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

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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.

Madison Bumgarner began his rehab assignment yesterday

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Giants ace Madison Bumgarner tossed three no-hit innings yesterday in his first minor league rehab start with the Giants’ Arizona Rookie League team. He struck out two and walked a guy, while sitting in the 88-91 m.p.h. range on his fastball.

Bumgarner, who is coming back from a sprained left AC joint in his shoulder suffered in a dirt bike accident in April, will return to San Francisco to throw a bullpen session and then go back on the road for more rehab games. That’s a lot of traveling, but the Giants obviously want to monitor his progress. At the moment he’s expected to build up his strength for the next several weeks and, hopefully, return to the Giants’ rotation some time after the All-Star break.

Of course, there shouldn’t be too much of a rush. The Giants have lost five in a row and 12 of 13 and currently sit in last place, 24.5 games behind the Dodgers. At this point Bumgarner rushing to rejoin the Giants is like an Australian soldier getting a wound dressed to hurry back to the Gallipoli Campaign.

Is it really that weird that Cody Bellinger does not know who Jerry Seinfeld is?

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Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger has been tearing through the league so far this season, blazing a 50-home run pace despite not even making his debut until April 25. His Dodgers are winners of 10 games in a row, sit in first place and have the best record in the National League.

But not everything is rosy in Cody Bellinger land. He’s now at the center of controversy after he revealed on SportsCenter on Friday night that he doesn’t know who Jerry Seinfeld is. Or, at the very least, that he could not put a face with that familiar-sounding name and that in no event did he know why he was famous.

People have been going crazy with this, acting as if he’s from Mars or something for not knowing who starred in one of history’s most popular and influential sitcoms. His teammates, especially, have been getting on his case:

I dunno. On the one hand, sure, the show was amazingly popular and has been in heavy syndication for like 20 years so it would be hard to miss even for a young guy like Bellinger. And, of course, the catchphrases and bits of the show that has seeped into the popular culture have given it a longer shelf life than most TV shows ever manage.

On the other hand the thing ended when he was not yet three years old. For him, “Seinfeld” was like “The Beverly Hillbillies” for someone my age or “M*A*S*H” for someone born in the early 80s. Those shows were just as popular — actually, they got higher ratings and were seen by a larger percentage of the population than “Seinfeld” ever was — and they were just as heavily syndicated for the decade or two after they went off the air. We don’t get on the case of players born in the 70s or 80s for not knowing who Alan Alda or Buddy Ebsen are. And if it’s about the catchphrases, substitute in “Happy Days” and “Welcome Back Kotter,” each of which created a cultural footprint larger than the show itself. Would we freak out if we found out that Jayson Werth — born in 1979 — had never heard the phrase “Up your nose with a rubber hose” or “Sit on it?”

And that’s before you acknowledge how much more fragmented pop culture and entertainment is now. I was 12 in 1985 and back then I had little choice but to watch “M*A*S*H” reruns at 7pm while I was waiting for prime time. It was either that or “Wheel of Fortune” I guess. As a 12-year old in 2007, Bellinger could’ve easily avoided “Seinfeld” reruns. He could’ve avoided TV altogether and just been online. My son is 12 now and he hasn’t watched an actual TV show in years. It’s all You Tube and stuff. The idea that there is any one thing or even a handful of things that, culturally speaking, we can all agree upon or which can serve as a common touchstone is an increasingly obsolete idea.

Maybe “Seinfeld” is different. Maybe this is not the same as not knowing “The Beverly Hillbillies” or “M*A*S*H”. I floated this whole idea on Twitter yesterday and people were outraged, so perhaps something else is going on here that I’m missing. But personally speaking, I feel like we should all calm down a bit about Cody Bellinger and the “Seinfeld” thing. Maybe we should acknowledge that the stuff we like is not going to be culturally prevalent forever. And that young kids like Cody Bellinger are going to be the ones to inform us of this inescapable fact.