Wake Me When an Owner Goes Yard

WITH MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL’S most recent collective bargaining agreement having expired, and negotiations on a new CBA stalled, the league’s owners have imposed a lockout on its players. Instead of an off-season filled with trade rumors and free-agent signings, we are forced to read about revenue sharing, minimum salaries, luxury taxes, and the like. MLB has even taken the absurd and childish step of scrubbing all references to current players from its and its teams’ websites.

The knee-jerk reaction, and one I freely indulged in when the players went on strike during the 1981 season, is predictable: “These men get paid truckloads of money to play a kids’ game, and they have the temerity to demand more? How dare they!”

An important stipulation here: Yes, compared to other, more essential professions, many (most?) professional athletes are wildly overpaid. Cops, firefighters, nurses, teachers — teachers especially — are among those whose responsibility for the well being and health of a functioning society demands that we pay them more. The grotesque absurdity of a ballplayer raking in tens of millions of dollars a year while teachers have to reach into their own pockets to provide basic supplies for their students is a searing indictment of our society’s prioritization. Obscene doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Here’s the thing, though. The bigger obscenity, by far — and that’s saying something — is sports owners’ unbridled greed. They attempt to squeeze every last penny out of every last player, not caring or even noticing that their wallets grow ever fatter by the year. And you want to talk about a failsafe investment?

In 2000, David Glass purchased the Kansas City Royals for $96 million dollars. Over the next 20 seasons, the Royals were among the worst teams in baseball, making the playoffs just twice, losing 100 games or more six times, and finishing last in their division seven times. Yet just over two years ago, Glass sold the Royals for a reported $1 billion. That is a one-thousand-percent markup if you’re keeping score at home. I’m neither a sports economist nor a labor expert, but if you ask whether it’s the owners or the players whom baseball’s money structure benefits more, the answer is inarguable. And it’s not just baseball.

Baseball is my first and best sporting love. I have watched it literally for as long as I can remember. I have gone to countless games, worn the t-shirts and caps, contributed mightily to the owners’ coffers with many, many purchases of laughably overpriced beer and tepid hot dogs. And in precisely zero instances have I parted with my heart or my cash because of who owns the team.

Ruly Carpenter, Bill Giles, and John Middleton are the names at the top of the Phillies’ org charts over the years, and bully for them. But my allegiance and love belong to Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Steve Carlton, Larry Bowa, Tug McGraw, Garry Maddox, Pete Rose (I know, I know), Gary Matthews, Al Holland, Sixto Lezcano, John Kruk, Darren Daulton, Curt Schilling (I KNOW, I KNOW), Jim Eisenreich, Terry Mulholland, Mitch Williams, Scott Rolen, Mike Lieberthal, Jim Thome, Aaron Rowand, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, Brad Lidge, Roy Halladay, Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola, J.T. Realmuto, and Bryce Harper. They belong as well to every last fringe player, every utility infielder, fifth outfielder, left-handed relief specialist, and set-up man, every guy who had the smallest cup of coffee in red pinstripes.

They’re the ones I’ve lived and died with. They’re the ones I’ll always live and die with. So more power to them. Spare me the tears for the miserly, rapacious sharks who sign their checks through gritted teeth with one hand while counting their towering piles of dough with the other. | DL