Professional athletes make a lot of money. It’s not uncommon to hear about multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts, and the lavish endorsement deals that follow those contracts. The biggest sports stars in the world raked in more than $300 billion dollars between June 2016, and June 2017. Cristiano Ronaldo, a forward for the Spanish football (soccer) club Real Madrid, earned $93 million dollars last year between salary, endorsements and licensing fees. Baseball’s Clayton Kershaw will take home $33 million this season, thanks to a $215 million contract he signed in 2014. That’s roughly a million dollars every time he pitches, or in layman’s terms… $10,000 every time he throws the ball. RELAX, that doesn’t include warm-up pitches. BUT IT’S A KIDS GAME, you say. And you’re right, it is.
But it’s not that simple. Professional athletes aren’t paid commensurate to the amount of effort they’re putting in. They’re not paid commensurate to the number of widgets they’re producing. They’re not paid commensurate to the number of hours they’re working. Professional athletes are being paid based on the numbers of dollars they are generating, which stems from wins, hits, stolen bases, vitality, and name recognition. Major League Baseball brought in $10 billion dollars last year. If there were no players on the field, Major League Baseball wouldn’t have made nearly that much. Just ask the 1972 Major League Baseball strike.
It’s easy to throw your hands up at those kinds of numbers, particularly if you’re trading a pound of flesh for a paycheck. I have 3 kids, and until recently a stay-at-home wife, so I understand. I literally have 2 pairs of pants. And the fact that these guys go to a ballpark every day, play a game, and go home… well that doesn’t help. No one’s laying brick out there on the diamond. I started my day with 25 items on my to-do list. A ballplayer?
- Play Baseball Game at 7pm.
But, again, it’s not that simple. Today’s baseball player actually spends the majority of their day at the ballpark. For a 7pm game, a player will arrive late morning. There are individual workouts to get in, team workouts, team meetings, paperwork, video work, team meal, and pre-game warm-ups. The bigger guys? The one’s earning the millions of dollars? Appearances, interviews, commercial shoots, business meetings. And that 6 month baseball season? It’s actually a 10 month baseball season, when you factor in off-season training, Fall Ball, Spring Training and more. Now, I know that sounds like a first-world problem (because it literally is), but repeat that day after day after day and you start to get a sense of the monotony. The weight of it all. The stress.
And let’s talk about the stress. Most every player you see on the field was a prodigy from a young age. Tops in Little League, tops in travel ball, the star of their high school baseball team, and often times the quarterback on the football team the star forward on the basketball team and the classmate named most likely to everything. Their name was known in their town and their state, the one who was drafted or signed a letter of intent to attend a top college or university. If that player is a pitcher, he has the chance to prove himself every 5 days. Bad outing? Wait 5 days. The position players prove themselves every 10th at-bat. Strike out? Wait 9 at-bats. If you go 0-5 and get on a bus for a 10 hour road trip you’re carrying that frustration, that disappointment, and the perceived disappointment of an entire town, city, state. That’s a lot to carry.
Armed with this new information, let’s revisit Clayton Kershaw. When you factor in all of the time spent preparing for a game, add in travel time, and all of the sideshow business and entertainment meetings, Kershaw actually only makes about $5,000 per pitch. So REALLY NOT THAT MUCH. And when he does well, people LOVE HIM. But when he doesn’t do well, people hate him. And you can’t know what that’s like, or what that’s worth, unless you’ve been there. The moral of the story: don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his New Balance 2040’s (which retail at $350).
Mike Abramson is the Assistant General Manager for the Hartford Yard Goats MiLB team, Double-A Affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. You can follow him on Twitter at @YardGoatsAGM.