My brother-in-law took me to my first big league baseball game. The A’s played the Red Sox at Fenway Park and Fred Lynn made a fine catch in the triangle right below our seats.
To give me this memory, my brother-in-law endured a two-hour drive with an 8-year old kid who kept shouting, “Sign ahead,” at every posted speed limit because his mom had warned him to pay special attention to the confusing Boston road signs.
What he didn’t have to endure was coughing up an entire paycheck to get us into the game.
In 1976, a fan could buy a bleacher seat at Fenway Park for $1. If you type $1 into an inflation calculator, you will discover a bleacher seat should cost $3.79 today. Call it four bucks if you want.
The seat now costs $28.
A family of four, who should be paying $16 to sit down, are actually paying more than $100 to watch some 440-feet from home plate. The major difference between then and now is that in 1975 Hall-of-Famer Carl Yastrzemski made $175,000, which is about $700,000 in today’s money, while today, the Red Sox are paying $700,000 to part-time catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Yaz is a baseball immortal. Saltalamacchia has a long last name.
This is too often forgotten in sports and is worth mentioning because the National Football League is shuttered as players and owners decide how best to cut up $9 billion of our money. Also, the National Basketball Association is locked down as owners try to undue the negotiating mistakes of their past and the players try to avoid concessions and givebacks.
There are many news organizations that can tell you exactly what the players and owners are saying to each other. I will tell you what they are not talking about. They are not talking about you. They don’t care about you.
In our state, the governor and voters and state employee unions are at each other’s throats while towns from Tolland to Enfield try to figure out how to educate kids and curtail school budgets at the same time.
In real life families lurch from one paycheck to the next never certain if their health insurance will be gone when the next round of layoffs come, which is what makes even the historically low tax rate unbearable.
In real life, too many families can’t afford the trip my brother-in-law took me on all those years ago.
Going to a sporting event has become something you do special for Timmy’s 10th birthday. You count on dropping at least $200 (even if you buy your tickets on the cheap from a secondary vendor) and you pray you're not seated next to some foul-mouthed lout who ruins the entire afternoon. You pray little Timmy has a good time because you’re not coming back until he’s 12, that is, if he isn’t more interested in the X-Games by then.
But neither the players, owners, nor, too often, the people who cover them live in the real world. There was a laughable column recently on ESPN talking about how many of the players aren’t well off like we all think because some of them only make the minimum $325,000.
Oh, the horror.
So yes, by all means, let’s hear more about the difficulty of slicing up a $9 billion pie in the NFL. Let’s hear about the struggles of the NBA owners as the Knicks prepare to raise their ticket prices from an average of $88 to an average of somewhere near $130.
The word for the NFL negotiations is unseemly. The word for the NBA negotiations is absurd.
Neither owners nor players will ever say, “You know what, we both have enough money but we’re pricing people out of the stadium. Let’s each give back a little and lower ticket prices.” Not a single NFL player has said anything about my inability to afford a personal seat license, which means in the coming years my son will have to be content watching men slowly destroy their bodies and brains on the television with the rest of us.
At ESPN, their unending roster of former players turned analysts seem genuinely mystified by fan resentment toward millionaire players upset by their poor healthcare plans and lackluster pensions.
Well, fellas, I’m here to explain it to you.
In 1975, the average Major League baseball player made $44,676. In 2002, the average big leaguer made $2,385,903.07. Adjusted for inflation that represents a salary increase of some $2.2 million dollars. Meanwhile, the average salary of Americans in 1975 was $8,630.92. In 2009, it was $40,711, which was down in real dollars from 2008.
Put another way, the average American makes about 4.7 times what he or she made in the mid-'70s. The average baseball player makes more than 50 times what he made in the mid-'70s and because of this the Red Sox fan pays 28 times what he used to for a bleacher seat. The increases are similar in the NFL where the average salary is $1.9 million (up from $50,000) and the NBA.
This is what we need to keep in mind when the players self-righteously proclaim that owners wouldn’t pay these salaries if they weren’t making money. The profit come from us, from out of our wallets, in the form of higher ticket prices and beer made more expensive by the cost of a 30-second ad on the Super Bowl.
Now the players want more and the owners don’t want to give it to them.
I don’t know which side is right and which side is wrong, but I am absolutely certain of two things:
1. I don’t have any more to give.
2. They don’t care.