who “got took.”

Included inevitably is also talk about how much players are being paid.  But that’s pretty much bookkeeping, provided virtually without comment, other than whether the deal itself makes financial sense to the participants.  But no commentarial dwelling on the amounts, as in, “Baseball players are paid way too much money.”  That’s a “given”, is the thinking.  So why talk about it?)

Examples of recent deals:

Oft-injured Hanley Ramirez signs a four-year contract with the Red Sox for eighty-eight million dollars.

Pitcher Jon Lester signs a six-year contract with the Cubs for a hundred and fifty-five million dollars.

Giancarlo Stanton signs a thirteen-year contract extension with the Marlins for three hundred and twenty-five million dollars.

After seeing pitcher Justin Verlander sign a seven-year deal with the Tigers for a hundred-and-eighty million dollars, fellow teammate, pitcher Max Scherzer, turns down a multi-year offer from the Tigers for a hundred and forty-four million dollars.  It’s not enough money.  The man has to look out for his family, who apparently can not possibly get by on a hundred and forty-four million dollars.

Scherzer may not have said that (though other players frequently trot out this rationale for turning down a fortune.)  That may have been me, being snarkily sarcastic.

We are not talking about intrinsic value here – like whether a ballplayer is worth more than a teacher – we are talking about the player’s monetary value in the current marketplace.  The “Free Marketplace” does its unjudgmentalized thing, oblivious to whether any athlete is worth three hundred and twenty-five million dollars.  Even if it’s spread over thirteen years.

I have mentioned this before. 

Hall of Fame Dodgers lefthander Sandy Koufax’s biggest contract was for a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars for one season.  (And he got that only after a thirty-two day holdout.)  Somebody computed that Koufax’s salary was the equivalent of six hundred thousand dollars today.

Clayton Kershaw, now pitching for the Dodgers, recently signed a contract for two hundred and fifteen million dollars, during a part of which he will be paid an annual salary of thirty million dollars.  

One hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars a year – okay, make it six hundred thousand dollars – versus thirty million dollars a year.  Check me on my math here, but I believe that means that, for one season of pitching, Clayton Kershaw will be paid fifty times more than Sandy Koufax. 

Is Clayton Kershaw fifty times better than Sandy Koufax?  Unlikely.  Kershaw’s twenty-five, so his career statistics are yet to be recorded.  But…yikes! – Fifty times more than one of the greatest pitchers of all time?

Of course, it’s not about comparative value between generations.  (Although it is considerably more than an inflationary adjustment.)  Skyrocketing salaries are essentially the result of changes in the game, primarily free agency, which allows players, through the now permissible mediation of their agents, to offer their services to the highest bidder, and the substantially larger TV contracts, which infuse the teams with more money to pay for salaries.

“So what?”, you say.  It’s Free Enterprise.  It’s how America works.  Besides, why concern yourself with a high stakes “urinating contest” between multi-millionaires and billionaires?  It’s a victimless arrangement.  Everyone’s happy.  Everyone’s getting what they want.

That’s true.

Up to a point.

During the last World Series broadcast, in a game played in Kansas City, I recall an announcer filling some dead air by reporting that “Standing Room” tickets for the game at Royals’ Kauffman Stadium were selling for nine hundred dollars apiece, and that good seats were going for twenty-five hundred, and more.

Upon hearing that, I wondered…

Who exactly is paying for those tickets?

You see, the money to pay the player comes not just from competing billionaire owners’ pockets and ballooning television contracts.  It also comes from the ever-increasing ticket prices, the inflated parking fees, and the twelve or more dollars for a cardboard cup of beer.

The enormous paydays for ballplayers is hardly a victimless arrangement. 

Somebody and their family is getting priced out of going to a ballgame.


Canda said...

All Bud Selig, the departing Commissioner (who should just be called Baseball's CEO) talks about is how much revenues are increasing in baseball, as if that is the way you should measure how popular the game is, or how the game is doing.

Revenues increase because ticket prices increase, marketing costs to the fans increase (your team's hats, shirts, etc.), the cable bill increases that occur if you want to follow baseball (very little for free anymore), parking costs and concession costs (all of which you mentioned).

Not listed by Bud is the 100s of millions he's saddled the taxpayers with to build all those new stadiums in major league cities. He even threatened to take the team out of Minneapolis if they didn't build a new stadium (voila, 400 million dollars later they have one). The same thing is happening in minor league cities, too.

It's a disgrace. Selig is a phony and a sham, who is being praised by owners, and sadly many baseball writers and commentators, for adding more wild card teams, the drug policy (which was needed to keep people coming, not because he wanted to clean up the game), and other "innovations", but bottom line he has soaked the American public, and made it difficult for anyone in the lower income of this country to take their family to a game.

Frank said...

In Canada the CBC televise the Giller Prize for the year's best novel and the lucky winning author gets a whopping 50,000 which is about a few weeks salary of an average N.H.L. player. The five losing writers got a free trip to the award show.