OPINION – There was a time when I was a huge baseball fan.
I lived and breathed everything St. Louis Cardinals. When they came into the league, I immediately became a fan of the Angels and have had a fondness for them through a number of changes—from Los Angeles Angels to California Angels to Anaheim Angels to, now, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Going to the ballpark was a joy, a rite of boyhood. There was nothing like walking through the gates and seeing the emerald field spread with its clean, perfectly straight white lines and brick red infield dirt.
The crack of the bat, the sound of a fastball popping into a catcher’s mitt, the roar of the crowd as the ball sailed deep, deep, deep into the outfield and over the wall.
Of course, that was when it was still a game.
Like so many other things, baseball has become “business.” It’s all measured in dollars and cents instead of batting averages and ERAs.
That fact was driven home earlier this week when I read a piece about how Alex Rodriguez would make more than the entire Houston Astros team this season.
A-Rod will pull down $29 million. The Astros team will earn a collective $25 million.
The thing is, A-Rod may not even put on the uniform as he recovers from hip surgery.
Kevin Youkilis, the guy the Yankees signed to fill in while A-Rod recovers? He’ll pull down $12 million.
There was a time when pro baseball players made so little that they had to take on jobs during the offseason to make ends meet.
A rookie’s salary is $490,000. The average contract yields a little more than $3.2 million a season.
It’s all ridiculously out of whack, of course, especially when we compare those salaries with what our teachers are earning.
And, while it is true that a professional athlete has a much shorter career, they also have the advantage of being in the public eye and setting themselves up for high-paying careers after their playing days are over.
With so much at stake, it’s also easy to understand why guys like Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and so many others cheat the system by using steroids to beef up and be more competitive. The more home runs a hitter can post, the bigger bucks they rake in. The more strikeouts a pitcher can throw, the more trust fund money they can sock away. It’s all about the dollars.
Long ago, when I was a sportswriter for a major metro newspaper in Los Angeles, that inequity was driven home. I remember parking my crummy little Pontiac Ventura next to a row of BMWs and Mercedes as I rolled into the parking lot of The Forum to cover a hockey game. I can remember players grumbling about not getting credit for assisting on a goal because they had incentives built into their contracts that paid extra bucks for achieving certain levels in goals scored, assists, and coming out on top in the convoluted plus-minus stats. There were extra dollars for making the All-Star team, bonuses for leading the league in certain categories, and, of course, the money made from reaching the playoffs, not to mention the endorsements for helmets, sticks, and skates.
It’s more complicated today, of course, as even more dollars are placed on the table.
I don’t know who can afford to go to a baseball game these days. If you go to Yankee Stadium, for example, a ticket can cost you up to $200. Despite the outlandish prices, the stands always seem to be fairly packed.
Back in the day? I remember when as a kid, we’d go to the old Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, where tickets for seats in the bleachers were 75 cents for adults and 50 cents for kids.
It’s not just baseball. Try getting the family into an NFL, NBA, or NHL game for less than a week’s pay. Tickets for the gallery at a PGA event? Forget it.
I guess that’s why I’m not as fanatical about sports these days. There are just too many bad actors, too many over-priced athletes, too many greedy owners.
I mean, really, it’s to the point now that because of all the sex scandals, drug and booze afflictions, violence, fraud and greed, you don’t know whether to follow your favorite sports team or athlete in the sports pages or the police blotter.
It’s sort of like following politics.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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