Monday, March 23, 2009

Tony Atlas Shrugged

What would happen if fans stopped attending sporting events, presumably because tickets prices are too high, which is presumably because athletes’ salaries are too high?

And what would happen if the commissioners of the major sports leagues told their athletes they were making too much money, and the salary system was going to change immediately.

What would happen if the athletes went on strike and the team owners, and presumably the fans, refused to budge on the ideal that athletes should not be allowed make millions of dollars more per year than the average worker?

Is that something we’d be interested in?

Because a recent ESPN/Seton Hall University poll proclaimed that the majority of its respondents (40 percent) said that baseball’s biggest problem is players making too much money.

Huh? … What? … Whuh?

Not steroids? Not the prices of tickets? Not the length of ballgames? Not the length of the season? Not the dwindling numbers of African-Americans playing the game? Not the “Viva Viagra” commercials played incessantly on TV to young viewers? Not the fact that the most important games of the season aren’t decided until hours after little kids have gone to bed?

It’s not Bud Selig? It’s not even Jeannie Zelasko?

The biggest problem in our national game — and no, historically and culturally, the American Rugby League (a.k.a., the NFL) is not our national pastime, but that’s a post for another day — is that Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez make too much money??? That Scott Boras is too good of an agent?? That the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers spend too much money on salaries???

Oh sure, millions of people are outraged right now over bailouts and economic nationalism and unseemly bonus money, yadda, yadda, yadda. And, oh boy, was there an outcry from many of these same people when Candidate Obama suggested that people making more than $250,000 per year should pay a larger percentage in taxes than those who are comparatively closer to the poverty line! (Remember those idiotic chain e-mails, supposedly based upon an "actual" classroom exercise by an “actual” high school teacher that likened tax hikes on the wealthy to an entire class automatically getting C’s?)

But you ask these same millions of nimrods if there should be salary caps in sports, they say Yes. Definitely yes! Why? Because it’s “not fair” that large-market teams like the Yankees have a major financial advantage! The playing field, in baseball, is “not level!” I’ve stopped counting how many dummies I know who say they enjoy football more than baseball because the American Rugby League “has parity” and doesn’t allow teams to simply outspend everyone else.

Though, when you look at the past 10 Super Bowl champs …

(Pittsburgh, New York, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, New England, New England, Tampa Bay, New England, Baltimore, St. Louis)

… And the past 10 World Series champs:

(Philadelphia, Boston, St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, Florida, Anaheim, Arizona, New York, New York)

… I’m not exactly seeing much of a difference in “parity.” If anything, the playing field looks a tiny bit more “level” in baseball, the sport without a salary cap. Just sayin’.

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand argued that individual achievements (and the financial fruit of that achievement) enable society to thrive, and that, over time, coerced self-sacrifice cheapens and ultimately destroys a society.

Listen to any hard-core football fan (or better yet, Steve Young or Emmitt Smith) long enough, and you'll hear them complain about how the best NFL teams of today can't compare to the old Steelers or Niners or Cowboys juggernauts. Why? The salary cap.

So let Manny and A-Rod get their money if somebody’s willing to pay them. Let the teams from New York and Boston and Los Angeles outspend everyone if they have the resources to do so. Who cares if a left-handed pitcher or a trash-talking wide receiver breaks the bank? Why do you really care?

Or then, let’s not pay the very best athletes a dime more than your average CEO — still a pretty sweet salary, if you ask me — and let them walk off the playing field in disgust. Let them quit.

And then let’s not pay any attention to sports, and let’s start watching a hell of a lot more CSPAN, and let's start paying a lot more attention to how our children do in math class, which probably is something we should’ve been doing all along …

1 comment:

troy said...

Provocative. And I had no idea that you were an Ayn Rand type of girl.

I make my points in the order they occurred to me, because I'm not capable of writing coherently anymore, only to responding, point by point, to the stimuli around me:

First, I think a lot of the respondents to that poll equate players' making too much money to the prices for seats. I used to get into furious arguments on my old message board with guys who both were smarter than I and bigger baseball fans, who insisted that there was no correlation. I think they were accountants, hooked on some bad economics. I don't care what Milton Friedman is teaching in some Chicago lecture hall, it'll be hard to convince a lot of us that our ticket money isn't going straight into players' pockets. I mean, ticket prices are up 400 percent since the 1980s, salaries are up 400 percent ... that's the kind of math even I can do.

The other way, it's just too abstract. We don't want to hear about supply and demand. How about we pay the players way less, and we keep an eye on the owners to make sure they're not quadrupling their profits, and if ticket prices *still* don't drop, then you can start with the elastic luxury talk, OK Professor Freakonomics? As a side note, we would also make good doctors. Our sons could come to us telling us their heads hurt, and we would tell them it was all that crap music they were listening to. If they stopped, but their heads still hurt, then we'd take 'em to the ER. Perform a little triage on them little midgets.

Never underestimate the hatred we hoi polloi have for the rich. I assume you see the parallels between this poll and the AIG mess, and are just putting a little English on it. You were always the subtle one.

The larger takeaway for me here is how we grudgingly buy the tickets anyway. Not me, of course; I almost always buy the cheapest seat, and go to about one sporting event a year. If I bought seats four rows back from Manny, wouldn't I want to grumble at him? Hell, if my wife needed a procedure and I didn't have insurance, I'd want to get into the operating theater and heckle the surgeon. And nobody ever confused Manny with a brain surgeon. Baseball never saved anybody's life. But we don't taunt Manny for whiffing when we've paid $75 to see him hit a homah, because sports are ingrained as some kind of necessary and public good. The American people completely lack the self-discipline to punish a league and its players the way you suggest. Remember how we were going to punish baseball for its last strike? Good thing Cal Ripken played every day so we had a totally rational reason for 'forgiving' everybody!

By the way, I refute your baseball/football parity chart due to the small sample size, as well as how the numbers would change if you went back three more years for each. Or are those two reasons the same reason?

"Why do you really care?" I guess I'm saying you don't, when you're at the game, and you do when you're not. And you're not at the game largely because you can't afford to go to every game, and that, I remain convinced, is because the players make too much. Ayn Rand had it at least half-right. This society, at least, thrives on self-interest. Look at how haughty the investment bank execs are. Total failures -- and for years; it's only that it just came crashing down now -- and acting like they're still in the driver's seat. Abstractly, you could probably get them to admit the whole thing's ridiculous, but things change when things get personal.