I am not much of a sports fan, but I do rather enjoy watching the game of baseball—although I would rather watch the minor leagues. But one argument I get into with sports fans (and non-fans) is the supposedly unreasonable player salaries. This is nonsense. And I take particular umbrage at the fact that people almost never complain about the stratospheric profits made by the owners in the congressionally mandated professional sports monoploies. The truth of the matter is that if a pitcher is paid $10 million, it is because the owners believe (quite rightly) that he adds more than that to the profits of the franchise. What’s more, there is a long history in professional sports (Especially baseball!) of owners depriving players of their rightful participation in the profits they create.
I had hoped such nonsense was limited to cocktail parties, but alas, no. Over at Slate, Edward McClelland wrote, The Other Kind of Moneyball. It is a feature length article about how McClelland doesn’t think that Justin Verlander is worth all the money that the Detroit Tigers are paying him. Apparently, we are supposed to care that he has now changed his alliance to the Washington Nationals. (To show you were my head is at: I originally typed, “Washington Senators”!)
Luckily, the voice of reason came thundering back from McClelland’s Slate colleague Matt Yglesias, who asks the sensible question, What’s the Alternative To Sky-High Salaries for Baseball Players? His main point is my own: if you limit player salaries, it won’t change the game; it will just make the owners even more wealthy. Maybe players are too rich, but they aren’t nearly as rich as the owners. And the owners do what for their money? Oh, that’s right! Nothing.
Yglesias points out something else that I haven’t spent much time thinking about: the closed nature of professional sports in the United States. Perhaps you’ve noticed how bizarre the soccer leagues are in other countries: it is hard for foreigners to know what’s going on. That’s because they have free markets in the leagues over there. Try starting a new professional baseball league in America: you can’t do it. MLB is protected against competition. If people want to start complaining about this, I’ll be on board. And the greater competition would likely increase the number of players making a living and decrease the highest salaries. Regardless, if we just focus on limiting salaries, all that changes is that the players make less and the owners more.