The first time the Major League Baseball Players Association went out on strike during the regular season, I was a gung-ho Yankees fan of 13, whose father had just stunned him with the announcement that there would be no vacation that year because he had spent the money on season tickets at Yankee Stadium.
The strike postponed the kind of triumph only a 13-year old can fully savor with breath-shortening joy: Walking in to The Stadium not as just a fan, but as one of the regulars. And I still supported that players’ strike, on the easy-to-digest premise that if my father had the right to change jobs when his contract was up, why shouldn’t Mel Stottlemyre?
With rare exceptions, like its stance on testing for performance-enhancing drugs (in particular the 2002 strike-averting agreement), I have had few major disagreements with the union’s positions, even as I literally paid for my support with increased ticket prices. There are two simple truths at play here: a) this is America, and provided you do not break the law you are entitled to earn as much money as you conceivably can; and b) the idea that “player salaries alone caused ticket prices to go up” is nonsensical: it assumes that if salaries were still what they had been in 1972, the owners would never have raised prices, even though it has been proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that fans at every level have willingly paid those prices, and have in fact bought more and more tickets, the more the prices have gone out. Average salaries were stagnant for half a century, and ticket prices still went up.
This long preamble is presented because I’m going to do something I have rarely done. I am going to suggest that a superstar player of extraordinary ability and consistency is completely in the wrong in his contract negotiations, and needs to make a decision based on common sense, and not one based on pressure to feed his agents, and not one designed to keep feeding a salary growth curve that is acceptable to the Players Association, and especially not one based on 21st Century America’s assumption that getting more money out of it is an acceptable explanation for any human conduct.
That player is, of course, Albert Pujols.
We do not have exact numbers here. We know that with today’s artificial deadline imposed, Pujols insists he will not negotiate with the Cardinals until the off-season and that he has set himself on a path towards free agency next winter. It is widely reported Pujols is seeking a ten-year deal worth an average of $30 million a year, and it is now reported
he has been offered an eight-year deal worth an average of more than $25 million a year.
He should take it.
There is, in fact, a point past which you and your family and your descendants, and your agents and, if you wish, everybody in your neighborhood and your home town, can be rich forever unless they screw it up. There is, in fact, actually a point past which your employer can no longer make even $1.98 in profit by paying you $200,000,000, and will have to let you go elsewhere. And there is, in fact, actually a point in which going somewhere else jeopardizes everything you’ve done in your career, and indefensibly hurts the employers and fans who have helped you achieve this salary range, and – most importantly – risks your happiness and satisfaction in the career you feel privileged to have.
I don’t know where you think that point is, where the numbers blur and the low end of the deal and the high end of the deal are at such exalted levels that the difference they make becomes merely theoretical. I once changed jobs and saw my income jump to $42,000. Trust me: in context, it was all the money in the world. For others the figure might be $100,000. Or a million. Or ten.
It is one thing to be paid at that figure and find your employers embittered at you, or somehow abusing you, or somehow undermining you, or somehow denying you whatever achievement you desire (in baseball, read “another World Series”). Then, one departs, whether the salary offer is $30,000,000 a year or $30,000. That’s a case of looking for friendlier pastures rather than merely financially greener ones.
But if $25,000,000 a year from people with whom you are happy seems like some kind of failure or risk or insult to you – if you are willing to trade away a place you like, and a team you like, and fans you like, and their loyalty and love that will only increase if you stay – you have divorced yourself from reality.
I am sure some people who have left good environments for more money have made the right choice. I would’ve thought CC Sabathia would have said so, and then suddenly he’s talking about taking the opportunity to opt-out of the rest of the deal he hesitatingly signed with the Yankees two winters ago. Sometimes the money is so much more that you have to go even if you are not going to be as happy. But anecdotally, every time I’ve changed jobs and money was even just the second most significant factor, it has led to unhappiness.
If I asked you tomorrow to take a 20% pay cut but guaranteed that you would continue to be as happy with your job as you are now, and the money would cover you and your family practically forever, and that your action would make you more popular at work than you are now, you might very well say yes. You might very well say yes even if your pay is $30,000 and you only like the job a little bit. Logic would suggest that as the actual salary figure increases towards the $25,000,000-to-$30,000,000 range, it would be easier to bite the bullet on the 20% and invest it in happiness and satisfaction.
Reality suggests it’s quite the opposite. And we can debate for days how much of that is the result of the madness of modern society, or the inherent insecurity of mankind, or just greed. But it’s true nonetheless. And it will take an exceptional human being to rise above the pattern and stake a course for himself and say “You think I’m going to leave this? For 20 percent? Are you nuts? Just because you can make more money elsewhere doesn’t mean you should, and it sure as hell doesn’t mean you have to.”
I always had the impression Albert Pujols was an exceptional human being.
AS A POSTSCRIPT:
Are the Cardinals a major market team?
MLB has never issued any guidance as to what it considers big or small.
Here is one I cobbled together for myself, based
on the early information from the 2010 Census and other sources. The numbers represent “Metropolitan Areas” and that’s open to wild manipulation, but these are pretty conservative (Boston’s number had to be inflated to include Providence, 1.6 million, and Hartford, 1.2 million)
01 New York 19,171,091
02 New York 19,171,091
03 Los Angeles 12,981,199
04 Los Angeles 12,981,199
05 Chicago 9,645,498
06 Chicago 9,645,498
07 Boston 7,432,655
08 Texas (D/FtW) 6,594,145
09 Houston 6,008,273
10 Philadelphia 5,996,008
11 Florida (Miami) 5,592,350
12 Washington 5,574,546
13 Toronto 5,623,450
14 Atlanta 5,564,840
15 Arizona (Phx) 4,480,865
16 Detroit 4,383,093
17 SF-Oakland 4,375,470
18 SF-Oakland 4,375,470
19 Seattle 3,459,059
20 Minnesota 3,302,016
21 San Diego 3,088,312
22 St.Louis 2,839,292
23 Tampa Bay 2,764,537
24 Baltimore 2,704,060
25 Colorado 2,604,006
26 Pittsburgh 2,354,523
27 Cincinnati 2,185,149
28 Cleveland 2,091,286
29 Kansas City 2,067,585
30 Milwaukee 1,559,667
By almost any measure here – top 50% versus bottom 50%, sheer numbers, St. Louis is a small market. You will notice Houston is clearly not, even though for years it has pretended to be. Data involving cities not on this list is by itself fascinating. The two Texas markets have grown by more than a quarter since 2000, and neither of them includes the 2,000,000 people in and around San Antonio, and another 1.7 million around Austin and Round Rock. The San Antonio, Sacramento, and Orlando “markets” are now all just about the size of Cleveland. Portland would fit right between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
And if you could perfectly place a franchise somewhere in Virginia where people in Richmond and people in Newport News could all think of it as theirs, it would have a market to draw from of 2,912,685 – big enough that in theory the Cardinals could think about moving there.