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A baseball player making a lot of money is not an indictment of the American financial system

Apr 15, 2013, 11:03 AM EDT

Detroit Tigers v Oakland Athletics - Game Five Getty Images

I’m the last person who will tell someone to keep their politics out of baseball, but if you’re gonna do it, make sure your politics aren’t plum dumb stupid.

Sadly, Slate’s Edward McClelland couldn’t get that second part right, as he dedicates a column to saying he can’t enjoy following the Tigers anymore because Justin Verlander makes too much money. Because that’s allegedly representative of the problem with growing income inequality in this country and that’s bad:

Over the past 40 years—the period of rising economic inequality that formerSlate columnist Timothy Noah called “The Great Divergence”—Americans’ incomes have not grown at all, in real dollars. But baseball players’ incomes have increased twentyfold in real dollars:the average major-league salary in 2012 was $3,213,479. The income gap between ballplayers and their fans closely resembles the rising gap between CEOs and their employees, which grew during the same period from roughly 25-to-1 to 380-to-1 … I’m singling out professional athletes for my class envy because they’re the highest-profile beneficiaries of changes that have enriched those at the top of the economic order while impoverishing those at the bottom.

Growing income inequality in society is not concerning due to some people having a lot and some not having a lot in and of themselves. It’s concerning because a lot of these people are making money that is in no way connected to the value or income they generate. It’s concerning because it creates separate classes of people who are increasingly stuck in their lot with no chance to move up. Extreme income stratification has been shown to hinder overall economic mobility. The idea: if Class A gets rich and Class B does not, Class A’s kids are increasingly privy to advantages (private schools, opportunities luxuries, etc.) that serve to keep them in their class while excluding the Class B kids.

It’s not entirely clear how that all works on a micro-level, but the upshot is that the very promise of the American Dream — that a poor kid can make good one day — is much, much harder today than it was yesterday because the gulf he or she has to leap is much, much larger. It’s a complex socioeconomic thing that is not simply about someone having money while someone else does not and which is not solvable by some single policy or tax code change or whatever.

What it is certainly not about is some ballplayer or entertainer or musician — who, as McClelland freely admits has extremely specialized and valuable skills — making millions. Indeed, a poor kid flinging a baseball and turning that into $80 million or whatever is the ultimate inequality hack. It takes that poor kid out of the dilemma he’s so concerned about in the first place.  And unlike that CEO or executive class about which we should be somewhat concerned, at least baseball players’ salaries correlate pretty nicely with the value they’re creating for the business. Baseball’s receipts have exploded at just as high if not a higher rate than salaries have, and ballplayers are the reason for it. They’re creating value in terms of butts in seats, so why shouldn’t they be paid for it?

And even if none of that stuff was true, the explosion of baseball salaries involves so few people — a few dozen get those giant contracts, a few hundred get what most of us would call “rich” — that it is less than a drop in a drop in a bucket of the problem.  Concerned about inequality? Look at the thousands of kids of corporate CEOS and executives who are taking up spots in good colleges due to their dad’s donations when those seats used to go to kids on minority or Appalachian scholarships or something.

But I get the sense that McClelland knows all of this on some level. Partially because he’s writing for Slate and their M.O. is often contrary silliness for its own sake. But it’s mostly because McClelland tips his hand:

As baseball players accumulate plutocratic riches (Rodriguez will have earned a third of $1billion by the time his contract expires), I find myself wondering why I’m supposed to cheer for a guy earning $27.5 million a year—he’s already a winner. When I was 11, I hero-worshipped the Tigers’ shortstop because I could imagine growing up to take his place. Obviously, that’s not going to happen now. Since my past two jobs disappeared in the Great Recession, I can’t watch a professional sporting event without thinking, Most of those guys are set for life, while I’ve been buying my own health insurance for 5 1/2 years. Paying to see a baseball game feels like paying to see a tax lawyer argue in federal court or a commodities trader work the floor of the Mercantile Exchange. They’re getting rich out there, but how am I profiting from the experience? 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.

If that kind of thing is keeping you from enjoying the damn game, you probably weren’t appreciating the damn game all that much to begin with. And you probably need to work on your own issues and insecurities before pointing out the alleged problems with baseball.

