All-Stars and Layoffs

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 26, 2008 2:03 pm
A thought-provoking article in the NY Times on the massive disconnect between the lives of pro athletes and the fans who follow them. Very releavnt as I read comments like Monta Ellis was receiving ONLY 763,000 dollars a year until his new contract. Hands-up anyone on this board who has made that much money in a year. A little perspective may be in order...

The New York Times
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July 26, 2008
Op-Extra Guest Columnist | The Throwback
All-Stars and Layoffs
By BUZZ BISSINGER

As the clock pushed past midnight at Yankee Stadium last Tuesday, I surrendered. The All-Star Game was droning into its fourth hour, into the freaky ozone of what I feared would be infinity given the nobody-wants-to-score nature of the thing. I stopped paying attention. I brooded beyond the game of baseball.

I worried about how my son and I were going to get back to Philadelphia from the Bronx so he could work later that morning, which at the rate the game was plodding was going to mean the 3 a.m. train. I worried how that second bag of peanuts in the 11th inning would settle, given the already undeniable difficulties of the first bag in the fourth. But mostly I worried about General Motors.

I am not sure why — maybe it was those peanuts going down like pellets of lead. But I found it difficult to square the finances of what was taking place here, All-Stars from the American and National Leagues collectively collecting $392 million in salaries for the 2008 season, juxtaposed with employees from the once-mythic carmaker about to get vivisected.

The news out of General Motors the same day as the game had been particularly grim, symbolically marking the end of the American economic empire as we know it. There was talk, so unimaginable as to be surreal given its once-seeming impregnability, that G.M. would eventually have to file for bankruptcy. Among the announced cutbacks: a 20 percent reduction in salaried-worker costs, elimination of health care for older white-collar retirees, and a suspension of the company’s annual stock dividend of $1 a share.

But it was what 74-year-old William Parker told The Times that got to me the most. He has cancer, and he had just been placed on a new drug costing $2,700 a month; with a leaner and meaner G.M. eager to satisfy the warlords of Wall Street, the company would now pay only $50 of what Mr. Parker so desperately needed. “I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do,” he told a reporter. “I’m fighting for my life here.”

He isn’t the only one asking the very same question in the new America of vanquish. Hundreds of thousands are losing their homes through foreclosure because of the subprime mess. Housing prices are continuing to sink. The banking industry is in upheaval, writing off what some believe will be a trillion dollars in bad loans. The airline business is in upheaval. The newspaper business is in upheaval. American carmakers are in upheaval.

In May, the unemployment rate was 5.5 percent, up nationally a full percentage point from a year ago. The same month, in the sharpest rise in May in five years, employers cut 50 or more workers from their work force in 1,626 instances, what the Bureau of Labor Statistics bloodlessly referred to as “mass layoff actions.” And it seems likely that job losses will only accelerate into 2009.

But the tick of obscene salaries just keeps on ticking in professional sports, the one sector of the economy I know of, except for maybe Internet pornography, that still dances merrily along in the bubble of its isolation from the real world. As we try to figure out not just what is fundamentally wrong with the American economy but with America itself, look no further than what is being shelled out to the men who play with bats and balls roughly eight months out of the year (after all, they need their rest after such taxing work).

There were 64 players represented on American and National League rosters in the All-Star Game. For the American League, the aggregate 2008 salaries for its 32 players was about $215 million, or nearly $7 million a player, based on a database compiled by USA Today. For the National League roster the figure was slightly less, approximately $177 million, or $5.5 million per player. Taken together, the total figure in salaries comes in just shy of $400 million this season, or the rough equivalent of about 2,500 union autoworker jobs at G.M if you include wages and benefits.

“I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. I’m fighting for my life here.”

At the top is Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who even without the benefit of Madonna’s company will make $28 million this season and could pay the yearly $32,400 cost of Mr. Parker’s cancer drug without even knowing the money was gone. The same goes for Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, who has a 2008 salary of $21.6 million. Or Boston Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez at $18.9 million, or Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners at $17.1 million, or Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano at $16 million, or Houston Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada at $14.8 million, or New York Mets reliever Billy Wagner at what I suppose is a lowly $10.5 million. On the other hand, given the 72 innings of work he has averaged over the past three seasons, that does come out to $145,833 an inning.

Take the salaries of these players and apply a 10 percent cut — half of what is being lopped off at G.M. — and you could easily save the 80 jobs that are being lost at The Chicago Tribune for a savings of $9 million. It’s a pie-in-the-sky suggestion. The men with their bats and balls have a right to squeeze every nickel out of ownership they can get. Just as they have their own philanthropic foundations that range from the real (Derek Jeter has given hundreds of thousands) to the ridiculous (Rodriguez has given virtually nothing, according to documents from the Sports Philanthropy Project; Ramirez’s foundation, according to his own Web site, is still being formed, even though he’s been in the majors since 1993).

