As I’ve written before, in my experience, baseball fans have very short memories. As a result, even though the MLB lockout is over and we’re about to start having fun again with baseball, let’s never forget exactly who MLB owners are. (Also as I’ve written before, MLB owners showed us who they were right around the end of the Civil War – we should have believed them then.) For every time you were told during the most recent lockout that the millionaire players were greedy and they should be grateful for getting paid to play a kids game, I want you to consider the following three quick stories:
Let’s talk about the Baltimore Orioles. In 2014, the Orioles – despite playing in the same division as Boston, New York, and Tampa Bay – won the American League East. They had a payroll of $122 million dollars which was almost half of their revenue that year. The franchise was worth $620 million dollars.
Flash forward to today: The franchise has more than doubled in value since 2014 and is currently worth $1.4 billion while the team’s payroll has been cut by 75 percent, down to $30 million. On the field, they are considered a bad joke.
Let’s talk about the Pittsburgh Pirates and their lovely owner, Bob Nutting. In the three seasons from 2013 through 2015, the Pirates payroll was $99 million, $80 million, and $104 million respectively. Pittsburgh fans saw their team in the postseason all three of those years, after a two-decade drought from the big dance. The team’s success between the lines certainly paid off for Nutting and his partners as the Pirates’ franchise value almost doubled over those three seasons, going from $479 million in ’13 to $900 million in ’15.
Since then, their value has gone up another 30 percent and currently stands at $1.3 billion. Meanwhile, their payroll has been slashed by two-thirds, currently standing at $35 million. They also are a laughingstock between the lines.
Let’s move on to the Forest City, the Cleveland Guardians, and their owners – the sports franchise killing Dolans. In 2014 the franchise was worth $570 million dollars and their player payroll was $73 million dollars. Then starting in 2015, payroll went from $59 million to $94 million to $114 million, to $143 million, and to $151 million over the next five seasons. Again, the investment apparently paid off as the team made it to Game 7 in the World Series in ’16, won 102 games and reached the ALDS in ’17, and then reached the ALDS again in ’18.
In the eight years since 2014, the Cleveland franchise has more than doubled and is currently worth $1.16 billion. The team’s payroll? It currently stands at $35 million.
I could go on listing other teams that go out of their way to embarrass themselves by saying they’re “really trying to win games…really…”. The Yankees are the poster children of that group who love to point out how much money they spend without acknowledging that their payroll has stayed the same for more or less a decade and a half while team revenues and franchise value have tripled. Unfortunately, we’re running out of time today, so let’s wrap it up with the bottom line:
MLB has created a system for the owners that allows them to turn a profit without putting a good product on the field for the fans, or even trying to put a good product on the field for their fans. This has created less parity and competitive balance as we know a good chunk of the teams aren’t even trying as April begins because they’ve come out and said “We’re not trying.” This is even worse when you consider that the overwhelming majority of the franchises are the beneficiaries of taxpayer-funded infrastructure – logic would dictate they should have to pay us back with a good product as a return on our investment.
That is what I need you to remember when you’re told players are greedy. Players are the ones we pay to watch. Players have been getting less and less of that money over the years. You say you don’t care about the players’ wallets and financial health? That’s cool – but you should care about the billionaires’ wallets which are getting bigger and bigger (thanks to you). At least players give us a return on our financial and emotional investment – owners give us less while taking more.
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