Need a recessionproof career? Try big league baseball

Posted April 16, 2010, at 8 p.m.

Recession, you say? What recession? Despite the hard times that are upon the land, Major League Baseball salaries continue to grow — up 1.8 percent, to an average of $3.3 million per player, according to The Associated Press.

Seventeen of the 30 big league teams raised their payrolls, headed, of course, by the thoroughly detested New York Yankees with a payroll of $206 million, followed by the Boston Red Sox at $162 million. Team owners claim to have tried to hold down their spending as best they could, but they proved to be no more adept at implementing this strange concept than has the U.S. Congress.

For the 10th consecutive year, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is the highest-paid player at $33 million per season, which is just $1.9 million less than the entire Pittsburgh Pirates team makes. The display screen of my little el-cheapo pocket calculator barely has enough space to punch in $33,000,000. But when I do so and divide it by 162, the number of games in the regular major league season, it tells me that A-Rod is paid $203,703.70 per game. Extra earnings for postseason playoff games are not included in the calculation.

It’s difficult to come up with the proper adjective to describe such a mind-boggling factoid, although I suppose most any laid-off blue-collar working stiff might choose “insane” or “obscene” for starters.

At least one overpaid major leaguer apparently agrees that the major league pay scale is out of touch with reality, which is one more player than I’ve ever heard of saying so previously. Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Billy Wagner, who makes $7 million a year — a mere $43,209.88 per game were he an everyday player — tells it like it is.

“We’ve always said we’re overpaid,” Wagner told AP writer Ronald Bloom. “There’s no way Billy Wagner should ever be paid $7 million. I mean, we’re playing baseball, for God’s sake. It’s hard to look at your father, who’s making $50,000, who has a chance to lose his job, and say, ‘Yeah, I deserve this.’ But if owners are crazy enough to pay you, what are you going to do? Turn it down?”

Not bloody likely. And the owners are, indeed, crazy enough to pay it, despite a drop of nearly 7 percent in attendance last year. So there you are.

Although unemployment is high and many baseball fans struggle to get by, players were reported to be thankful that their salaries have increased, which, all things considered, is big of them. “It means fans are coming to games. It means the union’s doing a good job for us,” Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton said. “The ballpark’s a good place for people to unwind. They can forget about their problems for a few hours. It’s a great stress relief.”

The multimillionaire ballplayer did not suggest how an unemployed fan might be able to buy a ticket to a ballgame, at today’s inflated prices, to help pay those average $3.3 million ballplayer salaries in exchange for receiving his ration of “stress relief.”

Not that Joe Fan in his bleachers seat wouldn’t have plenty of time to forget his problems, mind you. The Major League Baseball commissioner, unhappy with the slow pace of today’s ballgames, has ordered umpires to speed up things so the fans who can afford to buy tickets don’t start dropping dead of a combination of old age and boredom.

The three slowest teams in Major League Baseball, according to the commissioner’s office, are the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and the dawdling Los Angeles Dodgers. All three averaged more than three hours per game last season — 10 minutes over the major league norm.

In former Cleveland Indians manager Mike Hargrove’s playing days he was known as “The Human Rain Delay” for his time-consuming fidgety routine before every pitch while he was at bat. Clones of Hargrove populate major league ranks today, on the pitching mound as well as in the batter’s box, scratching and spitting their way through marathon games that might better be timed with a calendar than with a stop watch.

If baseball’s heroic attempt to rein in the dawdlers changes things much, there’s a small Snickers bar in it for you when next we meet.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.com.

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