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.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