January 04, 2002
Bolling v. Bud

You know that Bud Selig has real credibility problems when he starts getting lampooned by indie cartoonists like Ruben Bolling. I'm happy to dogpile on Bud, but I've got a bone to pick with this cartoon.

Bolling snipes at Texas Rangers' owner Tom Hicks for his signing of Alex Rodriguez: "Let's see, expenses exceed revenues...I'll spend a quarter-billion dollars on a shortstop!" This statement is disingenuous and shows a lack of understanding of economics.

First off, as Rob Neyer says in his December 31 column, saying "a quarter of a billion dollars" is a rhetorical device, designed to inflame the senses. "[A] quarter of a billion isn't anything like a billion, any more than a quarter is like a dollar," says Neyer. Jason Giambi got an eighth of a billion dollars from the Yankees, and Kevin Brown got a ninth of a billion from the Dodgers, but no one ever says that. Heck, Brian L. Hunter just got one five-hundredth of a billion from the Astros. Sure, it's a lot of money, but it ain't a billion.

Second, Alex Rodriguez is a 24-year-old shortstop who just hit 52 home runs in a season. He's entering the peak of his career as the best shortstop since Honus Wagner, and when he's done (barring injury) he could well be considered one of the best players ever. History shows that players like A-Rod are worth whatever you pay them because there's no one else who can do what they do. Giving him top dollar was a good business decision.

Where Tom Hicks and other baseball owners fail as businessmen is paying too much for replaceable talent. Hicks paid good money to surround A-Rod with players like Andres Galarraga, Ken Caminiti, and Randy Velarde. None of them was worth what they were paid. There are plenty of other players who can do what they do better and/or cheaper. Paying a premium for something that is readily available makes no sense.

A good analogy for this is in show business. Remember when "The Cosby Show" was a megahit? It made sense for the producers of that show to pay Bill Cosby whatever he wanted. He was the irreplaceable ingredient on that show. You couldn't get anyone to step in and keep the show as successful as it was. On the other hand, it would have made no sense to pay a premium for any of the other actors on that show. You wouldn't want it to be Cosby and six dinner-theater performers, but there were and are plenty of people who could have replaced Tempestt Bledsoe or Malcolm-Jamal Warner at any time.

Similarly, it would have made no sense in the early days of "NYPD Blue" for the producers to offer David Caruso a big raise as an enticement to stay on instead of leaving to pursue a movie career. Caruso was talented, but as Jimmy Smits showed, he was replaceable. I'm not saying that Caruso or any of the Cosby Show kids had no value, just as I'm not saying that Caminiti and Velarde had no value. You couldn't put me in their place, for example. They certainly have more talent for what they do than the vast majority of us, and the salary structure of their professions reflects that. What they are not is stars. That's what Cosby and A-Rod were and are. Paying them star money is smart, not profligate.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 04, 2002 to Baseball | TrackBack