Moneyball

It’s sports week here at the JMD blog in honor of the calendar turning to March and the huge schedule of events that occurs beginning that month.  Usually, there is no particular order in my ramblings, but, as a special this week only, I’ll start with the bad and end with the good.

If you’re a baseball lover, you’ve heard the term used in the title of the post.  Don’t worry if you’re not familiar, though, for I’m using it in a different sense for today’s spouting.  Let’s talk about money in sports.

Even the non-sports fan is aware (and perhaps dismayed) by the incredibly large sums of money paid to sports athletes.  To be fair, stupid salaries are paid to most entertainment professionals, but this is “sports week” not “entertainers week”, so you can just discuss the others amongst yourselves.

It’s sometimes difficult to fathom 18-22 year olds getting multi-million dollars, sometimes guaranteed even if they can’t play a game.  There are few people who handle that much money well and even fewer who are that young and inexperienced.  To a youngster, that must appear as if they’re never going to have money troubles again.

There are plenty of highly publicized examples of how often that proves a fallacy, but when you’re 19 and a millionaire, who reads that stuff?  But what happens after that first contract and they’ve seen the “business” side of sports?   Why, they go for even more money.  And if that means leaving town, well, it’s a business, isn’t it?  You would leave your job if you could get a big raise or better position elsewhere, wouldn’t you?

Except, sports is not like a “real” job.  It’s work, to be sure.  It’s probably harder physically than anything we’re doing.  But there’s a bond (I was going to say unwritten, but plenty of books and movies have been made about our love affair with sports) between a city and its team.  We invest our hopes and loyalty into them and celebrate their successes and suffer their losses, perhaps even more than the players.  While it is their job, it is our dreams.  No one is looking at us like that in the 4,000 (or 400,000) employee company we work at.  That’s the big difference.

Which is why we feel so betrayed by their ultimate pursuit of the dollar.  Oh, you’ll hear the player do a PR spin, such as “It’s not about the money”, but the facts rarely bear it out.  When I was young, three of the best players for the Miami Dolphins, including my favorite, left the team for money (the league they jumped to was a dud, but the damage was done).  Nearly 40 years later, that still aches.  We understand their reasons, but it still betrays us.

Recently, fans in St. Louis have seen their revered best player refuse an offer from their team in order to pursue maximum dollars on the “free agent” market (just what it sounds like, a flea market for selling your product, in this case, people with athletic talent).  Is it wrong for him to try to make the most he can make?  Probably not, but can you expect a $35,000 per year worker to sympathize with someone who wants $30 million per year and not $25 million?  When that same player has been given the unconditional love and support of an entire city?  How do you feel when you love someone and they apparently don’t feel the same?

Let’s not forget the owners of these teams and the carrot dangling tactics they use on their cities.  Milking the public tax dollars for stadiums costing hundreds of millions of dollars that would be better used to keep teachers employed or improve infrastructure.  Taunting and teasing other cities about potential moves only as a bargaining chip to get their current city to pony up those dollars.  Or, as is the case with my hometown baseball team, pocketing millions of internally funded dollars instead of putting a better product on the field.  These are the same owners who cry about the disloyalty of the players leaving for other towns and their excessive money-hungry demands.  Tough to shed a tear for them either, eh?

Bleak is the view from 30,000 feet at the sports world mercenaries.  It’s hard to see anyone acting with consideration and integrity.  Is it any wonder we feel both indignant and disrespected?  Is there any reason why we shouldn’t voice that indignation in the harshest terms?

Maybe there is.  And that’s our discussion for tomorrow.

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