Runaway salaries fun for fans

November 16th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Runaway salaries fun for fans


AP Sports Columnist

Ask any American what's wrong with the game of baseball, and the issue of runaway salaries is more likely than not to top the list.
Unless, of course, it's your own team handing out the money. Then it's simply a prudent investment.
That's why the news that the Red Sox are prepared to spend something along the lines of $100 million for a guy who's never thrown a pitch in the major leagues didn't exactly plunge Boston fans into fits of despair. On the contrary, they would be dancing on top of the Green Monster right now if they could.
Let the Kansas City Royals or Minnesota Twins worry about skyrocketing salaries and competitive imbalance. The Red Sox have an evil empire to conquer.
Besides, look around this week at the general managers' meetings in Florida. The price of entry to the 2007 season is getting a whole lot higher.
Daisuke Matsuzaka will end up costing the Red Sox some $20 million to $25 million a year when he's finally signed in the coming weeks. The hated Yankees, meanwhile, will counter by spending just about the same amount of money per season for Mike Mussina.
Outfielder J.D. Drew walked away from the final three years and $33 million of his contract with the Dodgers, certain he would get more on the open market. There's little doubt he will, despite the feeling in Los Angeles that he was a chronic underachiever who wouldn't play if he had the sniffles.
The New York Mets gave a deal worth $12 million to Orlando Hernandez, a 41-year-old who has lost as many games as he has won the last two seasons - average, by anyone's standards. And the bidding for Alfonso Soriano has barely begun.
"It sounds like a lot of clubs this year have spending ability that they haven't had in years past," said San Diego general manager Kevin Towers.
Sure does. But if astronomical salaries bother you - and a recent AP-AOL poll showed fans think baseball has no bigger problem than skyrocketing salaries - maybe it's time to switch to another sport.
Like it or not, baseball is a rich man's game.
The owners are rich, and the players are rich. Even the clubhouse attendants are doing pretty well.
The sport is awash in cash flowing in from new television deals, and the 75 million people who paid their way to see a game last season. Baseball has even managed to do what other sports merely dream of - find a way to make big bucks by charging fans to watch or listen to games on the Internet.
It's hard to blame anyone - especially players - for trying to cash in.
"To suggest that this is some sort of craziness usually comes from people who don't understand how athletes get paid," said Rodney Fort, an economics professor at Washington State University who studies sports. "They're not aghast when Mel Gibson makes $30 million for a movie."
The Red Sox paid $51 million just for the rights to negotiate with Matsuzaka, or about $17 for each fan who makes his way to Fenway Park next year. They'll likely spend nearly as much to sign him, despite the fact he's never pitched in a major league game.
For that they get a 26-year-old with great stuff, including a specialty pitch called a "gyroball" that bends like a screwball and sizzles like a slider. He also has the potential to be the kind of starting pitcher who could have stopped the Yankees last August when they scored 47 runs in four games on the way to a five-game sweep that virtually eliminated the Red Sox from playoff contention.
Winning 20 games a year? $25 million. Beating the Yankees when it really counts? Priceless.
Salaries, of course, have been going up almost every year since Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally in 1975 successfully challenged the reserve clause that kept players bound to teams and prevented them from shopping themselves around. Last year, the average player earned about $3 million.
Look for a big jump in that figure as the good times roll on, and this year's relatively weak class of free agents signs on the dotted line. Even after that, there's plenty of money to go around.
New stadiums will soon be sprouting up everywhere, two in New York alone. Taxpayers are picking up a large part of the tab, while teams get new luxury suites and premium seats for which they can charge even higher prices.
Forbes Magazine values the Yankees at more than $1 billion, and the market value of every major league franchise increased last year, most by double digit numbers.
As much as some people might be irritated by the sight of spoiled millionaires playing right field, the players have a right to their share of that, too.
"Suppose baseball players did make less money," Fort said. "Do you think owners would cut ticket prices or sell hot dogs for less?"
No, and they wouldn't drop the price of beer under $7.50 a cup, either.
So enjoy the free agency signings. Don't wince when you see the prices teams pay.
Just hope that your team gets in on the action.

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