Pitchers are taking a mound of cash

Barry Zito

KAI RYSSDAL: Check the calendar, it says it's January. But for baseball fans, it's only five short weeks until spring training.

It's been a busy off-season for contract talks. There are some big money deals out there. And Diana Nyad wants to talk about them today. Hi, Diana.


DIANA NYAD: Kai, what's up?

RYSSDAL: Uh, not so much, except I'm not making anywhere near the money these baseball players are making.

NYAD: Yeah, who is?

RYSSDAL: Lotta big deals — Barry Bonds, and Albert Pujols. You're thing today, though, is the pitchers.

NYAD: Have you ever seen the slow motion, you know, have you seen those kinesiology slow-motion x-rays of a pitch? I mean, you know, people call it the most unnatural motion in all of sports — and what you see what that elbow and shoulder go through, you wince, you know, to look at it. And how's a guy gonna go for, you know, how is Barry Zito — he's 28!

RYSSDAL: Well let's talk about Barry Zito. Just signed a huge deal with the San Francisco Giants.

NYAD: Yeah, OK. So Zito's deal is, what, 126 million, he's gonna supposedly be there for seven years. And this is what always happens with a pitcher. So a guy, we hope he's healthy, but the chances are with what his arm goes through and how much they're gonna use him, that by the time he's 32, 33, 34, he's gonna be hurting. And he's not gonna produce all those wins for the San Francisco Giants.

RYSSDAL: But who is Barry Zito to say, "No, no, no, San Francisco Giants, please don't give me $125 million"? I mean how is it possibly, you know, a bad thing for him?

NYAD: Well, you're right, and both of us are smiling at each other here, you're right. I mean Murray Chass, the baseball reporter for The New York Times, had a great article about some of this story this week on Tuesday, and he reminded me of a pitcher back in the 70s, Wayne Garland — had some great years with Baltimore, and so Cleveland comes in and at that time, gave him a huge deal: 10 years for 2.3 million.

RYSSDAL: In the mid-70s.

NYAD: In the mid-70s, OK, that would translate to what these guys are making today. And he fizzled out — you know, he, again, was in his mid-20s, late 20s, his arm started bothering him, elbow started bothering him. He didn't make it in the end, when he was let go, you know what his quote was, Kai? he said: "I wasn't worth the money — nobody is. But what am I supposed to do, say no?"

RYSSDAL: Well, there you go, right? So we'll read that to Barry Zito. Let me ask you something, though: Would you be OK with a one-year deal for Barry Zito at $20 million as opposed to an eight-year deal at 120?

NYAD: Yeah, because my beef isn't that they're not worth the money. As a matter of fact, one economist went back and took players from other, you know, eras, like Sandy Koufax, and said the money he made then would translate into 20 million today. So, Sandy Koufax, pay him 80 million a year!

RYSSDAL: Right. Well, so what's the answer here though? I mean last time, we had you on, last month, it was about football college coaches and the length of their contracts. As long as people who are offering the contracts see some benefit to locking people in for X amount of years at X amount of dollars, what's their incentive not to do that?

NYAD: Well you know, the incentive are the statistics. Pedro Martinez signs this huge deal with the Boston Red Sox and he delivers. But if we, if we look down the statistics and we make our list on the left of the guys who have been worth it and not been injured, it's a real small, small list. If I were the owners, I'd try to collude, and say OK, we can't control the money. The money, they're gonna get the money. We're gonna pay the money. We've got the money. But I'm gonna, I'm never gonna sign a pitcher to more than a three-year deal — and I'll have first right to refusal at the end of that three years. You know, let's see what happens then.

RYSSDAL: But then the player's association and Donald Fehr come in and they say "Oh, collusion on the owners, you can't do that."

NYAD: Yeah, they have lost several times haven't they? In the 80s they colluded, they tried to, you know, keep 'em down — $280 million it cost them.

RYSSDAL: There you have it, the business of sports from Diana Nyad. Thank you, Diana.

NYAD: Thank you, Kai.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

Comments

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