Baseball players make out like one-percenters

Rob Manfred speaks with members of the media after a news conference at MLB headquarters 

Major League Baseball’s next commissioner, Rob Manfred, has been involved with labor negotiations for the league since the 1994 players strike. Since then, player salaries have risen far more quickly than pay for the average worker. For instance, the minimum salary for major league players has risen from $109,000 in 1995 to $500,000 today.  

In 1995, a major league baseball player making the minimum salary earned about 4.4 times more than the average full-time worker. Today it’s 12 times more.

However, minor league players filed a lawsuit this year protesting low wages, with most earning between $3,000 and $7,500 for a five-month season, which translates to an annual wage of $7,200 to $18,000 a year.

Even major-league ball has a one percent. For minimum-salary earners, “the percentage increase is not as big as for the top players. The top players got a lot more,” says Barry Krissoff, a retired economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a Mets (and Senators) fan, and the author of a 2013 article called “Society and Baseball Face Rising Inequality."

That comparison seems overstated to Scott Rosner, associate director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania. Income inequality is “a little more acute for society as a whole than it is for baseball,” he says. “No one who is a major-league baseball player is going hungry by any means.”

Owners have done well too. “Salaries are very much proportional to revenue growth as a whole,” says Joel Maxcy, a sports economist at Temple University.

And star baseball players don’t get paid as much as other top celebrities, says Michael Haupert, a sports economist at the University of Wisconsin. The sport’s best-paid player, Alex Rodriguez, took home $29 million in 2013. According to Forbes, Ellen DeGeneres earned $72 million.

Even other athletes out-earn baseball’s stars.

“Tiger Woods made a lot more money last year — even when he had a crappy year — than Alex Rodriguez,” says Haupert. Forbes estimated Woods’ earnings at $61 million.

About the author

Dan is a sustainability reporter for Marketplace.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...