Column: Buying horse seed – The latest highest paid athlete
As repulsive and obscene as it seems, the Texas Rangers baseball team agreed Monday to pay 25-year-old, seven-year veteran Alex Rodriguez $252 million for 10 years, thus making him the latest highest-paid athlete in professional sports history. It’s not really surprising. Baseball insiders have been expecting this for most of 2000. What can you say about Rodriguez, the game’s premier shortstop, an All-Star formerly of the Seattle Mariners and a Triple-Crown caliber player who hasn’t won baseball’s Triple-Crown or any Triple Crown, for that matter?
It’s disgusting, awful and terrible. It breeds contempt among players (speculative), it inhibits parity in the Majors where small-market teams struggle to remain financially viable, let alone contenders (can’t argue that one) and it sends messages to fans that it’s not whether you win or lose, or how you play the game, it’s what kind of contract you get (my impression). Or is it? A-Rod is just this week’s story. Baseball is not a game. It’s a business.
Winning sucks. At least that’s the way it looks. Players want more money when the win. They might even deserve it, but so what? Teams continue to be dismantled after winning championships (except the Yankees who only get stronger – think more along the lines of the Chicago Bulls and Florida Marlins.) It is true that other teams lure players away, but it doesn’t seem to be so much about winning as it is about ticket sales. Get the marquee players for a couple of years, boost attendance and maybe win some games. That’s not new. Winning is expensive. But are the Rangers concerned about winning?
Rodriguez has never led a team to the World Series, his Mariners team was a division runner-up and wild card in last season’s playoffs and he didn’t lead the league in a single category, although he was in the top 10 in numerous, including home runs (tied for fourth in American League with 41), runs batted in (tied for sixth in AL with 132) and was second in the AL in runs scored with 134. He is a career .309 batter and he is a 40 home run, 40 steal threat, at least he was before he tore a ligament in his left knee in the beginning of the 1999 season.
Don’t get me wrong. Those aren’t bad stats by any stretch. He’s a great player. The Mariners, however, have only made the playoffs in one of the last three years, even when they did have players like Ken Griffey Jr. and Cy Young winner Randy Johnson.
In fact, the entire Texas Ranger team sold for $250 million two years ago, $2 million less than the cost of A-Rod for 10 years (he has an escape clause at seven years). What are they getting if not a World Series champ? He’s handsome, charismatic and well-spoken. In other words, he’s marketable. People love A-Rod. People want to see A-Rod. The Rangers and their fans are buying a seemingly good guy with great talent who is still young and hungry. He is an all-around player whose scouting report looks like a rap sheet he’s so dangerous. It’s an investment. It’s the future. It’s like buying thoroughbred horse seed.
But what of it? Winning is swell, but money is sweeter. Point-shaving, the Chicago Black Sox, Art Schlesinger, Pete Rose attest to this. And the way it works, as in many companies, is the person who makes the most money for the team makes the most money. Get your stats, get your paycheck, give a few autographs and go home.
The dreamy Hollywood romanticism for baseball itself and the love of the game isn’t worth the gouge one gets for the price of a game ticket. Too bad. The goal of sports, at the professional echelon, and trickling down to the levels preceding it, is to rack up money, not wins. Because of this burst in salaries, ticket prices continue to increase. After all, there aren’t holes in the bleacher fences anymore. Haven’t been for awhile.
Andrew Becker is the sports editor at the Sierra Sun.
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