In case you're unaware, the Reader, one of Chicago’s great institutions and increasingly important bastion of journalism in this town, has been sold to a media conglomerate that owns the Sun Times, for a rather insipid $3 million.
“We're apparently worth what Weight Watchers is paying Jessica Simpson to drop some postpregnancy pounds. . . .”
“Jennifer Hudson's plans to buy a six-bedroom mansion in Burr Ridge for nearly $3 million recently fell through. The house had seven bathrooms, a music room with a grand piano, and a ‘luxurious kitchen space.’…She missed her chance for a storied alternative weekly, which comes with a fridge stuffed with carryout leftovers.”
“Adam Dunn couldn't have hit less last year with a rolled-up Reader. Aren't we worth more than one-fourth of what he got?”
Blaha…Whoa ho ho... Hold it right there.
First off, I long for two years ago when Alfonso Soriano was the go to player for contract jokes in this town. Now it’s our guy and I have the unenviable task of defending him.
The link leads to another Steve Bogira piece from January (though Bogira's fixation on Dunn continues, and posts are usually accompanied by a Dunn caricature whiffing at a baseball and money flying everywhere) with the subtitle "With so much money sunk into Adam Dunn, the south-siders cheaped it out this winter." The article is more nuanced than the subtitle would suggest but the gist is the same.
According to Bogira: Adam Dunn had one of the worst seasons in baseball history, far from justifying his $56 million contract, which regardless of Dunn’s production "The Occupy Wall Street protesters would tell you that's too much money for any single person to make.” Because of Dunn’s (and fellow “conspirators” Rios and Peavy) ineptitude, the Sox let go Buehrle, Santos, and Quentin and brought in some cheap minor leaguers.
James is far more qualified to address Bogira’s conclusion that Dunn was responsible for the Sox frugality this offseason, but allow me to pontificate. Not to say things wouldn’t have been different, but the White Sox weren’t likely to be spending this past offseason regardless of the outcome of 2011. It’s doubtful they would have matched Miami’s contract offer to Buerhle under any circumstance. They may have held on to cost-controlled players Quentin and Santos, but those trades are better explained as the result of a need to address a farm system that is one of the worst in baseball.
Now onto Dunn’s contract, and an argument I make somewhat reluctantly. I understand the sense of injustice that results from thinking about a baseball player making $56 million over 4 years in these times. And I sympathize with those who have the sickening feeling that follows the realization that, not only does the player make truckloads of money, but he stinks!
Baseball free agency and contracts are very public affairs. Players are easy to point to and shout, “Look! Greed!” You can go down to where they work and buy an overpriced ticket that gives you the right to point at the players and holler “’Boo!’ Did ‘ya hear me? I said, ‘BOO!!!’”
What’s not so public is the ownership group. The offices. The backrooms. The accounting books. The team revenues. And that is unfortunate because truth of the matter is this: baseball is huge business. According to Forbes, the average MLB team rose in value 16% to an all-time high of $605 million. In this economy.
And it’s not players’ salaries that drive up ticket prices. Owners charge what they know the market will bear to maximize profits. They raise ticket prices for more desirable games. They raise demands for rights fees paid by cable companies that ultimately get reflected on your basic cable bill (despite whether or not you are a baseball fan).
Players just try to get as much of that profit as they can from the owners, at least according to Scott Boras, who is, kind of like the character Omar Little on the Wire. He's somewhat despicable in the way he goes about his business but seems to operate within the confines of a certain moral code, and doesn’t strike me as a man who would tell stories. Boras suggests that sports teams are richer than even the numbers in the Forbes article and others lead on.
Athletes make too much money, but they are not overpaid. It's an important distinction. With players taking home a reported 45% of team revenues, owners could spend more on players and still be profitable. Plus, most owners have their ballparks paid for by the government and enjoy cushy lease and tax deals that result in greater profits.
Lastly, in Dunn’s defense, baseball’s salary structure is such that teams often overpay for free agents. Players are compensated through a market controlled system of raises and arbitration for six years. Example: Adam Dunn hit 46 home runs for the Cincinnati Reds in 2004 and was paid $445,000.
Players who are talented and fortunate enough to make it to free agency tend to be in the middle of their prime or on the downside of their careers. Free agents are overpaid because teams have money to burn as a result of paying less than market value for many of the team-controlled players on their rosters.
No doubt Adam Dunn deserves a ribbing in a throwaway joke about a the Reader's corporate acquisition. But it perpetuates the flawed idea that athletes are overpaid and overpaid athletes are responsible for the plight of the diehard fan.
I would have preferred Bogira had made a joke about the White Sox owner being gifted $3 million from the state for his private restaurant. Ha! Now that's funny!
Anyways, I respectfully request that Mr. Bogira layoff our ballplayers. Especially one who has 10 home runs and is absolutely murdering right-handed pitching this season!
And one more favor Mr. Bogira, please don’t go sniffing around Alex Rios’ contract.