Edward McClelland, the rest of Detroit will be happy to hear, is no longer a Tigers fan. It wasn’t the horrible stretch a decade ago that did him in. No, it was Justin Verlander’s contract. Writing in Slate magazine, McClelland bemoans the old days when athletes didn’t make him feel so bad about how much he makes.
“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.”
Ah, yes, the good old days when the owners controlled salaries to a far greater extent and Hall of Famers like Mays had to find other jobs in the offseason.
There are lots of problems with McClelland’s position, primary among them that very little of it makes sense and just seems like venting of someone who thinks they should get more. There is a good article to be written about how we spend too much time on sports, and that is why owners, players, everyone tied to the athletics get paid. Mind you, I’m not going to write that piece, since I am employed because people are interested in what we do. Make no mistake, though, the reason that Justin Verlander is paid so much is because (a) he is the best at what he does, and (b) there is immense interest in what he does, from fans going to games, to television advertisers paying money because broadcasts bring eyeballs, to McClelland and myself writing about it.
Craig Calcaterra addresses some of the income inequality issues at Hardball Talk, and so I won’t belabor some of those excellent points about how a baseball player, through achievement and skill, getting a large salary is not the problem with our economic model. Building on that, while many of professional sports owners have made themselves into successes from modest beginnings (Mark Cuban, for example), there are far fewer cases of professional athletes getting by because of their heritage, without skill, than sports owners. McClelland goes to great lengths to make an economic inequality argument, and ignores that it is a zero sum game. If interest in baseball is high and money is there from the market, it goes to the owners or the players. Pining for days when players had to do other things because the owners kept more and restricted movement seems inconsistent with whining about money being accumulated by few.
The other option for McClelland, rather than become a free agent fan of another team, is to not watch. If enough people that whine about this took that course, then Justin Verlander would make less money.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]