Over the past 40 years—the period of rising economic inequality that former Slate columnist Timothy Noah called “The Great Divergence”—Americans’ incomes have not grown at all, in real dollars. But baseball players’ incomes have increased twentyfold in real dollars: the average major-league salary in 2012 was $3,213,479. The income gap between ballplayers and their fans closely resembles the rising gap between CEOs and their employees, which grew during the same period from roughly 25-to-1 to 380-to-1.
UH, first: there is a large, relatively well-remunerated employee type in this country known as "sales personnel" whose salaries are largely contingent on how much money they bring in for their bosses. There's your comparison to what has happened to player salaries over the past thirty, forty, or sixty years. Media revenues exploded. The Reserve Clause was overturned. Cable television gained, with an assist from the Rehnquist Court, the same sort of anti-trust protection that Major League Baseball has had for over a century, so that a cable system has, say, a billion fucking dollars to throw at the Dodgers. In 1946 the average player's salary ($5000, 1946 dollars) was 0.2% of the value of his franchise. In 2011 it is 0.5%. That's not astonishing exponential growth. It's the power of collective bargaining, aided by a changing legal status (and blocked by collusion for most of the 80s) to gain a more equitable distribution of revenues which depend entirely on the players. Nobody goes to the ballpark to see an owner. Except maybe Slate writers. Well, and Reason.
I’m singling out professional athletes for my class envy because they’re the highest-profile beneficiaries of changes that have enriched those at the top of the economic order while impoverishing those at the bottom.
If you say so. Sounds more to me like you're singling them out because they earn "salaries", same as average joes, if they're lucky. Owners, on the other hand (increasingly conglomerates or major transglobal piracy concerns), have "earnings". Just like Justin Bieber, Heidi Klum, and the Estate of Elvis Presley, none of whom can hit the curve. Or have to field these sorts of complaints. It's a standard bleacher bum gripe, and it's been going on at least since Babe Ruth had a better year than Herbert Hoover. If you think Hank Aaron's $200,000 per is laughably minuscule these days, you should'a been around when people were talking about it in real time.
It's the song of everybody who volunteers $90 for a seat and $12 for 12 ounces of lukewarm Bud Light. C'mon, let's work a little Slate double reverse magic, huh?
The labor policies of the mid-20th century depressed the price of skilled labor while inflating the price of unskilled labor.
That's what I'm talkin' about.
Labor unions are cartels that increase their members’ salaries by bargaining collectively, thus winning a more lucrative contract than workers could negotiate on their own. Baseball players are entertainers with specialized skills. They didn’t start earning their true market value until they were allowed to negotiate individually with owners—the antithesis of collective bargaining.
Which right it took a union to defend when the owners responded by colluding.
This is the same way the various entertainment unions work, except movies don't have an antitrust exemption and they're not limited to 25 players per team. Their rules protect the guy making $6 million a picture--this is hardly the "antithesis" of trades unionism--as well as the extra who'd be spending half his life as an unpaid intern otherwise. Who's supposed to pocket all the "savings" from making player salaries more reasonable? The teams? The teevee networks? Who?
Paying to see a baseball game feels like paying to see a tax lawyer argue in federal court or a commodities trader work the floor of the Mercantile Exchange. They’re getting rich out there, but how am I profiting from the experience? I know we’re never going back to the days when Willie Mays lived in Harlem and sold cars in the offseason, but the market forces that have overvalued ballplayers’ skills while devaluing mine have made it impossible for me to just enjoy the damn game.
Then stick to the minors. Or college ball. There's a spot where antithesis-spouting guardians of athletic perspective have held sway. Great if you're a football factory, or a spewer of memorabilia; not so much if you're one of hundreds of Kevin Wares who don't have a national beacon shone on how your university treats you once you're no longer putting meat in the seats and gelt in the collection basket.
Look, trades unionism has a lot to answer for in the decline of average Americans' earnings over the past forty years. Go on, write that story. But first maybe we could put a little perspective on just what rich fucks like your average MLB owner have done in the meantime. 'Cause, yes, that, and not some cosmic Reversal of Thesis, is what baseball players are sharing in.