So I still believe Alex Rodriguez could live quite comfortably on $25.2 million a year instead of $28 million, as could Ramirez on $17 million instead of $18.9 million. So could all the rest who played in the All-Star Game, with more than enough bottles of top-notch Champagne to swig at the hottest clubs. On his reduced salary, Rodriguez could still share 84,000 bottles of the fine bubbly with Madonna, and Manny Ramirez would have 56,667 at his disposal.

It’s not going to happen of course. Baseball players are not in the business of saving other businesses, and we as fans are equally to blame with our insistence on keeping the beast in gold. Season tickets through the roof. Five dollars for hot dogs, three of which must go for the sogginess. Authentic uniform shirts upwards of $180. So far at least, we are still paying out. “Sports is one of the last things that people let go of,” Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College and an expert in the field of sports business, told me. “It is one of the things most deeply ingrained in our culture.”

“I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. I’m fighting for my life here.”

What is equally distressing, maybe even more so, is the size of the new contracts and contract extensions that are being handed out to the All-Stars smack in the midst of the country’s economic freefall. Philadelphia Phillies closer Brad Lidge, whom many thought was over the hill when he signed a one-year deal for this season for $6.35 million, was rewarded before the All-Star break with a three-year extension worth $37.5 million, plus incentives. Evan Longoria, barely a week after his first big league at-bat with the Tampa Devil Rays, signed a long-term deal that could be worth more than $44 million over nine years. Florida Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez, making a paltry $439,000 this season, still more than six times the median family income, was rewarded with a six-year $70 million contract. And it isn’t just baseball. Whereas the average salary in baseball is a little over $3 million, the average salary in the National Basketball Association is about $5.2 million, according to Zimbalist. It’s an amazing figure, made even more amazing by the fact that anyone who has been to a regular-season N.B.A. game can tell that too many players have little interest in actually playing for the first three and a half quarters. In the N.B.A., contract extensions and free agents signings once again reflect a world of sports separate and unequal from the one that tens of millions of Americans now dwell in as they grapple with the mortgage bill and the credit card bill and the health care bill. Like Elton Brand signing a five-year $79.75 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers even though he was hurt almost the entire season last year.

“I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. I’m fighting for my life here.”

And let’s not forget the N.F.L., with the New York Giants recently announcing that fans, in order to maintain their season tickets, will be charged $1,000 to $20,000. The Giants hope to sell seat licenses for each of the 78,448 seats in their new home, which is what you have to do, I guess, when the cost of your shining colossus is $1.6 billion.

In fact, the plethora of new stadium building in the New York area, including not just the new Giants home but the new Yankee Stadium ($1.3 billion) and the new home of the Mets ($850 million) were in place long before the real estate crash. If the owners knew what they know now, they might not be so obscenely lavish.

Zimbalist believes that professional sports, like other industries, will have little choice but to pare down if the economy continues to falter. “I think the salaries in all of the sports follow revenues,” he told me. “The longer and deeper the recession, the more sports industry will feel it.”

I for one can’t wait.

Because the joy of watching Alex or Derek or Manny at an All-Star Game just isn’t joy enough, not when they are making a combined $68.5 million in 2008 while so many of us are scared to death over what will happen next because something surely will.

“I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. I’m fighting for my life here.”

So ask Alex for help, Mr. Parker. Ask him to pay for the cost of your cancer drug so you can live. Ask Manny or any of the players at All-Star Game last week.

And then hear the laughter.
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 26, 2008 8:33 pm
I've been thinking that nba players and sport's stars in the U.S., in other parts of the world as well like Europe, get paid at a level that is not morally fair BUT this world we currently live in is not FAIR and so there is nothing wrong with what these sportsmen make.

In a perfrect world (or close to it) there would a much more even salary across the board for all peope, but greed always comes into people's thinking, as does, moreso, critical thinking about what job position is more important in a company, any company. Most would agree that a manager of a company has more responsibility and since he watches over more than one other worker, his performance and decision making count for more in that company. The manager position therefore makes more money than the blue collar worker. The opposite can be argued ofcourse, that the worker is the one that actually produces the product or service at its end stage at least and that that is the most important position in a company but that is not what the majority believe.

As far as sports people getting paid large amounts of money, it is the fans, the supporters of that sport, that allow that to happen. Nothing wrong with boycotting events of a sport, like going to nba games, for a year at least and voicing your reasons why. People won't do it though, because sports are a huge part of their entertainment, so the excessive salaries paid to sportsmen continues
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migya make the ring fall on ya
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 27, 2008 2:55 am
Nice post, Migya.

I think it is pretty sobering how we blithely accept the massive disparities, so CEOs make 400 times the average salary now, and the entertainment industry is no exception. Definitely food for thought...
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