  1. noozehound - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    holy shit, some out ‘class warfared’ you!? didn’t think that was possible.

    • detroitr1 - Apr 15, 2013 at 12:01 PM

      “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

      –Warren Buffett #2 wealthiest man in 2012

      • oldpaddy - Apr 15, 2013 at 12:15 PM

        Kill or enslave the rich!

      • heyblueyoustink - Apr 15, 2013 at 12:51 PM

        How’s that whole pledge of giving away most of his wealth coming along, out of curiosity? I mean i’m sure he’s turned his holding companies and such into non profit charitables, right?

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Apr 15, 2013 at 12:57 PM

        How’s that whole pledge of giving away most of his wealth coming along, out of curiosity?

        As of this 2012 article, he’s already given away $9.5B in shares of BH to the Gates Foundation, which didn’t include the $3B he gave in ’12 to his children’s charities.

      • heyblueyoustink - Apr 15, 2013 at 1:19 PM

        Drop in the bucket, when talking in terms of his many billions, as of March 2013.

        Don’t let the Oracle of Omaha BS you too much.

    • heyblueyoustink - Apr 15, 2013 at 1:23 PM

      Matter of fact, when compared to 2011, he’s increasing his net worth while taking that nice charity write off. What a guy!

  2. javaintx - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:10 AM

    Edward McClelland probably also doesn’t ever go watch liberal actors in the movie theater then, does he?

  3. chill1184 - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    McClelland peddling more class warfare BS, why am I not surprised? You would think that a Tigers fan like him would be happy that Verlander signed that deal so he and other Tiger fans didn’t have to worry about seeing him in Yankee pinstripe, Dodger Blue or Angel Red.

  4. sleepyirv - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    And once again, the lesson is never read Slate.

  5. illcomm - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    Your viewpoint is so on the wrong side that I cannot realistically believe that you really believe what you are writing is true. a very long winded article that basically expresses someone’s naive point of view.

  6. melkipershero - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    He wanted attention and you gave it to him.

  7. illcomm - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    my problem with baseball is the fact most players have cheated their way to obtaining that overpriced contract through illegal means. it sends the wrong lesson to society. just as long as you don’t get caught, ignorance is bliss. just look at Arod’s people trying to buy the biogenisos docs.

    • hockeyflow33 - Apr 15, 2013 at 1:50 PM

      Good point, corporate America is much nicer and always punishes wrongdoers

  8. Bob Timmermann - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:20 AM

    This is the same website that wrote a piece sympathetic to Mike Rice. And that was by the editor, who blamed himself for being a bad basketball player.

  9. oldpaddy - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:21 AM

    Kill the poor.
    Problem solved.

  10. bigharold - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:24 AM

    It is not an indictment of our financial system it is an indictment of our societal values, .. lets keep that straight.

    We, without much reservation, support a value system that pays the worst player on the worst team a half a million dollars a year but there are thousands of young teachers that had to go to school to for six years that can’t get jobs that pay $45,000 a year. After all what can a teacher do for you other than show your kids how to read write add and subtract and think critically? We support a system where a scumbag like Frank McCourt can acquire the Dodgers, essentially loot them for the benefit of himself and his family, bring them to the brink of collapsing but then sell them and walk away with 500 million dollars. I could go on.

    And, when I say we I mean all baseball fans. Because ultimately as in any business the customers pay for everything. So don’t take it out on the players, .. they could get the kind of contracts they do if fans weren’t willing to pay them.

    • oldpaddy - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:37 AM

      Teachers, fire fighters and police get paid waaaaaaay too much!
      They should get 1975 wages and be greatful.
      Bunch of free loaders!

      • ditto65 - Apr 15, 2013 at 12:01 PM


      • oldpaddy - Apr 15, 2013 at 12:16 PM

        So says the ditto head.

      • bigharold - Apr 15, 2013 at 12:48 PM

        “Bunch of free loaders!”

        You must be in a bad mood today and are just looking for an argument. Nobody could be as stupid as you’re trying to sound.

        Maybe you should self-revert to 1975, before there was an Internet. Thus you wouldn’t be able to make such a fool of yourself.

