There’s been a large outcry from sports fans this week about the $252-million contract Alex Rodriguez signed with the Texas Rangers. Over the next ten years, if he chooses, A-Rod will be the highest paid player in baseball.
It’s in his contract.
He has to be or he can leave.
People are screaming about this because they’re dealing from the wrong premise. Baseball, or any other sport played at the professional level these days is not the sport we played, or watched as kids.
Pro sports aren’t part of the backdrop of society anymore. They’re what defines communities, defines fans, and in many cases define the cultural fabric of our country. It’s a rare exception that an athlete is identified with one team, one city throughout his career. Free agency has taken care of that.
In the off-season of any sport, athletes are headed off to better tax havens, warmer climates and the good life. How many Ravens hang around Baltimore in the summer? Where are the Pirates in the winter? Pittsburgh? Are the Browns sitting around in the Flats in Cleveland on New Year’s Eve?
There’s no slipping into the corner tavern and bumping into your favorite player. I worked in a bar in Washington, D.C. while I was in college and it would have been unusual if a night went by when I was behind the bar that a player from the Redskins didn’t walk in. Not anymore.
They’re entertainers, they’re stars, and they’re paid accordingly. The games have gone from just that, games, to a big show. Have you seen the opening of an NBA game lately? They’d gotten so outrageous with smoke, lasers and loud music that the league had to put limits on what teams could do. It’s a big show, and that’s what the fans are paying for. And don’t lament how nobody can afford to go to a baseball game. How many Garth Brooks fans have actually seen him in person? Most can’t afford it.
Rodriguez’s $25-million a year is about right for a top flight entertainer these days. Robert DeNiro, Meg Ryan, Elton John, they’re all in that range. Nobody’s yammering about their salaries. We accept they have talents we don’t have. So does A-Rod. And that’s why the owners are paying that kind of money.
Baseball’s problem is the escalation of salaries over the long haul. When will it stop? Only when the owners can’t pay that kind of money. It’s not the superstars who are tilting the books. It’s how they drag up the utility infielder to a salary structure that doesn’t allow all clubs to be in the bidding. At some point, the league will realize that the competitive balance in the league is so out of whack, tilted toward the big market teams, that some clubs like Kansas City, Montreal, Tampa Bay and Milwaukee fold their tents and go away. Not relocate. Just fold because they can’t compete.
Lately at owners’ meetings you hear the word “contraction.” That means they’re thinking about it. Considering getting rid of teams for the first time since 1900.
Don’t think it can’t happen.
On the way out.
Fewer teams will mean fewer jobs, less power for the Players Union, better talent on a smaller number of teams, and the owners can control the salaries. If they want to.
The common theory is that anything a guy makes is what’s he’s worth, because somebody is willing to pay it. Clearly, Texas billionaire Tom Hicks can afford to pay Rodriguez $25-million a year. He’ll probably make money over the long haul on the deal between ticket sales, promotions, broadcast rights and the overall value of the team.
The problem is, will he have anybody to play? A 162-game schedule between the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Rangers, Braves, Mets, Angels and Dodgers could get a little boring.
Don’t blame A-Rod. By all accounts he’s the perfect player to get the perfect deal: Can do it all on the field offensively and defensively, knows the history of the game and respects it, great in the clubhouse and is a model citizen off the field.
I hope he wins the Triple Crown. Somebody we’ll pay to watch perform. He’s an entertainer.