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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Striking out!

One fan's opinion...

With the August 30 upon us, it’s probably about time for some comments on the issues involved.  Before I begin, let me remind you that I remember the days of the reserve clause and how players were literally bound for life to a given team according to the owners’ interpretation.  The reserve clause gave the owners the power to say, “All right.  Don’t sign.  But never expect to play in the major leagues again.”  Such is the history of player-management relations in baseball. 

I’m absolutely amazed at the groundswell of sentiment for the billionaire owners and the multi-billion dollar corporations who own the clubs.  It’s also amazing to hear the complete ignorance of the fans on the subject of the potential strike/lockout.  So let’s talk about the facts. 

To begin with there is the whole idea that since there is a collective bargaining agreement in place that the players, if they strike, are somehow doing something in violation of a contract.  This is patently ridiculous.  What these people are saying is that the players have no right to prevent the owners from locking the players out for the 2003 season and imposing their own working conditions.  That is exactly what can happen.  And if you don’t believe it will, just take a look at what happened in the NBA just a few years ago.   

I’m not an expert at labor law, but as I understand it, the players are within their rights if they strike now.  And if they are not, the owners can go to the NLRB which can impose penalties on the union.  

A huge misconception on the part of the fans that is simply a hoax being perpetrated on them by the owners is that revenue sharing will restore competitive balance.  That would be true if the additional revenues were earmarked for salaries.  There is a system of revenue sharing in place now.  Has Minnesota used it to increase their payroll?  Have the Devil Rays or Marlins or Royals raised their salaries as a result of revenue sharing?  How about Commissioner Budlight’s Brewers?  Have they increased their payroll?  These additional revenues are simply looked upon as additional profit.  They go straight into the pockets of the owners. 

The most absurd comments of all, though come from the fans who apparently blame the players for the exponential increases in salaries over the past 30 years or so.  What player do you know of who has pointed a gun to an owner’s head and said, “Pay me a quarter of a billion dollars or else!”  As it turned out the player who is getting that salary is receiving it because one of the owners stupidly bid against himself.   

Then there is a interesting figure that the sports media and owners love to point out.  The average salary in major league baseball is $2.4 million dollars.  Of course that includes all of the stars’ salaries, including that of Alex Rodriguez.  I was in a conversation the other day with a player who noted that the majority of players don’t see the average.  This makes sense when you consider that the minimum salary is a lot closer to the average than the top salary in the game.  This player noted that he will probably never see the average salary. 

Another person in the conversation noted that the median salary (i.e. the salary above which half the players earn and below which the other half earn) is closer to $600,000.  Now by our standards, that’s a whole lot of money.  As a teacher, I’d give my right arm (or any other body part you want to take in exchange) for that salary for one year.  However, as the player pointed out, “We have a very short career expectancy.  We have to make our money now because most of us will be through by the time we’re in our ‘30s.”   

I’m not sure what the average career length is now, but including cups of coffee and Rickey-Henderson-length careers, the average a few years ago was about five years.  A whole lot of players don’t last that long. 

Another thing that you have to consider is from Economics 101.  Remember the law of supply and demand?  “The lower the supply relative to demand, the higher the price.”  It works for both goods and labor.  There are 750 major league ball players at any given time except during September.  These are theoretically the best 750 people with that level of skill.   

Let’s assume there are 100 million males in baseball playing countries who are between ages 18 and 35.  This is probably a very conservative estimate, but if we use that this means that 0.00075% of the available population that have these skills.  The law of supply and demand says they deserve exceptionally high salaries.  (And if there were only 750 teachers available in the country, they’d probably command huge salaries, too.) 

Another common complaint of fans is that salaries have made the cost of going to a game prohibitive.  Have you been to a movie lately?  There are a whole lot of movies stars making ARod-like bucks than there are ball players.  Yet I hear very few complaints about the high price of tickets (compared to the 90 cents for adults and 25 cents for kids when I was a kid) and popcorn (a quarter when I was a kid).   

And when the Screen Actors Guild goes on strike, I don’t hear complaints about the stars driving up the price of tickets and concessions.  And I think I know the reason why. 

Nobody roots for “Blood Work.”


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at nsmf@aol.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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