A baseball player making a lot of money is not an indictment of the American financial system

67 Comments

I’m the last person who will tell someone to keep their politics out of baseball, but if you’re gonna do it, make sure your politics aren’t plum dumb stupid.

Sadly, Slate’s Edward McClelland couldn’t get that second part right, as he dedicates a column to saying he can’t enjoy following the Tigers anymore because Justin Verlander makes too much money. Because that’s allegedly representative of the problem with growing income inequality in this country and that’s bad:

Over the past 40 years—the period of rising economic inequality that formerSlate 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 … 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.

Growing income inequality in society is not concerning due to some people having a lot and some not having a lot in and of themselves. It’s concerning because a lot of these people are making money that is in no way connected to the value or income they generate. It’s concerning because it creates separate classes of people who are increasingly stuck in their lot with no chance to move up. Extreme income stratification has been shown to hinder overall economic mobility. The idea: if Class A gets rich and Class B does not, Class A’s kids are increasingly privy to advantages (private schools, opportunities luxuries, etc.) that serve to keep them in their class while excluding the Class B kids.

It’s not entirely clear how that all works on a micro-level, but the upshot is that the very promise of the American Dream — that a poor kid can make good one day — is much, much harder today than it was yesterday because the gulf he or she has to leap is much, much larger. It’s a complex socioeconomic thing that is not simply about someone having money while someone else does not and which is not solvable by some single policy or tax code change or whatever.

What it is certainly not about is some ballplayer or entertainer or musician — who, as McClelland freely admits has extremely specialized and valuable skills — making millions. Indeed, a poor kid flinging a baseball and turning that into $80 million or whatever is the ultimate inequality hack. It takes that poor kid out of the dilemma he’s so concerned about in the first place.  And unlike that CEO or executive class about which we should be somewhat concerned, at least baseball players’ salaries correlate pretty nicely with the value they’re creating for the business. Baseball’s receipts have exploded at just as high if not a higher rate than salaries have, and ballplayers are the reason for it. They’re creating value in terms of butts in seats, so why shouldn’t they be paid for it?

And even if none of that stuff was true, the explosion of baseball salaries involves so few people — a few dozen get those giant contracts, a few hundred get what most of us would call “rich” — that it is less than a drop in a drop in a bucket of the problem.  Concerned about inequality? Look at the thousands of kids of corporate CEOS and executives who are taking up spots in good colleges due to their dad’s donations when those seats used to go to kids on minority or Appalachian scholarships or something.

But I get the sense that McClelland knows all of this on some level. Partially because he’s writing for Slate and their M.O. is often contrary silliness for its own sake. But it’s mostly because McClelland tips his hand:

As baseball players accumulate plutocratic riches (Rodriguez will have earned a third of $1billion by the time his contract expires), I find myself wondering why I’m supposed to cheer for a guy earning $27.5 million a year—he’s already a winner. When I was 11, I hero-worshipped the Tigers’ shortstop because I could imagine growing up to take his place. Obviously, that’s not going to happen now. Since my past two jobs disappeared in the Great Recession, I can’t watch a professional sporting event without thinking, Most of those guys are set for life, while I’ve been buying my own health insurance for 5 1/2 years. 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.

If that kind of thing is keeping you from enjoying the damn game, you probably weren’t appreciating the damn game all that much to begin with. And you probably need to work on your own issues and insecurities before pointing out the alleged problems with baseball.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

Getty Images
6 Comments

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Astros 16, Twins 8: Most of the time, if you take an 8-2 lead into the eighth inning, you’re gonna win that game. But just most of the time. Some of the time your bullpen is gonna give up 14 runs in the final two innings like Minnesota’s did here. Eleven of those runs came in the eighth, thanks to eight hits, two walks, a hit batter and a balk. Two of those eighth inning hits were from Carlos Beltran who singled and later hit a three-run homer. The Twins played a 15-inning game on Sunday so that pen was taxed already, but this was kinda ridiculous. Houston has won five in a row and has the best record in baseball.

Nationals 3, Giants 0: Fisticuffsmanship! As you’ve seen by now, Bryce Harper charged the mound and tussled with Giants reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a pitch in the eighth inning and both were ejected. What you may not have seen is just how “nah, not my problem” Buster Posey and Strickland’s teammates were about it all when Harper went after their man:

After the game Posey said he wasn’t going to get into the middle of a bunch of big guys tumbling around, but you have to figure that part of it was disapproval of Strickland plunking Harper over what seems to be a three-year old grudge over Harper hitting a couple of homers off of him him in the playoffs. Which is about as immature as it gets. A close second on the immaturity scale: Strickland having to be dragged off the field by his teammates like he was:

You have to figure that a lot of Giants vets are not too pleased with Hunter Strickland this morning.

