I almost always have a baseball-related post up on More to Come this time of year. But I’m on a bit of a blogging break, so I’ve been taking the time to share some of my favorites from the More to Come archives or — as in this instance — sharing some great posts from other writers.
Robyn Ryle writes insightful pieces on You Think Too Much from her home in the beautiful Main Street community of Madison, Indiana. Earlier this week her most recent post — Thinking about inequality and baseball — landed in my email in-box. It captured a number of thoughts I’ve been having around the owner lock-out of the players and the selling off of talent when making a few more bucks becomes more important than fielding a competitive team. I’ll pull a few quotes, but do yourself a favor and go read Robyn’s entire post.
People are willing to give up a lot in order to make sure others don’t get more. That’s what experimental economist Daniel Zizzo found in a 2001 experiment. He gave some volunteers more money and some less. He found that volunteers were willing to spend their own money if it reduced the amount of money others had.
Zizzo called it burning other people’s money…a phenomenon that isn’t economically rational, but is explained psychologically by our sense of how “deserving” we believe others to be. The study helps us understand why specific policies to reduce inequality in the United States are often so unpopular — we tend to believe everyone is less deserving than ourselves.
It might also explain what’s happening with my Reds, where owner Bob Castellini was among four owners during the recent collective bargaining agreement negotiations to vote no on what at the time was the “best and final offer” from the players. With that ‘no’ vote, Castellini and the other owners showed they were more than willing to burn their own money in the form of lost games to prevent the “undeserving” players making significant gains from what is a $10.7 billion dollar business.
At this point I could tell that Robyn was going to hit on a number of nerves. And she didn’t disappoint.
Once the players’ association and the league did reach an agreement — one that did not include many of the demands the player started with — Castellini showed just how he felt about the small gains players did achieve by commencing what in baseball we call a ‘fire sale,’ or in this case, petty revenge.
After writing a bit about the impact on her Reds, she moves into explaining how inequality works in the larger society, using baseball as an example.
The players aren’t arguing that they should make the same amount of money as the owners. They’re not socialists. They weren’t arguing for a radical overhaul of the status quo, even though that status quo is responsible for the currently skewed distribution. All they want is a slightly larger piece of a very big pie.
“But Mike Trout got a $426.5 million contract!” you might be yelling at me right now, which is true. It’s also exactly what the owners and the CEOs and the other capitalists want you to think. Sure, get mad at Mike Trout. Forget about the fact that Arte Moreno as an owner makes enough money to pay Mike Trough $426.5 million dollars along with the salary of the other 25 players on his team. To paraphrase Chris Rock, Mike Trout is rich. Arte Moreno is wealthy. There’s a big difference between the two. Either way, you need to ask yourself why you’re mad about Mike Trout or Patrick Mahomes or Steph Curry but not about the dudes (it’s always dudes) who pay them.
Then, after a few more paragraphs, she nails it for me.
The players association, on the other hand, shows us what it might take to break this mental logjam in our thinking about inequality. Their union is famous for its culture of collective thinking. In addition to wanting a more equal distribution of revenue, the players other demand is to end ‘tanking,’ the practice of deliberately depressing payroll in a way that sacrifices a team’s ability to compete. They want to play in a league in which the people in charge actually want to win games, instead of just generating revenue — another radical concept. They want to make it less possible for owners to do what Bob Castellini is currently doing to the Reds, reducing salary and giving fans a team that is almost guaranteed to finish last in their division. Exciting, yeah?
Let me put it more plainly — the players want baseball to be good. The owners just want to make money. Period. End of story.
Just go read the entire piece. And then you can leave a comment on Robyn’s blog, as I did.
And yes, I’m having a bit of trouble getting up for the 2022 season of the fire-sale Nationals. After a decade of pretty damn good baseball in the district, I hate the thought of watching AAA games again at inflated MLB prices.
More to come…
NOTE: For other pieces on More to Come about how life imitates the World Series (and baseball) check out:
- This will not end well (2021) on gambling in baseball and other sports
- Tribalism and the abandonment of democracy (2020) on how the Astros cheating scandal mirrors larger problems in our country
- Thanks, Boz, for the memories (2021) on the retirement of a writer who understood baseball was definitely not about numbers.
As always, this Weekly Reader features links to recent articles, blog posts, or books that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.
Image of baseball field by Cindy Danger Jones. Image of money by S.K. Both are from Pixabay.
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My friend Tom Cassidy and I are, as he put it in a comment on Robyn’s original post, “part of an increasingly disheartened Nationals season ticket package. Is this the real reason the Nats are tanking (lead LTE in Washington Post a few days ago)?:
Opinion: Say goodbye to the Lerners, and thanks for the memories
Barry Svrluga is a thoughtful baseball writer. However, his April 19 Sports column on the Lerners’ likely sale of the Washington Nationals, “Why owning a baseball team is nothing like owning a mall,” missed the giant tax elephant in the room: the roster depletion allowance (RDA).
The RDA is a tax escape hatch baseball owners enjoy for 15 years in which they can write off the massive salaries they pay their players. The Lerners bought the team in 2006. Their RDA expired in 2021 or 2022. So they can’t write off the $400 million-plus Juan Soto wants now or enjoy the $200 million annual estimated write-offs they’ve enjoyed for years. A new owner certainly will.
Nationals fans should say goodbye and thanks for the memories to Ted Lerner. The sale is a fait accompli for tax reasons, not for lack of competitive desire or community spirit. It’s a tiny bit about baseball and a ton about taxes.
Bradford Brown, Arlington
I have some experience in federal tax policy, but ain’t never heard of no RDAs.
I am reminded of a classic line my law school professor on federal income tax said on the 1st day of class: If you see unusual behavior it is often due to the tax code.”
Thanks to Tom for flagging this for our ticket group. The news of the Lerners potential sale of the Nationals came out after I reposted Robyn’s essay.
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