Who wants to subsidize a billionaire?by John Brattain
February 13, 2008
Have you ever wondered why players seem so disloyal? A lot of it is because we read so many editorials about ‘disloyal, greedy players’ or ‘when is enough, enough?’ and how ‘it’s always about the money’ etc.
Why don’t we examine this issue from another point of view?
To begin with, in MLB today team ownership is only for the incredibly wealthy. In many cases, a team is simply part of a larger portfolio.
Now, let’s look at the issue using the Johan Santana trade/new contract as a template. Why? Well, Jim Pohlad (related obviously to multi-billionaire Twins owner Carl Pohlad) made a statement recently and I get livid whenever I dwell on it:
“There's loyalty and wanting to stay in Minnesota, and it varies from player to player.”
As you know, the Twins are finally to receive a new stadium largely financed by taxes. Let’s break down what has happened with the Twins since the strike of 1994-1995:
- Revenue sharing brought into the game, Twins receive increasing amounts of it since post-strike collective bargaining agreements were ratified. The club has easily received this subsidy to the tune of nine digits.
- New stadium will bring massive new revenue streams to the Twins in the form of luxury suites, premium seating and other amenities.
- In addition, the Twins will receive another windfall since the new stadium will allow the team to charge more for everything from tickets to hot dogs since demand for tickets will result in an increase in price.
- Due to the new moneymaking potential of the stadium, the value of the Minnesota Twins will increase substantially.
- Between revenue sharing, public money devoted to the new park, and increase in franchise value Carl Pohlad may well be close to a billion dollars better off than he was not long ago.
The Twins are ‘in the money’ and obscenely so. What has the Pohlad family done to warrant this jackpot? Nothing positive to speak of—they threatened the team and fans repeatedly for a new park when the old one was less than 15 years old.
Therefore, multi-billionaire gets a gargantuan windfall for doing basically nothing.
On March 13, 1979 in Tovar, Venezuela, Jesus and Yasmile Santana said hello to a new addition to their family. This would be their second of five children they would ultimately have; they named the boy Johan. Johan showed an aptitude for baseball and in 1995, he was signed by the Houston Astros as an amateur free agent. In 1999, he was tabbed by the Florida Marlins in the annual Rule 5 draft and they, in turn, traded him to the Minnesota Twins.
Most players are optioned frequently to the minor leagues—this is done sometimes to give a player more seasoning, but it’s also used as a device to slow a player’s service clock to qualify for arbitration and free agency rights.
In 2004, Santana’s first full year as a starting pitcher he won the AL Cy Young Award. His efforts helped the Twins win their third AL Central crown (he pitched in the playoffs in each of the two previous years).
He made $1.6 million that year. Two years later, he was paid $8.75 million while copping the pitcher’s ‘Triple Crown’ and winning his second Cy Young. With the expiration of the four-year $39.75 million contract signed in February 2005 at the end of the 2008 season—Santana could, after 14 years in professional baseball, become a major league free agent for the first time.
After four postseasons and two Cy Youngs, all of which made tons of money for the Pohlad family, Santana, could, with one more year’s work, reap the fruits of his labor and do what all too many major leaguers never do and hit the open market.
It was this set of circumstances caused that Jim Pohlad to utter the statement: “There's loyalty and wanting to stay in Minnesota, and it varies from player to player.” What did Pohlad mean by this? In all practical terms in meant that Santana’s loyalty should translate into accepting less money than he is worth in baseball’s marketplace.
If Santana accepted this route, what would happen in the grand scheme of things—who benefits? Will the savings cause prices to watch Twins games to go down?
Will it reduce the costs of going to games in the new park?
Will your cable/satellite package that carries Twins games go down?
Will the extra money be ploughed back into the roster?
Possible, but the Pohlad family’s track record indicates otherwise.
What then happens to the money Santana forgoes?
It goes right back into the pockets of the Pohlad family.
What the Pohlads are saying in effect is that the loyalty means that a kid from Venezuela who worked at his profession for 14 years to get to this point in his life should subsidize one of the wealthiest men in one of the richest countries on the planet.
‘What about the fans?’ you may ask.
Let’s be honest here. There will come a point in Santana’s career when age, injury or both will slow his fastball and cause his breaking pitches to flatten. He will get lit up like a Christmas tree. He will lose games—possibly important ones. Will the fans rally to his side? Insist that he be paid top dollar and put in the game on a regular basis? Is there some kid in Triple-A or toiling in the bullpen that reminds folks of a younger Santana? Will fans clamor for Santana to keep his job and keep the kid in Triple-A/the bullpen?
No, we’ll be writing on our websites and blogs that it’s time for him to go, that we want the other guy. When Santana was on top we wanted him to show loyalty to us—when he is at the bottom we want him gone. We know, he knows it and the Pohlad family knows it.
We see that all loyalty will accomplish is make the owner wealthier. He’ll sit up in his owner’s box with the player’s discount sitting snugly in his bank account while he chuckles at how a little media manipulation and misusing the word ‘loyalty’ gave him yet more free money. He is secure in the knowledge that loyalty is expected from the player and not the owner. In Santana’s case the Pohlads threatened to take the fan’s team away, offered the team up for contraction, made close to a billion dollars without lifting a finger and were all too willing to let another team pay Santana what he is worth.
All the while people think that Santana should prove his loyalty by subsidizing this multi-billionaire with no loyalty to Minnesota Twins fans. Don’t forget, the fans will have to pay more to watch their favorite team in a facility that they largely paid for.
This is the sick sort of brainwashing team owners perform on us through the media. They think that a player has played for well over a decade professionally. He’s endured the lows, the doubts, the long bus rides, the aches and pains while working his butt off all to be the very best at what he does. The team employing him will use every device the collective bargaining agreement allows to postpone the day the player qualifies for salary arbitration and free agency. He watches players performing half as well as him and get paid many times over what he earns.
The player survives all this, he avoids the attrition that happens to so many and makes the point in his career where he can see what his skills honed through many years of hard work is worth—and what happens?
He has to endure what he hears on the radio, in print and on the web about how he should show a little loyalty to the very fans who will one day reject him and subsidize some of the richest men in the country.
I don’t think so.
Suppose we know our boss owns a yacht, a fancy cottage on a lake, a mansion, a fleet of expensive cars, all the technical goodies that life has to offer. You’ve given a lot of years of hard service for his company--you know that you’ve been denied promotions due to office politics. One day you become aware of a job opportunity that offers you a substantial raise. He calls you into his office to ask you to turn down the offer, offering you a tiny raise and asks that you show a little loyalty the company, your co-workers and the firm’s customers. He implies his main reason for doing so is that he wants to pay you less simply so he can have more—how would you react in such a scenario?
Well, that’s how our cries for loyalty sound to those in the game. It’s easy to say that they make enough money that they should be willing to accept less. It’s not about the money—it’s about the principle and chances are good major league free agents know in the long run that no loyalty will be shown them, so why subsidize a billionaire?
Our good friend, and THT stalwart, John Brattain passed away on March 24, 2009. John was a prolific writer, whose work can also be read at Sympatico/MSN Sports and Baseball Digest Daily. John's work was also featured at USA Today, MLBtalk, ESPN Insider, Baseball Prospectus, The Baseball Analysts and The Baseball Journals. Never afraid to express himself in any medium, he was also a frequent radio speaker.