May 1995 - Just Deserts

I've heard it over and over: Major Leaguers are greedy. While they certainly have many personal shortcomings, I remain unconvinced that they are any greedier than the rest of society.

The dictionary defines greed as "an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth." Let's face it: Almost nobody needs $3 million a year (frankly, I could squeak by on half that...) But when applied to big league ball players, the operative word in the above definition is "deserves." Just because a guy pulls down more in one season than most of us will realize in our lifetimes doesn't mean that those big bucks aren't earned or deserved.

Baseball is an entertainment business that generates a fabulous amount of cash -- in the neighborhood of $2 billion a year. Many things contribute to that bottom line, but the high caliber of talent on the field is paramount. Without these supremely gifted athletes there are no billions to share. The players have never asked for more than a fair percentage of revenues. It is immaterial whether the take is $10 million or $10 billion -- the players are entitled to a fat slice of that tasty pie.

When looking at baseball compensation, a perspective beyond what you got on your last paycheck is necessary. Consider that actor Macaulay Culkin made $18 million last year, and he's several years away from his driver's license. Is he worth that much money? Well, the value of something is what somebody is willing to pay for it. In other words, if you can get it, then yes, you're worth it. Clearly, somebody thinks $18 million is a fair price to pay for what they get. Why? Because Boy Wonder is able to generate more money than he costs. Return on investment. Economics 101.

The owners whine about the high salaries, but who is twisting their arms to write the checks? Simple business -- take in more than you spend, you make money; spend more than you take in, you lose money. Lose too much money, you go out of business. The owners have tried to reinvent this formula rather than let the free market act.

Today's Big Leaguers also draw misdirected criticism for not having a love of the game. While most ball players don't have to make a career choice between baseball and brain surgery, they wouldn't dedicate their lives to the diamond if they didn't love to play the game. These professionals play at a level beyond the comprehension of Joe Fan. While most of us can appreciate a well-turned double play, few can imagine the skill level required to gracefully make it happen. To be one of the 700 best ballplayers -- the crème de la crème -- requires not only certain innate athletic abilities the average person simply does not posses, but years of dedication and sacrifice honing specific skills. Significant dues are paid by beating the bush leagues, often at meager monetary recompense.

I also keep hearing the talk radio crowd brag about how they'd play the game for nothing. So what's holding them back? With park leagues, beer leagues, even softball, there are ample opportunities to hum that pea. Ah, but they want to play in Fenway Park, be on TV, get their pictures in the paper. They seek the trappings of the Major Leagues without any of the requisite skills. As much as we all love to watch any ball game, would we shell out real dough to watch some lardo who can't cut the mustard? Now that's pie in the sky.

©1995 - 2007 Douglas T. Dinsmoor


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