Stephen L. Carter: Baseball Players Are Not Overpaid

As for the theater: the owners have locked the players out after declaring a deadlock in the negotiation of a new collective agreement. Management and players are largely off-limits until the lockdown is over. But the first preseason games are not scheduled until the end of February; the season that counts will not begin until the end of March.

In short, there is a long time to negotiate a new deal before anything real is involved. That both parties understand this aspect of non-crisis helps explain why agents and owners alike have come together. rushed to finalize huge contracts for big stars in the days leading up to the shutdown.

After all, no matter what, the players are unlikely to end up losing the final settlement. In general, whether the interruptions were the result of player strikes or owner lockouts, the results were the same: in the words of economist Michael Haupert, “the players got the concessions they asked for and repelled the owners’ attempts to overthrow the previous player. earnings.

All of this brings us to the other problem: what sports journalist Will Leitch recently called “a strange contingent of fans” who are siding with baseball owners in the sport’s labor disputes. Leitch attributes this trend to the relative visibility of players. The owner is not there to take a third catch in the eighth inning with the green light in goal position.

I fear, however, that siding with baseball owners in labor disputes is a symptom, not a cause; the underlying problem is that millions of fans think player salaries are too high. (In the past, sports journalists have shown the same tendency to side with management. Recent work has even suggested that the negative media attention often garnered by players who are union activists reduces their chances of being. elected to Hall of Fame. Yes, sample size is small.)

Denouncing this sentiment nearly two decades ago, economist Alan Sanderson said he was puzzled by its persistence. Why don’t we complain, he asked, about the incomes of the biggest rock stars, actors or novelists?

Good question. Just before the shutdown, pitcher Max Scherzer signed a three-year contract with the New York Mets that will pay him an average of $ 40 million a year – the highest annual salary in baseball history. What a pricker. According to Forbes, Kylie Jenner earned almost 15 times that amount in 2020. Kanye West more than tripled it. As for novelists, James Patterson won $ 80 million; JK Rowling won $ 60 million. Overall, Forbes lists around fifty celebrities who have won more than Scherzer will win.

All without raising the anger of their fans.

One reason often suggested for this distinction is that fans can directly observe the value of a great movie or song – by appreciating it – as the player is judged by wins and losses. Another is that even now, fans view their relationships with players as more personal than those with a favorite author or actor.

A more intriguing possibility arises from the nature of contracts. In sport, as elsewhere, it is difficult for employers to obtain decent wages. A salary is based on an estimate of future productivity, but in baseball a lot of information is hidden. A 2009 study found that stars peaked on average two years later than other players; once past their peaks, they deteriorate more quickly.

Management is well aware of this trend, and compensates by signing stars but not other players on long-term contracts. Typically, these deals are deferred – either explicitly, with higher pay in recent years, or implicitly, through contracts that underpay stars near their prime and overpay them when they decline.

One of the reasons such a structure makes sense is that the deteriorating star could remain for several years more valuable to the team than what the Sabermetrists are calling a replacement level player. And even when that turns out to be wrong, the contract still could have been a good bet, as stars usually bring value to a team beyond the result on the pitch. (For example, higher attendance.)

Sitting in the stands, an angry fan might miss this nuance. In a radio call, he could complain that Mighty Casey is paid $ 25 million a year even though he doesn’t hit like he used to. What this fan might not remember is that Casey was making the same amount or maybe less when he smashed back and forth at a rate that was worth a lot more.

To further complicate the math, competing teams will pay a premium of around 40% on average for players they believe will bring them into postseason games. This apparent contradiction makes sense. The superstar may add more wins to a weaker club, but the smaller number of wins he adds to a stronger club may be enough to bring the team closer to the crown – and the crown adds tremendous value to the team.

None of this is to say the fans who support the management are wrong. It’s just a matter of noting that those who side with the owners should offer a better argument than the informal claim that the amazingly talented men on the pitch make too much money.

Stephen L. Carter is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a professor of law at Yale University and was a clerk to the United States Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall. Her novels include “The Emperor of Ocean Park” and her latest non-fiction book is “Invisible: The Forgotten Tale of the Black Lawyer Who Slaughtered America’s Mightiest Gangster.”

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