They Aren't Like Us, You Know

added 1/29/2011 by Bob Hulsey

It's with some amusement to note the debate about whether Wandy Rodriguez was "overpaid" in his latest contract agreement with the Houston Astros. A career .500 pitcher is now set to make more than $11 million a year for the next 3-4 years.

Meanwhile, we live in a country of likely 10% unemployment and closer to 18% virtual unemployment, meaning that roughly one in five Americans are either jobless or hanging on to a low-paying job to try to eke out a subsistence.

Faced with that numbing fact, does it really matter whether Hunter Pence makes $6.9 million or $5.1 million this season? Should we care since, either way, Hunter has a job and enough money to fund a small school district?

I don't begrudge Pence, Rodriguez or any other athlete the money they earn. I'm a free market guy and this is what the market will bear. If someone thinks that's what someone is worth and will sign a contract to that effect, bravo for them I say.

I recently interviewed for a $15/hr job at a company that makes commemorative rings (you'll know them mostly for class rings). During the screening before the interview, I asked the Human Resources recruiter if the spiraling cost of gold and silver might be hurting their business.

She smiled sweetly and replied "The New York Yankees don't care how much their championship rings cost."

True that. I don't doubt the Phillies or the Lakers or the Steelers care much either. If they can afford to pay Cliff Lee or Kobe Bryant what those guys make, what's the cost of a few gold rings with diamonds to them?

Oh, if only I could have hit .220 and played a decent shortstop in my youth! How my life might be different today.

Ball players weren't always so blessed, of course. Back in the days of the reserve clause, players might see $20,000 as a good salary. Ask Larry Dierker. He remembers what that was like.

Still, the top stars were always well paid. I recall the reply Babe Ruth gave during the Great Depression about whether he felt uneasy about having a higher salary than the President of the United States.

"Why should I?," said Ruth. "I had a better year than he did."

But since the times of Ruth and Dierker, unions have gotten into baseball and now even Wilton Lopez has a higher salary than Barack Obama. And why shouldn't he? He had a better year.

The system is rigged now so that Clint Barmes can hit .235, be traded for a pitcher with a 4-20 record the past two seasons and still receive a raise from $3.25 million to $3.95 million.

Yet one has to wonder where all the money is coming from. When 1/5th of the country can't make a living, when ticket prices continue to rise, when owners are trying to get out, at what point does baseball's economy collapse on itself just as the housing market did?

Maybe it won't. Rights fees continue to climb, sales of memorabilia and team apparel keep soaring. There's a thirst like never before for sports paraphernalia to the point that it's not uncommon to see half the men at any casual eatery donning caps with the emblem of one sports team or another, including me.

But underneath that cap, I feel like scratching my head sometimes and wondering how in the world it all adds up and whether it ought to in such a terrible economy.

One of my favorite films is the movie "Quiz Show" which was about the rigged television game shows of the 1950s. How to explain their popularity? One replied that people didn't really care about who won or lost. They just wanted to watch the money.

Maybe that will explain why anybody outside the Pence and McLane families cares who wins Hunter Pence's arbitration case. I guess they just love to watch the money - and imagine if some of it could be theirs.