      • oldpaddy - Apr 15, 2013 at 12:58 PM

        How dare you! You socialistic capitalist pig!
        Us 1% will win the day!

    • somekat - Apr 15, 2013 at 12:33 PM

      So should we pay them more to teach poorly? Most teachers are there for a job that gives them summer off, that’s it. Are there some that are there just for the joy of teaching? I’ve read about them, so I’ll say “I guess so”, even though I went through my entire academic career without meeting one. That doesn’t mean the don’t exist

      That being said, 45k for a 10 month job (not including vacation, sick and personal time), working from 8-4 is not a b ad deal, or you woulnd’t have “thousands of young teachers who went to school for 6 years and can’t get jobs” if it was possible to fire the terrible teachers who have had jobs for 15 years and are just there for a paycheck. But it is almost impossible to have a union member teacher fired

      Union regulations don’t just “help the worker”, the hurt the employer or benificiary. In this case, the students, by making the lowest common denominator not only protected, but acceptable and expected

      • oldpaddy - Apr 15, 2013 at 1:02 PM

        Enslave the children and make the teachers the slave drivers.
        That’s what our founding fathers wanted and it’s the only way to save the union.

      • bigharold - Apr 15, 2013 at 1:02 PM

        “Most teachers are there for a job that gives them summer off, that’s it.”

        That is not true and there is absolutely no way for you to substantiate that opinion. You have no idea what you are taking about. Clearly this opinion says far more about your political point of view than the facts.

        What needs improvement in the education system in this country isn’t limited to a way to address under performing teachers. It needs more and equal resources, better application of resources, better strategies to educate and committed parents. Otherwise the best outcome that can be hoped for is less educated lids that are better at taking standardized test.

        But, don’t let that stop you with your irrelevant sound bite shallow analysis.

      • bougin89 - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:14 PM


        Wow is your comment just filled with Fail. Most teachers that I know really care about the kids they teach. Most want to actually “help” and they don’t just say that but their actions speak much louder than words. You couldn’t be more off on your 45k for a 10 month job either. What are you basing that on? Ever hear of summer school? Construction crews typically only work roughly 10 months a year in WI and most construction workers get paid more than 45K a year, at least the ones that I know do. Are teachers less valuable than they are? Teachers have to pay much more(in terms of college costs) to get their jobs. Does that not factor into this? Way to just throw out a random number. This is a state-by-state issue obviously but if you are a young teacher you typically won’t make 40k a year much less 45k.

        Also, teachers in most WI school districts typically get 5 days of personal time and no vacation. This is for when they NEED to take off. Teachers in WI typically work close to 8-4(meaning they have to be at the school during that time) its closer to 7-3:30 or 7-4 but I’ll forgive you on that because you clearly aren’t basing your comment on facts. Some teachers help with after school programs. Some stay later to work with some of their students. They don’t get overtime. Who do you think works the school dances/coaches the baseball teams/etc. How much money do you think a high school baseball coach makes at a public school per hour?

        Their are incompetent teachers, just like their are incompetent baseball players(in WI we definitely have our fair share of incompetent baseball players) but for you to group all teachers into sounding like they are “terrible” is completely ignorant. Teachers are not the biggest issue with our education system.

        I recommend commenting on other topics as you seem very ignorant on this one.

      • davidpom50 - Apr 16, 2013 at 12:28 PM

        somekat, you’re mostly a moron. I’m marrying a teacher, and to say that she works a 10 month job leaves out some important facts. For those 10 months, my fiancee puts in 10-12 hour days, 6-7 days per week. Outside of classroom time, she plans innovative lessons, grades endless papers, and takes courses to train her on how to be a better teacher, how to utilize technology in her classroom, and on the newest information in the subjects she teaches. Most of her co-workers who have been working for much longer tell her that life will get easier – she might someday be able to get away with taking weekends off. If you don’t understand that, you probably have never met a teacher outside of the classroom (and that would make sense – they tend not to have a lot of time to socialize). She works more in those 10 months school is in session than I do in a year at my full time (and then some) job.

    • American of African Descent - Apr 15, 2013 at 4:33 PM

      I absolutely agree: it’s an indictment of our social values.

