Money Bag

Baseball players to make $3.5 billion this year — they should be making more

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My dad was a federal government employee. For years we lived in Flint, Michigan where, back then anyway, everyone in the city worked for General Motors. Big UAW town, obviously.

His favorite part of that whole dynamic — apart from when his Toyota would get keyed in parking lots and, later, have the windows bashed in — was the difference between how government salaries were reported compared to UAW salaries. If government workers got a raise, it was always reported by the Flint Journal in the aggregate: “Government employees get $1 billion raise,” the headline would scream, along with some sidebar about how Gerald Ford was busy bankrupting the nation. If the UAW got a new contract it’d be reported by the hour, as in “Autoworkers get 50 cent raise,” with a sidebar about how crazy inflation was and how 50 cent raises didn’t get you jack squat.

I bring all of this up because you’ll see a roughly similar dynamic once this news starts to circulate, courtesy of CNBC:

Baseball been very, very good to a lot of people.

The 30 teams in Major League Baseball will collectively pay their players some $3.45 billion this year, according to data tabulated by The Associated Press . . . By way of perspective, at an average of $4.6 million, the average player would make more than 100 times the average American wage earner, based on Social Security Administration data.

Expect a lot of “those greedy players” rhetoric shortly!

Of course, absent in this report and presumably absent in the impending rhetoric is the fact that baseball as an industry brought in a record $8 billion+ last year, meaning player salaries are around 43% of revenues. Which seems high — depending on the industry, labor usually costs anywhere between 10 and 30 percent of revenues — but shouldn’t be all that surprising considering that in baseball, labor and the product being sold is one and the same. Indeed, the ballplayers and the games they play are the only reason the owners make that $8 billion. They are not a mere input to a more valuable finished product. The owners are not fabricating sheet metal before they can sell their product and stuff.

So enjoy your $3.45 billion, ballplayers. To be honest, I think you should be making more.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: