Mike Trout is a good baseball player. Mike Trout is the reigning Rookie of the Year. Mike Trout finished second in the AL MVP vote in 2012. Mike Trout is 20 years old and has accumulated one year and 70 days worth of MLB service time. Mike Trout will make $510,000 this season to play baseball. And his agent, Craig Landis, thinks it’s “unfair” (his word, not mine), and that Arte Moreno short-changed the Angels’ wunderkind. Maybe Arte did; maybe Arte didn’t.
In tough economic times, as we’ve endured for several years, there isn’t much sympathy for Mike Trout: $510,000 is a lot of bananas, more bananas than I make. But that’s apples and oranges, isn’t it? No, comparing Mike Trout to Henry Blanco is apples and oranges. When we compare Mike Trout’s situation to our own situation, it’s like comparing apples to moon rocks or Bigfoot sightings. The two ideas are so far apart that it’s meaningless to compare them. The only similarity is the subject itself: pay rate. When you and I can generate revenue at that level, then our collective noses can get out of joint.
Is Mike Trout underpaid? Comparisons to other sports are difficult because of different economic structures, as well as different Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA). Comparisons within baseball but across generations is difficult due to inflation. That rules out the obvious Fred Lynn comparison. So what about the last, say, 5 years or so? Dave Cameron at Fangraphs did some helpful work there, so I’ll borrow his idea:
- Giancarlo Stanton made $480,000 last year and will make $537,000 in ’13;
- Clayton Kershaw made $440,000 in his 2nd year and $500,000 in his 3rd year;
- Jason Heyward made $496,000 in his 2nd year and $565,000 for his 3rd year.
All in all, I’d say that Mike Trout will be compensated ‘fairly’ within the MLB salary structure when you factor in age, experience, and the CBA.
Pro sports specifically (and the entertainment industry in general) have always had pay scales that are out of synch with us ‘regular Joes’. When the infamous eight Chicago White Sox players agreed to throw the Series because Charlie Comiskey was the cheapest owner around, Shoeless Joe made $8,000 and Eddie Cicotte made $10,000. Someone working in a medical or health services occupation, which I’m sure we’ll agree is important, could look forward to making about $752 per year. A tradesman would make $1.08 per hour. And this was in the boom period after World War I.
In 1930, Babe Ruth was well-established as the best player the game had ever seen and his salary reflected his greatness. Colonel Jacob Ruppert, notoriously stingy, paid Ruth $70,000 to catch and hit, and to ‘be’ Babe Ruth. The average income in America in 1930 during the Great Depression was $1388/year and a pound of butter cost 46 cents. If the only work you could find was in the next county, a bicycle cost $32.
A handful of years later, the Babe’s salary rose to $80,000. Once, a reporter demanded to know how Babe Ruth could justify making more than the President of the United States of America, arguably the most powerful person on the planet. Quoth the Babe, “I had a better year”. Apples and moon rocks. If he stays healthy and shows that 2012 was no fluke, Mike Trout will be paid handsomely by Major League Baseball standards which, of course, will be astronomical by our standards.