Major League Baseball: It’s NOT Just Money

By Shlomo Maital


  These days, it seems like sport is no longer sport, but simply a branch of financial services and banking.  Tottenham sells its top striker, Welshman Gareth Bale, to Real Madrid, for a transfer fee slightly under a record (in order not to embarrass Christian Ronaldo, their top player and current record holder).  New TV contracts are signed for billions of dollars.  The BBC pays hundreds of millions of dollars just for the right to screen short excerpts of weekly Premier League contests.

    However —  writing in The New York Times,*  two diligent journalists graph ‘average salary of the top 10 hitters”  vs.  “number of hits this season”, for American major league baseball teams.  It turns out – no, sport is not just banking.  Top teams excel with miniscule budgets.   Here is the result: 

   *  Pittsburgh Pirates: I’ve been following the Pirates for over 60 years.  At times, it was ecstacy, as when they won the World Series.  But for the past 20 years, suffering.  Their streak?  Longest losing record (more losses than wins) for 20 seasons, not to mention never being close to making the playoffs.    But now?  They are in first place, just dealt for two strong hitters, and are making a strong run.  In a few days, they will top 81 wins and end that awful losing streak.  And their budget?  Only $3.09 m. average salary (for the top 10 hitters), vs. an average of 61 hits average this season. 

    *  Compare this with the New York Yankees (far behind, unlikely to make even a wild card playoff spot), with average salary of $14.7 m. !! and average hits,  only 50.  The Yankee numbers are terrible, partly because their spoiled super-star Alex Rodriguez, is under drug-use investigation, and has contributed nothing for his huge salary.

     * True, some teams spent fortunes, and do so wisely.  Boston Red Sox are in first, spend $7.58 m. average on their top hitters, who produce 80 hits;  Dodgers too are in first, spend $11.4 m. average, and get 73 hits average.

    * There are some real bargains out there.  Los Angeles Angel Mike Trout has 137 hits this season !   and is paid a measly $510,000.  Compare that with Albert Pujols, his team-mate, who makes $16 m. but is injured and may be out for the rest of the season.

     Yes, money still counts in sport.  Rich teams still tend to do far better than poor ones.  But fortunately, there are exceptions.  And it’s those exceptions that keep sport alive. 

* MIKE BOSTOCK and JOE WARDT, “For Yankees, Little Bang for Their Buck”,  NYT Times. Aug. 2/2013.