Online writers and television sports analysts alike have cried for both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Why aren't Major League Baseball owners genuflecting at their feet? Why isn’t Rick Hahn personally delivering crates full of 100 dollar bills via U.S. military jet to Machado? Why hasn’t Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak received clearance from ownership to bequeath a 51% stake in the Phillies franchise to Harper upon his signature on a 12 year contract?
A supposed 175 million dollar offer for Machado was deemed by Sports Illustrated writer Jon Tayler as an “insultingly lowball figure”. Writer Naoko Asano of Sportsnet wrote, “Half a billion dollars might be a ridiculous sum…but even if it’s ridiculous, it hardly seems unfair,” in regard to Harper.
Stirred on by last year’s offseason rumblings of collusion, I debated via e-mail with Tim Dierkes, the founder of MLB Trade Rumors, about players being grossly overpaid. To paraphrase, he said I was wrong. Players deserve every dime they get. In sum, I disagreed vehemently, but arguing against the absurdity of MLB salaries with folks that wear capitalism on their sleeves is like telling a Trumper we’re better served as a nation spending 5 billion dollars on something else. Banging my face against the wall would be more productive. The troubling thing is, people that think these salaries are normal, justified, and the cost of doing business in professional sports are out there in droves.
The American genius of numbers, Nate Silver, stated in 2003, “Higher payrolls don’t result in higher ticket prices. Correlation is not causation.” Now, I am not interested in Silver’s bio in the least. I am sure he went to Harvard, MIT, The University of Chicago, The California Institute of Technology, or Yale. I am certain he knew more about math and, more sweepingly, possessed more of an affinity for analytical thought at 3 years old than I do as a 48 year old. I also have 10 bucks that says he never struggled much financially, either as a child under the watchful eye of his parents or as an educated adult. All this being said, I can point out some figures that don’t require a great deal of analysis, and I am providing them for prospective MLB ticket buying moms and dads everywhere.
According to information collected from the Los Angeles Times, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Forbes, CBS Sports, Marquette University School of Law, and Statista.com, the average player salary in 1991 was $891,188 a year. The cost of taking a family of four to a major league game was $76.22. In 2005, the average player salary was $2.48 million a year. The cost of taking a family of four to a major league game was $164.43. Last year, the average player salary was $4.52 million a year. The cost of taking a family of four to a major league game was $230.64. Now, these moms and dads probably don’t care about PhDs, algorithms, economics, number theory, or the size of Einstein’s gonads, but they do care that they can’t afford to take their kids to a ballgame anymore. Silver and his ilk can dress up the numbers to explain away the fact that player salaries and escalating ticket prices have been in lockstep for decades, but does that matter to anyone that isn’t buddies with Professor Lambeau (watch Good Will Hunting)?
This is a rant by a simple man/dad, no doubt. It is absolutely (expletive for emphasis) surreal to me that people defend these ludicrous salaries. A common defense lately has been that Major League Baseball is a billion dollar industry, and the owners have the revenue to spend big. Just because they have it, they have to spend it? The list of players that are essentially stealing money through non-performance is long: Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Jason Heyward, Yu Darvish, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dexter Fowler, Jordan Zimmermann, and Chris Davis to name just a few. How do you think the San Diego Padres feel about the deal they gave Eric Hosmer just last year? They’d take that back in half a second if given the chance.
Where else on planet earth do employees that don’t perform well for weeks or months at a time get paid a premium rate? Where else on earth do employees that don’t perform AT ALL get paid a premium rate (MLB contracts are guaranteed, injured or not)? Where is their incentive to perform once they’ve signed guaranteed five, six, seven, eight year contracts?
Owners with billions of dollars have built corporations, developed massive businesses, invested, researched, hired, fired, closed scores of multi-million dollar deals, bought and sold, sat in front of computer screens, pushed paper, given long, boring speech after long, more boring speech. In other words, they’ve worked for their wealth.
I don’t care what anyone says, baseball is a game. Play, practice, workout in the offseason, eat right (maybe), and don’t ride a motorcycle 118 mph while you’re under contract. That’s it. Sun, fun, running to first, diving in the grass.
I’m not crying for Machado and Harper, that’s the bottom line. Neither should you.
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