July 2, 2013

Maine Voices: Baseball has become a game only an accountant could love

Salaries, perks, 'the contract year' -- today's fans have too much fiscal minutia on their minds.

By Peter Bollen

BRIDGTON - I used to be a huge baseball fan.

Perhaps it's my age. I'm a baby boomer who started following the game of baseball in the 1950s. Over the past decade or so, for many of us fans in particular, the game has changed in ways that have taken the joy out of being a fan.

Not that we don't love the Red Sox, for example, but it's really not the same as in days past. The stakes are much larger now.

I point my finger to roughly the time the former Red Sox star Roger Clemens was traded away. This was a time when salaries started to become a public issue and debating point. Suddenly we, as fans, were part of the national debate over what players earned. The public now was included in the debate over comparable worth.

Why, I ask? Why are salaries our business as fans? This was clearly a ploy by the players' agents who need leverage in the sports "market."

In this fan's opinion, floating a contract salary to the public at large is wrong. It arouses emotions and places standards for athletes, agents, owners, fans and the public to argue or be jealous of what an individual earns compared to everything else.

Professional sports, after all, is a business. Why the emotions over salaries? You don't hear debates about Jack Nicholson getting a multimillion-dollar deal of a percentage of the take of his cameo "Batman" role. Or what percentage an actor makes on a film, whether successful or not. Why is this business different?

If an actor, singer or performer rakes in jillions for one public performance, no one questions this. But in baseball, in particular, the fans take note. It's a common theme on sports talk shows.

I remember the major flap over the projected trade for superstar Alex Rodriguez as a prime example. The media and fans were all concerned about salary caps, franchise luxury tax caps and what the liability of each team's terms and limitations are to make a trade viable.

This should be the purview of the owners, agents and the players. The public is now thrown into the controversy of salaries, perks, "the contract year" and what options the player might earn. This is totally disingenuous for the public, it seems to me.

In private industry, salaries and contracts are out of the public domain. Why in baseball is this thrown to the media? Leverage -- which gives the agent cachet and his client a perceived edge.

Now, for fans, there is the constant concern over draft picks, salary caps and salary concerns. It's become even more personal from the fans' end of it. The franchise owner determines salary and worth and sets the rates for fans' attendance. The player has his players union and his personal agent and is well-taken care of, thank you.

Today, we the public are involved in all of this. The goings-on in trades, the contract signings, the terms ("contract year"), the salaries offered, the perks, the extension incentives, the arbitration possibilities, ad nauseam. We now have to know that the franchise has to have a financial limit to avoid a luxury tax. We even hear that some veteran players have to be let go because of financial limitations or the huge contract that burdens the team.

Whew! Is that what being a fan of the game is all about? We used to follow the actual game.

I loved watching performance without the burden of dollar signs, contract issues and all the other financial details. Why should I, as a fan, have to be preoccupied with each individual player's personal financial concerns? I couldn't care less. They are all well compensated, after all.

I want to watch baseball in its purest form. I want to cheer and see the team perform without worrying about the owner's dilemma or the impending contract of each player. My joy is the game, not the minutia of the profit motives.

We've become much too involved in this high-stakes game of hero worship, avarice and even resentment in the economics of this business called pro baseball and pro sports.

We still have choices. We can treat this as an obsession, or we can reject the hype and just follow the game as interested fans. Just take me out to the ballgame and buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack and I'm satisfied. I follow the game for old-fashioned reasons -- the love of the game.

Peter Bollen is a resident of Bridgton.

 

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