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Paying more for a whole lot less

Posted: Thursday, April 05, 2001

Could someone please explain to me why athletes get paid so much to throw a ball or to dribble it down the court? Why do they get paid ridiculous amounts of money to skate with a stick and slap at a puck?

Recently I came across The Associated Press list of the average salaries for professional athletes and the numbers made me want to puke.

Let's start with baseball, since the season is just beginning. In 1967 the average salary for a baseball player at the professional level sat at $19,000. Can anyone guess how much is being made this season? Is the average a million? Two million? Try more along the lines of $2,264,403 -- give or take a thousand -- based on an Associated Press study.

This is the average mind you. That means that this is the medium of the highest paid "stars" and the low scum bags that don't even see the field -- the guys whose cards your kids throw away when they get them.

How, you may ask yourselves, can the average be that high? Let me give you an example:

The scene is the headquarters for the Texas Rangers. It is a slow night in baseball negotiations and the Rangers are looking at a way to make their team a contender for the World Series.

Suddenly an idea pops into someone's head and they voice it to the money-spenders in the room.

"What about Alex Rodriguez? You know, from the Mariners," they say.

There is a low grumble in the room as the money-spenders ponder the possibility.

"What would we pay him?" someone asked.

There is a pause -- but a short one.

"Let's pay him $250 million for, um, 12 years!" came the response.

"No, no, no," someone retorts. "Management is going to turn that down. Is Rodriguez really going to be that much of an impact player for that long?"

Another short pause.

"You're right," came a reply. "Let's shorten the contract. Two hundred fifty million dollars for 10 years -- and a big billboard outside the stadium promoting A-Rod!"

Pause.

"Sounds good to us. Get his agent."

I can just imagine it playing out like that too. Baseball shuddered when that contract was signed. Fans shuddered, too -- heck, even George Steinbrenner shuddered. That has to rank as one of the dumbest moves in sports history -- right above extending Derek Jeter's contract with a big, fat payroll.

The NFL hasn't had such an increase in salaries for the same exact brand of football -- if not a worse brand of football -- then was watched in 1970. That was the year that the average was around $41,000 dollars while today average has notched up to about $1,200,000. Can anyone say Washington Redskins and perpetual losers in the same sentence?

The NBA has jumped in leaps and bounds while the quality of play has dropped into an all-time low. The 1989-90 average was $653,000 -- not a bad payday considering all you do is dribble, travel, shoot, miss and watch the other team rebound. The preliminary estimate of the 2000-2001 average hangs up there around $3,530,000 -- all of that for a guy that can't hit shots from the charity line, complains about illegal defenses and can't play to the level of the greats like the champion Celtics, Lakers, Pistons and Bulls. Wish I could get their agents.

The National Hockey League's average has risen nicely in the past decade -- if you are a player and not a fan. The rising costs to attend games are due to the dramatic increases in salaries like the NHL has given us. In the 1991-92 season the average salary was $271,000 -- or equivalent to what Michael Jordan spends on a watch -- while this year's salaries are expected to be around $1,400,000.

It may be the coolest game on earth, but these guys can just burn money if the rinks get too chilly for them.

There you have it. Professional sports -- in this country at least -- have not only driven the salaries of their players through the roofs but have increased the prices of just bringing your kid to a game as well.

I could see the idea of paying a player if they were talented enough to deserve that kind of money and might help the team win a championship, but all these teams are managing to do is pay mediocre players more money for less talent and lowering the standard of the game in the process.

I think these players should look to the stands the next time they want a raise and wonder what their fans are making -- maybe they should give a little back. That couldn't hurt. In fact, maybe they should pass some to the people who make them famous -- the sports reporters. I'm sure some of us wouldn't mind it.

Sam Eggleston is a writer for the Peninsula Clarion. He can be contacted through e-mail at samuel@eggleston.tc.



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