White Sox 5, Red Sox 4: Melky Cabrera hit a three-run homer and knocked in a fourth run — the go-ahead run — with an infield single in the seventh. For Boston, David Price made his season debut and was meh, allowing three runs in five innings. Dustin Pedroia sprained his wrist and is heading back to Boston for tests. In other news, while I am aware that David Price and Dustin Pedroia are big stars and the events surrounding them in this game is news, it is rather odd to read a game story about a White Sox win in which a White Sox player drives in four runs and not have a single mention of the White Sox until the seventh paragraph. 

Dodgers 5, Cardinals 1: Rich Hill made his second straight start against the Cardinals. This one went better than the last one, in which he gave up five runs in four innings. Here he allowed only one run on two hits over five. He’s still not super efficient as he’s trying to adjust his mechanics to accommodate his blister issues, but he was effective. In other news, I was watching this one with my wife. Chase Utley comes to the plate and we talk about him some. I say something to the effect of “he’s been heating up lately, but I think he’s kind of toast at this point.” Literally four seconds after I finish the thought Utley hit a homer. Cody Bellinger and Logan Forsythe homered too, but their timing wasn’t as good.

Mariners 6, Rockies 5: It’s not often that you use seven pitchers in a game and still win it, but that’s what Seattle did with rookie Sam Gaviglio and six of his friends getting it done, more or less. They had help from Danny Valencia, who had three hits and Kyle Seager who knocked in two with a double.

Orioles 3, Yankees 2: The O’s snap a seven-game slide thanks to seven strong innings from Dylan Bundy and a couple of runs knocked in by Jonathan Schoop.

Pirates 4, Diamondbacks 3Chris Iannetta of the Dbacks tied the game in the top of the ninth with a two-run homer to left off Pirates closer Tony Watson, but then Andrew McCutchen led off the bottom of the ninth with a walkoff homer. From deflating to elating in the space of mere minutes.

Indians 5, Athletics 3: Carlos Carrasco took a shutout into the seventh and ended up allowing two runs while striking out seven over seven. The Tribe got homers from Austin Jackson, Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion is hitting .348 and has three homers in the past week, so people freaking out about that signing being a bust can relax some.

Mets 4, Brewers 2: Robert Gsellman allowed two runs — only one earned — over seven innings. He also drove in one via a sac fly in the fifth and another by drawing a walk with the bases loaded in the sixth. That walk was issued by Milwaukee reliever Rob Scahill, who just prior hit a guy to load the bases. The run from the walk wasn’t charged to Scahill, who wasn’t the guy who put the guy who scored on base, but boy howdy that’s some less-than-stellar relief work.

Padres 5, Cubs 2: Hunter Renfroe hit a grand slam that helped send the Cubs to their fourth straight loss. Weird stat: the Cubs had only three hits but they drew 10 walks and had two batters hit by pitches. Only scoring two runs with fifteen base runners to work with is bad, but so is a team allowing 15 bases runners in that fashion. Even in victory the Padres make you smack your head.

Tigers 10, Royals 7: The Tigers’ late rally wasn’t as impressive as Houston’s, but they were down 7-6 in the eighth and put up a four-spot. Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run single that inning and reached base four times. One of the times came when he walked with the bases loaded in a six-run Detroit fifth inning.

Blue Jays 17, Reds 2: This was a bloodbath. Troy Tulowitzki hit a grand slam, Justin Smoak hit a three-run homer and Russell Martin added a two-run shot. Toronto had 23 hits. Their franchise record for hits in a game is 25, which came against Texas back in 1999.

Marlins 4, Phillies 1: Edinson Volquez got his first win of the season after seven losses, allowing one run and three hits in six innings. Derek Dietrich hit a two-run homer and Dee Gordon and Giancarlo Stanton each drove in a run.

Rays 10, Rangers 8Tim Beckham hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the Rays’ five-run seventh inning. Colby Rasmus hit a two-run double in that same frame. Steven Souza had four hits and scored four times.

Braves 6, Angels 3Matt Adams and Danny Santana each had two-run doubles during Atlanta’s six-run third inning. The Angels were probably catatonic anyway, as they learned before the game yesterday that they’re going to be without Mike Trout for an extended period. Dead Team Walking.

Mike Trout has a torn thumb ligament, could require surgery

G
20 Comments

Yesterday Mike Trout left the Marlins-Angels game after hurting his thumb while sliding head first into second base. After the game the Angels talked about it as if it were just a sprain. Trout had an MRI today, however, and the diagnosis is far worse: he has a torn thumb ligament.

While a treatment option has not yet been chosen, surgery is a possibility. A certainty is that he’ll miss, at the very least, several weeks of play. He has been placed on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

Trout, the reigning AL MVP and, without question, the best player in baseball, is batting .337/.461/.742 with 16 home runs, 36 RBI, 36 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases in 206 plate appearances this season. Even with the one of the weaker supporting casts in baseball, Trout had the Angels near .500 and in at least arguable contention in the AL West.

Without him, they are likely sunk. Without him, baseball is worse off.