Blake Snell is a ballplayer for our times. When he leaves the house, he needs to wear a mask.
Last week, Snell, the Tampa Bay Rays star pitcher and 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner, became the symbol of player greed that baseball’s owners could have only hoped to invent, becoming a pariah to fans who believe players are overpaid.
Here’s what Snell said: “Bro, I’m risking my life. … If I’m going to play, I should be getting the money I signed to be getting paid. I should not be getting half of what I’m getting paid because the season’s cut in half, on top of a 33 percent cut of the half that’s already there — so I’m really getting, like, 25 percent. On top of that, it’s getting taxed. So imagine how much I’m actually making to play, you know what I’m saying?
“I’m just saying, it doesn’t make sense for me to lose all of that money and then go play. And then be on lockdown, not around my family, not around the people I love …”
Other than in the gratuitous use of the word “Bro,” Snell is right.
We are in danger of returning to the bad old days of sports-talk debate, wherein fans conclude that millionaire players are greedier than billionaire owners. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is advocating this view, predicting that owners could lose $4 billion if there is no season.
“Shaq is rich. The white guy who signs his checks is wealthy.”
Always lacking in logic, there are fresh problems with this mind-set during a pandemic:
Owners will be rich no matter what happens in the next two years. In fact, the only people benefiting financially during the pandemic are those rich enough to ride the stock market or capitalize on COVID-induced bargains. Jeff Bezos’ worth is skyrocketing. Snell’s salary, to an MLB owner, is no more than a rounding error.
Any owner can claim “losses” in any given year, but those “losses,” if real, will be offset by the dramatic increase in franchise value over time. Carl Pohlad bought the Twins for $36 million in 1984. The franchise is believed to be worth well more than $1 billion today.
The very owners who will benefit from players risking their health will not be asked to risk their health.
To understand the difference between a millionaire player and a billionaire owner, we need to refer to the work of the greatest economist of the past 50 years: Chris Rock.
Rock once said: “Shaq is rich. The white guy who signs his checks is wealthy.”
Successful professional athletes can become rich. None of them have achieved owner-level wealth.
Think of it this way: Alex Rodriguez made about half a billion dollars playing baseball.
He and fiancée Jennifer Lopez, who is probably worth more than A-Rod, have considered putting together a bid to buy the New York Mets.
All they needed to be taken seriously as prospective buyers was an alliance with a billionaire or two.
Rodriguez and Lopez are rich. To own a big-league team, you must be wealthy.
Snell’s contract calls for him to make $7 million for a full season. The players say they have already reached an agreement calling for prorated salaries this season, but owners disagree and are calling for players to accept a 50-50 revenue split. The players say that’s a salary cap.
And even if the players win out, Snell would wind up making about $3.5 million this season if he played. Take out taxes, including the extra taxes ballplayers pay when they perform in other states, and he might net $1.6 million.
Snell is weighing whether risking his health and possibly being quarantined from friends and family is worth what, for a quality ballplayer, will be a small portion of his career earnings.
For those of us who will never make $1.6 million in a year, his mind-set might be difficult to appreciate. But here’s a portion of his quote that did not receive enough attention:
“If I get the ’Rona, guess what happens with that? Oh, yeah, that stays — that’s in my body forever,” he said.
Athletes might be better equipped than the average citizen to survive COVID-19, but even if they survive, their lungs can be damaged for life.
They can also wind up quarantined in a hospital for weeks, anesthetized, with a large tube running down their throat.
Know of any owners willing to take a risk like that for $1.6 million?
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • email@example.com