Monday, April 15

Glad I Can Help You Kids Out With This New Googling Technology

Edward McClelland, "The Other Kind of Moneyball: The grotesque rise of baseball salaries reveals everything that’s wrong with the American financial system. April 15
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.


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Jonathan said...

"the highest-profile beneficiaries of changes that have enriched those at the top of the economic order while impoverishing those at the bottom."

Oh Please.

How about the funds managers on The Rich List:

They averaged just shy of $500 Million FOR THE YEAR, but unlike ballplayers, only pay capital gains taxes, not income taxes.

ErgoDan said...

Hmmmm... what else could explain a .3% salary increase in the intervening years? Could it be tax funded sports palaces? You know, the kind of corporate welfare the pundit class has been cheerleading about for decades. Oh, and now it's getting too expensive for Joe Sixpack. No one could have possibly seen that coming.

Brendan Keefe said...

Nobody goes to the ballpark to see an owner. Except ...

I really can picture Nick Gillespie and Will Saletan at Yankee Stadium, their binoculars permanently trained on Steinbrenner's box, applauding his every frown, dreaming of a moment when he gives them a gruff nod and comps them a day in one of the corporate suites.

Victor said...

Yes, the ballplayers today are rich.

But, it's the owners who are wealthy.

The players weren't rich, back in the day.
The owners always have been.

I'd rather the money go to the players, and not the owners.

Besides, the owners are the one who decide to pay the salaries.

But, too often, we taxpayers have nothing to do with the decision making process when politicians give our tax dollars to already wealthy owners, to increase the value of their franchises through upgrading existing, or building new, ballparks and stadiums.

I have a hell of a lot more respect for Jacob Ruppert, the old owner of the Yankees, who used his own money to build the original Yankee Stadium (which lasted for over 50 years), than I do for George Steinbrenner who got NY City to subsidize modernizing it in the mid-70's, and his two sons, who felt the need for a new stadium a few years ago, and tore the old one down only a little over 30 years since it had been modernized.
Btw - the new Yankee Stadium has all the charm of a coliseum/strip-mall combo, designed by Albert Speer.

And as a Knick fan who has hated Jimmy Dolan (and his father) for decades, I'll give the devil his due - he's renovating Madison Square Garden with his own cash, which he got off the hard-earned money he robs customers of, via over-priced services his telecommunications company provides.

I can't afford to go to Yankee Stadium anymore, so I watch the games on Dolan's overpriced cable.

Or, better yet, I listen to the games on the radio - since baseball has always been a game, which if you can't go to live, is most fun when you listen to it. Even if it's covered by the obtuse and pompous John Sterling. And I pity poor Susan Waldman, his side-kick, who has to keep Sterling focused on the game, and not some inane story he's determined to tell, no matter what the hell's going on on the field.

Anonymous said...

"we're never going back to the days where willie mays lived in harlem and sold cars in the off season"

geezus, that's a patronizing statement. isn't as if the stonehams were selling refrigerators to make ends meet after the season was over

jim, some guy in iowa

KWillow said...

Oh how they yearn for the Good Old Days when the 99% did all the work and the 1% got all the money. And everybody was HAPPY with their god-given place in Society.

Anonymous said...

I keep waiting for someone to write the article detailing the enormous tax burden that pro sports produces.

The most obvious manifestation of this is, of course, all the taxpayer-funded stadiums for these teams. But there are all the ancillary costs that go with those stadiums: Cops, traffic overburden, road maintenance, sanitation, etc.

And then there's the fact that every cable subscriber in the country is forking over between a quarter and a third of their cable bill for ESPN. If you're like me and really don't watch sports, you're being forced to subsidize the viewing habits of other people.

I'd write the article myself, but my current backlog of freelance assignments is a bit big these days (thankfully).


wetcasements said...

Great piece.

Al Petterson said...

"... the market forces that have overvalued ballplayers’ skills while devaluing mine have made it impossible for me to just enjoy the damn game."

Then watch the game on the teevee and don't pay a dime for it. Hard to feel cheated when you're getting the product for free.

As Mike Royko put it during the players' strike a couple decades ago, when everyone was talking about how the "greed" of the owners and players was ruining the game: "When fans - who mostly watch the game for free on television - start complaining that they're being denied something they used to get for free: that, my friends, is greed."