Players are taking home a much smaller percentage of revenue than they used to


Over at FanGraphs, Nathaniel Grow has a good story up looking at the biggest issue facing the Players’ Union as it looks ahead to collective bargaining negotiations with the owners following the 2016 season. It’s not rules. It’s not service time manipulation. It’s that the players, for all of the money they make, are taking home a considerably smaller portion of league revenues than they have in recent memory. They’re even taking home a smaller percentage of revenues than NFL and NBA players, who have historically had far weaker unions.

And it’s not so much that salaries are down — though owners are better about not giving out dumb contracts than they used to be — it’s that revenue is up dramatically and it hasn’t trickled down to the players:

So even though MLB’s television revenues have increased substantially in recent years, relatively little of this extra money is flowing to the players. Instead, teams are largely pocketing these additional revenues as extra profits, raising the league’s overall revenue without a corresponding increase in player payroll. As a result, the new television money is actually lowering the players’ share of overall league revenue on a percentage basis.

One point Grow misses, which one curmudgeonly but insightful person on Twitter pointed out, is that all of that TV money isn’t necessarily being pocketed per se. Rather, a lot of it is going to debt service, as owners are increasingly leveraging themselves to buy teams. It’s a good deal for the owners still and it’s not like this puts them in the poorhouse, but it is worth noting that it’s not a zero sum game between owners and players and that there is another hole into which that money is going.

That caveat aside, yes, the players are getting less of a share than they used to. Grow notes that, gaining back a certain percentage of revenue is no easy trick. Indeed, the only sure-fire way to guarantee that a certain percentage of revenues is spent on salary is to agree to a salary floor structure that, almost necessarily, requires a salary cap for it to come to fruition and to be workable. And the MLBPA has built its entire modern history on opposing such a thing.

Interesting times ahead, but I do think that overemphasizing percentage of revenue on the union agenda is not necessarily the wisest thing. Obviously it’s worth watching and the more a worker can do in that regard the better, but there are other things the MLBPA can and should be sure it doesn’t sacrifice as it thinks about their share of revenue.

The NFL, for example, has a nice percentage of overall revenue going to the players in the aggregate. Any one player, however, also has a non-guaranteed contract and is generally treated like cattle or machinery by that league. Baseball players, in contrast, have pretty good working conditions, security and quality of life. It’d be unwise, I think, for a union full of workers with a limited amount of time in which to set themselves for life to roll back some of those protections in the interest of grabbing extra revenue. That’s especially true when their salaries are still extremely healthy as it is and that the source of that big revenue explosion — TV deals — could be subject to a bubble and possibly even a crash some day given how crazy and unpredictable the future of pay TV is.

Ultimately the people who will make these strategic decisions are paid way more than I am, so we’ll leave the ball in their court. But it’s worth noting that protecting a worker’s quality of life and well-being is not always the same thing as making sure their salaries are maximized.

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

aaron judge
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TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.