      People will spend hundreds of dollars — in terms of tickets, parking, and food — to go to a game with their family. They will spend hundreds of dollars to buy specific television packages to watch their favorite team. They will spend hundreds of dollars on MLB merchandise. But float a proposal to raise property taxes to increase funding for education, and those same people will throw a fit.

  11. ryand17 - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:26 AM

    Doesn’t completely relate to the story but I read two articles this morning that blew me away. The top 25 hedge fund managers last year raked in 14 Billion in PROFIT while the entire digital music industry sold 4 Billion dollars in Revenue. Talk about skimming profits vs actually creating value. At least these baseball players perform the exact service that we’re looking for.

  12. manute - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:27 AM

    OK, this is nonsense, and he’s most likely a troll.

    However, hero worship of athletes by adults *is* a bit unseemly. Not to go all Bronx Tale, but there is a line between loving the game and rooting for your team, on the one hand, and idolizing individual ball players. Many adults tend to cross this line, and it’s kind of creepy.

    • zzalapski - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:37 AM

      Reminds me of a column Bill Simmons wrote about meeting his boyhood idol, Fred Lynn. Whatever one’s issues with him may be, this was a good column in and of itself.

  13. chc4 - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:34 AM

    Craig — what exactly does this line mean…

    ” It’s concerning because a lot of these people are making money that is in no way connected to the value or income they generate.”

    According to who….you? The beauty of the free market is you get paid what you are worth. Whether Craig thinks someone is worth it or not is subjective and irrelevant. Generally, people not worth their salary get fired or demoted. For the most part highly paid individuals earn it despite what some quacks might have you believe.

    • oldpaddy - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:51 AM

      Don’t piss on old baldys soap box.

    • Joe - Apr 15, 2013 at 12:28 PM

      “The beauty of the free market…”

      What is this purple unicorn of which you speak? What we have are rigged markets, rigged in favor of people who make lots and lots of money selling artificially inflated assets and then receiving bailouts when the pyramid schemes inevitably crash. Yeah, regular people working regular jobs get fired. Corporate bigwigs get million dollar severance packages, or, better yet, bonuses for fucking up. Was 2008 that long ago?

    • ryand17 - Apr 15, 2013 at 12:31 PM

      While Craig sometimes goes off on soap boxes, his rationale here is accurate and clearly explained. Whatever textbook you read that described a free market is not the one we have in reality. The market for education and opportunity is not free, in that acceptance in both markets greatly favors those with existing connection and wealth. Also, I think in low paying jobs, people who underperform actually do get fired. The problem is that in the 60k + jobs, especially in big companies, poor performers do a good job hiding and finding one silly niche that their poorly trained manager (aka guy who used to perform well and then got promoted to “manager” as if prior skills magically carry over) overvalue. Don’t kid yourself that 360 evaluations in power corporations get rid of poor performers.

      • chc4 - Apr 15, 2013 at 6:19 PM

        Not the Fortune 500 company I work for. Those making $200k+ damn well earn it. I’ve seen a bunch of them that don’t get the boot.

        Education isn’t free. Should it be? Should everything be free? Hell no. Programs exist for those that can’t afford to pay cash. All this “all non-rich folks are victims” crap is so weak. But you, Joe and Craig are all in. Not everyone in society can make $50k+.

  14. buffalomafia - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:44 AM

    Why don’t you write a thesis next time?!

  15. captainwisdom8888 - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:52 AM

    If you consider yourself a TRUE fan of a particular team, than 1 player isn’t going to derail that entirely. Apparently this man’s fan roots were not dug in deep enough to withstand a hefty contract for the best pitcher in baseball….just plain stupid.

  16. sdelmonte - Apr 15, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    I know I will never go to a game where John Corzine is pitching.

  17. aiede - Apr 15, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    Inane original article, but it did remind me of a great Chris Rock bit on the difference between riches and wealth: “Shaq is rich. The man who signs Shaq’s paycheck is wealthy.”

    Rich athletes are a sign of income and class mobility. This is a good thing, not a bad thing.

    • jlovenotjlo - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:13 PM

      *The white man

      is the proper quote, haha.

