Money is simple for small children because denominations don’t exist. If I have two moneys, that should be worth more than one money, regardless of the numbers printed thereon. I might understand that one says “20” and another says “1,” but I’m not sure why this matters. If anything, the coin moneys are shinier and heavier than the paper moneys, so they’re probably better. Besides, what good is money anyway? I can’t eat it or play with it. I’d rather have a Rainbocorns Sequin Surprise Egg, please. (Yes, that’s a real thing.)
The immensely rich folks in charge of baseball see us as no better than children. They believe we have little concept for vastness of their fortunes. Hell, they rely on it! Every time a front office type shoves some derivative of “financial flexibility” down your throat, it’s an insult to your intelligence. Allow me to demonstrate.
At 7:02 PM on a Saturday, the news broke that MLB revenue reached $10.7 billion in 2019. You may be inclined to gloss over such news. It’s easy to conflate denominations ending in -illion. After all, whether it starts with an m-, a b-, or a tr-, it’s more money than most of us will ever have anyway, so what’s the difference? If we can’t play in that sandbox, why should we care how much sand it holds?
Let’s try to contextualize just how much $10.7 billion really represents to you: a taxpayer. One way or another, your state government is funded by you and your neighbors. In spite of that, 13 states have a fiscal year budget less than $10.7 billion. Think about that. If you live in Iowa, Oklahoma, or one of 11 other states, your government has less money to spend on education, infrastructure, parks, emergency services, etc. than MLB makes in just one year.
It’s easy and convenient to wave it off— it’s not your money anyway— but as we’ve established, you’re a taxpayer. If you live near a baseball stadium— including minor leagues— your taxes most likely subsidize your baseball team, or at least its stadium. You probably receive no direct benefit from this tax giveaway, even if you support the team. All it buys you is the opportunity to go spend even more money on baseball close to home. The extent to which your hard-earned cash goes directly into the pockets of baseball’s wealthy elite will vary, depending on circumstance. Like it or not, you’re complicit in their $10.7 billion annual revenue, so it’s important that baseball spends its money wisely.
On the surface, there’s nothing wrong about MLB’s insanely high revenues if they’re spending it in good faith— reinvesting money into their communities and providing a high quality on-field product. We know that never happens, though. The Atlantic’s Rick Paulus explains:
Imagine a stadium as a giant drain. Money flows from the community into the stadium, where it whirls around for a bit, then funnels down some murky pipes, exiting far, far away. Some leaves with players, some with owners and ownership groups, some with the league itself, the headquarters of which are in New York. That last leakage is similar to when you shop at a corporate chain. “If you go to a local bar, that’s probably locally owned, and servers and bartenders are spending it locally, and that causes this ripple effect that doesn’t happen in sports,” says Victor Matheson, a professor of economics at Holy Cross University.
Sure, some of the money will stay local, thanks to the new economic activity that a stadium helps generate. That’s most likely if a new cluster of restaurants and sports bars sprouts up in an underused part of town around a new stadium. But even then, the economic impact can be limited. When new “stadium towns” are built, residents tend to spend their money in the new geographical location rather than another one around town.
No, rather than lifting communities, sports teams are a money pit into which we, the taxpayers, are all too happy to shovel. But hey, at least they’re trying their best win ballgames, right? Give us something to cheer about?
Well, four teams lost more than 100 games last year. No reasonable observer would argue that the Tigers, Royals, Orioles, or Marlins gave a damn about winning or invested appropriately in the team. Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, and Cleveland Indians are all trying to cut payroll. All have reached the World Series somewhat recently. Despite the enormous windfall they enjoy, Kris Bryant, Mookie Betts, and Francisco Lindor are all on the trading block. You see, these teams just “can’t afford” their best players.
Hell, it’s not even their best players they “can’t” retain. The Cubs let Eric Sogard walk away to a division rival. Sogard was a 2.6 fWAR player last season, and signed a one year, $4.5 million contract with a club option for 2021.
Eric Sogard to the Brewers, as reported by @Ken_Rosenthal. Cubs looked at him last season and now, again, wanted him this off-season, but goes to Mil. Cubs just can't add $$ until they subtract— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) December 18, 2019
Now, MLB took in $10.3 billion in revenue in 2018. That’s an absurdly high amount, but 2019 was $400 million more lucrative. That’s an additional $13.3 million per team more than they generated the year before! Using just this added newfound revenue, the Cubs could have signed two Eric Sogards, including the additional cost of the competitive balance tax.
That’s the insult. The Cubs are owned by the Ricketts— America’s 66th wealthiest family with a 2015 net worth of $4.5 billion (equal to the entire state budget of Delaware, or 1,000 Eric Sogards). Operating one of the sport’s most iconic brands, with revenue increasing roughly $13 million dollars per year, they want you to believe they can’t afford Sogard, let alone Kris Bryant! Fenway Sports Group is the third largest sports conglomerate in the world, whose initial investment of $700 million has increased in value by 843 percent, yet Mookie Betts might get dealt away this winter!
In fact, MLB insults us everywhere we look. Their desire to cut 42 minor league teams— and then threaten to walk away from MiLB altogether— is insulting. The looming, ever-increasing likelihood of a work stoppage— even though player salaries have basically stagnated in the wake of unfathomable profits— is insulting. Every taxpayer-funded stadium deal is insulting.
These are all insults, not just because they have a direct impact on us, but because MLB thinks we don’t realize how exceedingly rich they are. Their sandbox is the size of a beach, yet they tell you they’re running out of sand. You would never vote for legislators who would be so cavalier with your state budget, only to cry poverty. You shouldn’t accept it from MLB, either.
That’s not to say we should all stand up and walk out. If you love baseball, then keep loving baseball. This wonderful game is larger than the people who exploit it. Just know that they are lying to you and insulting you. For all of the magnificence of a close play at the plate or home run-saving catch, never stop demanding baseball’s stewards treat you, your money, and the game you love with appropriate respect.
This will be my last article for Beyond the Box Score. This site is a subsidiary of SB Nation, owned by Vox Media, which was valued at $1 billion in 2015. Vox recently made the decision to fire several underpaid writers en masse. This is in response to a well-intended, poorly-written California law limiting contractors to 35 articles per year before they must be hired as staff. Rather than comply with the law by paying hard-working writers decently, they decided to annihilate dozens of jobs.
I am not directly impacted by this decision. I don’t live in California or write for a California-based site, but I can no longer produce content for Vox’s benefit in good conscience. Writing twice per week and contributing some editorial work, I make $105 per month. That’s a rate of about $4/hour. I love writing analytically about baseball, and as this isn’t my main career or source of income, I don’t do it for the money. However, I can no longer reconcile writing for a billion dollar corporation who would rather eliminate valuable contributors than pay them fairly.
It has been an enormous honor to fill these pages. My colleagues here at Beyond the Box Score are incredibly talented writers and thinkers. More importantly, they are genuinely fantastic people. I’ll still read them everyday, and I’ll truly miss working with them.
I’m not sure exactly what’s next for me, but I’ll be able to look my children in the eye knowing that I’m doing what I believe is right. (Though I think they care more about the Rainbocorn Surprise Egg.) Thank you all for your audience and your interaction. It’s been a privilege.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. Tweets @depstein1983.