July 28, 2008


All-Stars and Layoffs (BUZZ BISSINGER, 7/26/08, NY Times)

I am not sure why — maybe it was those peanuts going down like pellets of lead. But I found it difficult to square the finances of what was taking place here, All-Stars from the American and National Leagues collectively collecting $392 million in salaries for the 2008 season, juxtaposed with employees from the once-mythic carmaker about to get vivisected.

The news out of General Motors the same day as the game had been particularly grim, symbolically marking the end of the American economic empire as we know it. There was talk, so unimaginable as to be surreal given its once-seeming impregnability, that G.M. would eventually have to file for bankruptcy. Among the announced cutbacks: a 20 percent reduction in salaried-worker costs, elimination of health care for older white-collar retirees, and a suspension of the company’s annual stock dividend of $1 a share.

But it was what 74-year-old William Parker told The Times that got to me the most. He has cancer, and he had just been placed on a new drug costing $2,700 a month; with a leaner and meaner G.M. eager to satisfy the warlords of Wall Street, the company would now pay only $50 of what Mr. Parker so desperately needed. “I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do,” he told a reporter. “I’m fighting for my life here.” [...]

There were 64 players represented on American and National League rosters in the All-Star Game. For the American League, the aggregate 2008 salaries for its 32 players was about $215 million, or nearly $7 million a player, based on a database compiled by USA Today. For the National League roster the figure was slightly less, approximately $177 million, or $5.5 million per player. Taken together, the total figure in salaries comes in just shy of $400 million this season, or the rough equivalent of about 2,500 union autoworker jobs at G.M if you include wages and benefits.

“I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. I’m fighting for my life here.”

At the top is Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who even without the benefit of Madonna’s company will make $28 million this season and could pay the yearly $32,400 cost of Mr. Parker’s cancer drug without even knowing the money was gone. The same goes for Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, who has a 2008 salary of $21.6 million. Or Boston Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez at $18.9 million, or Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners at $17.1 million, or Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano at $16 million, or Houston Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada at $14.8 million, or New York Mets reliever Billy Wagner at what I suppose is a lowly $10.5 million. On the other hand, given the 72 innings of work he has averaged over the past three seasons, that does come out to $145,833 an inning.

Take the salaries of these players and apply a 10 percent cut — half of what is being lopped off at G.M. — and you could easily save the 80 jobs that are being lost at The Chicago Tribune for a savings of $9 million. It’s a pie-in-the-sky suggestion.

Absolutely, if you pay me $100k a year I'll pretend to read the Trib.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 28, 2008 12:51 PM

Um, until the 70's, weren't many of them? I don't remember baseball being a full-time job until then for all but the most well-paid.

Posted by: Rick T. at July 28, 2008 1:59 PM

So, Buzz is proposing a confiscation of a percentage of ballplayer salaries to be used to save his industry?

Even more clownish than usual for the Times.

Posted by: Jorge Curioso at July 28, 2008 2:14 PM

So Mr. Bissinger thinks he knows best how to spend other people's money, and knows that everything would be so much better if his plans to were implemented. How original.

Posted by: b at July 28, 2008 2:21 PM

This will make Buzz even crazier, confiscate a percentage of those ballplayer's salaries and give them to bloggers. He would blow all of his gaskets. If you don't know Buzz's battle with the sports blog, Deadspin, then run "Buzz Bissinger and Deadspin" in Dogpile and read all about it.

Buzz has gone off the deep end. He recently wrote an article for the online NYT about his trip with his two young children to Omaha and the College World Series. He actually got into a fight (a physical fight, not just a verbal fight) with security while his two young boys were with him. What kind of father lets his behavior esclate to the point where he gets into a physical altercation in the presence of his own children? What a kook.

Posted by: pchuck at July 28, 2008 3:14 PM

I’m not sure I understand the point of his article…he’s dismayed that ballplayers make so much, but also acknowledges that they have the right to make as much as they can. So what’s his solution? That they voluntarily take less? That wouldn’t help his retired UAW guy…the money would just stay in the owner’s pocket….That the players give more voluntarily? He hints at that, but doesn’t expressly make the plea….

Instead, the article just comes off as he’s sad because these guys make so much…

BTW, I don’t know what he got for the movie and TV rights to “Friday Night Lights”, but my guess is it wasn’t chump change….did he take 10 or 20% of that and give it to deserving newspaper writers or airline pilots or whoever he’s feeling sorry for?

Last point: the phenomena he’s moaning about isn’t new, even if it’s fairly new for the sports industry: During the Depression (a REAL economic crisis, with 25% unemployment and millions foreclosed on), movie stars like Bing Crosby and Gary Cooper and Clark Gable and Mae West were making upwards of $500,000 (and Bing, who had record sales and a radio show, too, was probably more in the $750k-$1 million range) while working people made $1000 - $2000/year….the ratio is about the same….the Republic didn’t collapse then, and it’s not going to collapse now because a tiny band of entertainers make a huge multiple over the rest of us….

Posted by: Foos at July 28, 2008 3:25 PM

"Though he started life working for four dollars a day, [Jack] Dempsey earned a fortune through boxing. He estimated that his total income from his fights, the movie rights to bouts, refereeing, lectures, and radio appearances amounted to more than $10 million."

Posted by: Benny at July 28, 2008 3:56 PM


Wow, I've heard nothing about that, so I guess security did not throw him in the slammer. Do you have the link to the story?

I read Friday Night Lights and, while I thought it was a very good book and it made some excellent points, I remember wondering just how much it was embellished. Repeated experience has taught me to be very skeptical of reporters pursuing stories with some kind of "social conscience" moral to them.

OJ posted something a while back about a rude comment Bissinger made to Ken Griffey Jr. when Griffey wouldn't stop a private conversation just to give him an interview. He sounds at least as egotistical as the guys he covers.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 28, 2008 10:21 PM
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