  18. HPMS Community - Apr 15, 2013 at 12:33 PM

    Tax lawyers argue in court?

  19. rbj1 - Apr 15, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    “Most of those guys are set for life”

    Which is precious few. Most professional baseball players wash out in the low minor leagues.

    I like these $200 million contracts in baseball. It gives kids who are good at athletics an incentive to specialize in baseball. Which improves the quality of the game.

  20. voteforno6 - Apr 15, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    This isn’t hard to figure out. Salaries have gone up in baseball because there’s more money in the game.

    • 18thstreet - Apr 15, 2013 at 1:54 PM

      There’s a lot more money in college basketball. It hasn’t helped the players earn more money there.

      What changed is that there’s more money, and there’s a union to make sure labor gets its share of it.

  21. kotapug - Apr 15, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    X2 on the teachers they work under 200 days a year. So do the math that’s over $28 an hr and you have so many programs that are set up to do the teaching for you (the majority of the teachers ) so yes they get paid plenty for the work they put in or for the most part dont.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Apr 15, 2013 at 2:00 PM

      X2 on the teachers they work under 200 days a year.

      No, most of them don’t. Considering the rest of your comments you don’t know anyone who’s actually a teacher, do you? Most tend to work far longer hours than the rest of us, so when you average it out, they tend to work longer during the year than the rest even with all the vacation.

      And almost none of us have to deal with the aggravation that they have to. There’s not a single annual salary amount short of 7 figures that would get me to trade jobs with my wife or her friends (teachers for 7+ years).

    • bougin89 - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:23 PM

      Fail. It’s clear you don’t know much about this topic.

  22. hisgirlgotburrelled - Apr 15, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    “The income gap between ballplayers and their fans closely resembles the rising gap between CEOs and their employees, which grew during the same period from roughly 25-to-1 to 380-to-1”

    This is just non-sense. Verlander IS an employee! He’s not the boss of fans. What does his salary have to do with those of the fans? If his argument is that CEOs make too much money in comparison to employees then he should be fking ecstatic about Verlander’s pay in comparison to the Tiger’s owner.

  23. amhendrick - Apr 15, 2013 at 1:25 PM

    “A baseball player making a lot of money is not an indictment of the American financial system.”

    Yes, it is. That there are many other worse examples of the excesses of our system does not mean that there’s nothing wrong with baseball salaries.

    “It’s concerning because a lot of these people are making money that is in no way connected to the value or income they generate.”

    How much of Verlander’s income is a result of people consciously deciding “I’ll pay $x.xx to watch him pitch?” I mean this as a sincere question. It seems that a lot of people are being forced to pay for baseball whether they want to or not, though taxpayer-financed stadiums, tax deductions for luxury boxes, and cable company fees for sports channels that most people don’t watch.

    • hisgirlgotburrelled - Apr 15, 2013 at 2:26 PM

      “How much of Verlander’s income is a result of people consciously deciding “I’ll pay $x.xx to watch him pitch?””

      All of it???

      Bad teams don’t sell out and sell merchandise. Teams with Cy Young/MVP pitchers do. People consciously buy a Verlander jersey because he’s awesome. People buy tickets specifically to see him pitch. Cable company’s outbid others for the right to broadcast games with great players like him. He’s not the sole reason the Detroit Tigers make money, but he’s a huge part of it, and he absolutely deserves to get a chunk of that revenue he helps generate.

  24. hockeyflow33 - Apr 15, 2013 at 1:51 PM

    I’m jealous, waaaaah

    • Old Gator - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:07 PM

      Calm down, calm down. I have friends who can arrange to have you arrested for tax evasion, just like someone rich enough for the risk to be worth it.

  25. Old Gator - Apr 15, 2013 at 2:36 PM

    Rich baseball players may not be an indictment of the system, but when the revolution comes they will be the second ones to be taken out and shot – just after everyone who has ever appeared on American Idol, Dancing with the Stars or a vampire-based television series.

    • zzalapski - Apr 15, 2013 at 2:43 PM

      You leave Buffy alone!

      • Old Gator - Apr 15, 2013 at 11:06 PM

        Uh-oh, a Whedonversal…..

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