“While this throw was in the air, I earned $5,439.52.” | Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images
Indeed, in this squabble between millionaires and billionaires it becomes a question of whose ideals you hate slightly less. Neither side is going to emerge from the economic portion of the “baseball 2020” talks having made friends with many fans — most of whom are too busy being broke and scared to offer much more than a half-hearted middle finger.
Let’s start with the bigger offenders: those would be the owners, who are crying poverty as they are suddenly forced, during this economic crisis, to wipe their noses with mere 20 dollar bills instead of the more comforting fifties to which they have grown accustomed.
It’s not that owners will be raking it in this season under any circumstances, nor that they are morally obliged to dip into their deep pockets to charitably fund a baseball team. It’s that owning a baseball team is a terrific investment that inevitably pays off in spades even if you have to take it on the chin one year, or operate in the red multiple years.
Here’s an example, followed by an analogy. John Fisher bought the A’s for $180M. Fast forward to 2020 and its recent valuation was around $1.1 billion (a figure that might now decline some in light of the pandemic). So it becomes a privilege and a gift if one had the opportunity to lose $10M every year if that’s what one had to do in order to have this asset in one’s back pocket.
The analogy: Let’s say someone asked you to invest in a $100 bill and it meant you had to lose $3.00 every year for the 10 years of the investment. If you had the thirty bucks to spare, would you make that investment? Every time. That’s the “quandry” owners like Fisher find themselves in right now — they are sitting on a guaranteed windfall far greater than any losses they could conjure up even their worst alcoholic nightmare, and now that nightmare has arrived...and they’re still guaranteed that windfall, huge net profit, whenever they sell the team.
But billionaires and short-term losses are not pals, and so the billionaires are complaining they don’t want to absorb some temporary lack of obscene wealth but they have a super terrific solution: the players should absorb it instead!
It’s not hard to hate the owners right now, even the ones who aren’t penny-pinching their most loyal and/or most impoverished employees. Especially when owners make sweeping financial claims but refuse to open up their books. “Just trust us!” Yeah, I don’t think so.
Never ones to be outdone, the players are taking their best shot at looking bad and just not doing quite as bang-up a job. Their resistance to the divvying of revenues is more understandable — especially when any money that doesn’t go to them goes only to their even wealthier bretheren — but less defensible is the relentless “1%-ism” that has plagued labor for years.
The players’ union has dismissed outright the idea of a sliding scale for whatever compromise they might have to make in order to get a season going. Yet a sliding scale simply makes sense. The owners may have used percentages that were too large, but the concept was sensible.
In MLB’s proposal players earning league minimum would have had very little change in their pro-rated salary, which is essential considering that this group includes rookies who have earned little to nothing to date and younger players whose career earnings are not astronomical — especially when considering that the career of an athlete is relatively short and injuries make it impossible to guarantee huge future earnings no matter how talented you might be.
In contrast, to use the example cited in other articles, Mike Trout would have taken more of “one for the team” out of his guaranteed $36M salary (followed by 10 years of a guaranteed $354.5M). To put Trout’s salary in perspective, forget about his paycheck and consider that at a 1% yield just the interest on Trout’s 2020 salary was poised to earn five times what I make as an educator.
So yes, the players earning tens of millions, whose interest alone earns more than any of us makes, can give more so that players with less service time and no guaranteed contracts can preserve more.
And that doesn’t even get below the tip of the 1% iceberg, as you travel underwater to find about 95% of the iceberg — that would be all the professional baseball players who will not make it to the big leagues and who live on salaries that equate to, quite literally, poverty.
But you take good care of Mike Trout, Tony Clark — ignore the needs of your poorest rich people and the truly poor people who can’t get into your club, and then ask fans to play the violin for your standoff with other rich and greedy people who don’t seem to care about the 99%.
And so here we are, taking sides in a war that is being fought mostly in the media between two sides who, for good reason, don’t like or trust each other. Where do I fit in, as a fan, to all this? Gosh, during this horrific time I just want to see some baseball games, that’s all. I guess that’s also too much to ask.