John Grindrod: Money in pro sports, what’s considered pocket change

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When it comes to salaries for professional athletes whose skills add some spice to our lives and allow us to live vicariously through their experiences, well, they’re often incomprehensible to the average working man or woman. This is especially true since, like those in the entertainment business, they aren’t really providing an essential service like those who heal us when we’re sick, educate our children or help us in other ways that directly impact our lives.

During my Baby Boomer lifetime, I’ve certainly seen the dramatic rise in what those who play their games for my enjoyment are paid. I know whenever examining salary trends, one needs to consider the lower cost of living and commensurate salaries earned by workers of bygone days.

I began thinking quite a bit about the escalation in pay recently when I started going through a stack of old Sports Illustrated magazines I saved from my coming-of-age 1960s on a rainy Saturday morning when it was pretty obvious there’d be no bike riding with my Lady Jane.

The issue that really caught my eye was one dated Oct. 7, 1968. The cover featured a photo of the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals’ starting lineup and manager under the words, “The Highest Paid Team in Baseball History.”

By today’s standards, the salaries by each man’s name also on the cover are laughably low, with no one within $15,000 of a six-figure salary. As a matter of fact, three infielders’ salaries were listed at $45,000, $40,000 and $37,500. The salaries of the entire starting eight, a designated starting pitcher (and highest paid player, future Hall of Famer Bob Gibson) and the manager, Red Schoendienst, totaled just $607,000.

Now, I say “just” because I want you to contrast that $607,000 with the salaries of the starting eight, the starting pitcher and the manager this past Aug. 28 for the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers. The total for that group was more than $105 million. Pitching for the Dodgers that day was David Price, who makes $32 million a year throwing the same rawhide sphere with its 108 stitches (and far less effectively) that the superb Bob Gibson did back in 1968 for his $85,000.

Now, I suppose I could go on to other sports and identify the logic-defying annual salaries by mentioning the NBA’s Steph Curry’s $43 million to hoist his deep three-balls or the NFL’s Patrick Mahomes, who’ll take his snaps for the Kansas City Chiefs for an annual salary of $45 million. Perhaps there’s a story you may have missed this summer on the back pages of the baseball news that dramatizes just how much money there is in pro sports. It was reported as a potential high reward-low cost option to address a shortage of starting pitching for the Dodgers after their staff was hit with some injuries.

The unlimited wealth of the Dodgers is very well known to all who follow baseball, so the Dodger brass thought nothing of taking a flyer on a former star, Cole Hamels, a World Series MVP way back when he was a Phillie in 2008. Hamels has only thrown three innings in the last two years while battling a series of triceps and shoulder injuries at the advanced (for any athlete not named Tom Brady) age of 37. Most in baseball considered him retired, although he’d yet to make it official.

The Dodgers signed Hamels for a guaranteed salary of a million dollars to pitch for the rest of the season, which amounted to just two months. In addition, if he could get himself into good enough shape actually to start games, the Dodgers also agreed to pay him $200,000 for each game he started — not won mind you, just threw a game’s first pitch!

Just what did the Dodgers get out of Hamels? Just in case you missed it, as it turned out, he never made it out of the gate after complaining of shoulder pain while attempting to work himself into shape at the Dodgers’ training site. The team placed him on the injured list for the rest of the season before he even was assigned a locker at Dodger Stadium. While those $200,000 starts never happened, for two weeks of warming up, Hamels “earned” his million dollars, which gives us a pretty good example of just how much money there is in professional sports.

According to the website Financial Samurai, a mere 1 percent of American workers earn a million dollars a year for their labors. I can almost guarantee you, outside of the world of professional sports, to earn that mill, it’ll take those fortunate high rollers a whole lot longer than 14 days. For Hamels, his salary while trying to get in shape was $71,428.57 per day.

Just compare that, all you working Joes and Josephines, to what you’re earning for a year’s worth of labor. Kind of makes you sick, doesn’t it?

By John Grindrod

Guest Columnist

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at grinder@wcoil.com.