By Jason Menard
When teams show that they have more money than brains, is it any wonder why people can’t relate to the sport of baseball anymore? This is especially true when the cost of that lunacy ends up being paid by the average fan.
The latest example of finances getting in the way of synapses firing normally is the decision of the Boston Red Sox to throw away $51.1 million in a bid to sign Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. Mind you, that’s essentially a $51.1 million transfer fee – that doesn’t even include the player’s actual salary.
Now, Boston only has to pay the Seibu Lions, Matsuzaka’s home team, should the American League club and the player come to an agreement on terms on a contract. But $51.1 million is ridiculous and it marks an investment that can never yield an adequate return.
I don’t care if Matsuzaka is Cy Young, Satchel Paige, and Roger Clemens all rolled up into one, no pitcher is worth an outlay of over $50 million. Last I checked, baseball is a team game, and Matsuzaka will only pitch once every five games at most. His impact, while noteworthy, will never be able to match the expectations that this initial financial outlay demands. In the end, Matsuzaka runs the very real risk of being weighed down by his expectations – and it’s hard to throw an effective fastball with that much weight on your shoulders.
The biggest problem with this outrageous fee is the cost it exacts on the game as a whole. Baseball has long been plagued by a deep divide between the haves and the have nots. Unlike football, basketball, and now even hockey, there are a significant number of teams that begin the season fully aware that they’re not going to be able to compete. And for every Minnesota dream team that comes up, there are dozens of Yankees, Red Sox, and Cardinals to stomp them down. In most sports, hope springs eternal in the off-season. In baseball, the off-season simply is the prelude to a dénoument that begins the moment after that first pitch is thrown.
Close to home, the Toronto Blue Jays enter this season begging their corporate overlords to loosen the purse strings a bit to increase the budget into the $90-95 million range. And here we have the Red Sox committing $50+ million just for the right to negotiate with a player? Forgive fans for not leaping off the baseball bandwagon.
And this type of insanity isn’t restricted to baseball. Soccer is also known for its financial lunacy. In 2001, Real Madrid paid Juventus a record 45.62 million pounds for the rights to Zinedine Zidane. Not content with that acquisition, that same year, they also bought the rights to Luis Figo from Barcelona for 38.7 million pounds. The next year they acquired the rights to Brazilian star Ronaldo for 28.49 million pounds.
Even our beloved hockey isn’t immune to this type of activity. Transfer agreements with the various European leagues are in place to compensate teams for the loss of players to National Hockey League Clubs. But lately there’s been a significant amount of friction between the Russian league and the NHL, as the Russians are looking for soccer-type transfer fees for the rights to their players.
Transfer fees have their place. They compensate players and leagues for losing players. And this money is then able to go back into the system to help develop the next generation of stars. Unfortunately, where the system falls down is when it gets so exorbitant that only a select few have the means and the wherewithal to compete for players.
This lunacy on its own wouldn’t be so bad. Sports aren’t about a huggy-feely commune working together so everyone’s sitting around the rink singing Kumbaya. It’s a competitive environment and the goal of any game is to win. However, the cost of a team aggressively approaching player acquisition is inevitably paid for by the average fan. Through increased ticket prices, increased concession prices, and other ancillary charges, the average person is forced to bear the burden of the owner’s folly.
So in the end, you’re left with one small group of fans bearing the financial cost of these high-priced signings and one larger group of fans who are well aware that their team can’t compete on or off the field with these deep-pocketed clubs. And how is that good for the game in the end?
Maybe Matsuzaka’s going to be worth every single penny the Red Sox eventually pay him. I hope he is, because he’s caught in a very high-stakes game here not of his own design. Unfortunately, he and the fans who support his team are the ones who are going to feel pinch caused by this deal.
It doesn’t matter if this pinch comes in the form of increased pressure on the player, or increased financial burden for the fan. Either way, it ends up hurting everyone involved.
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