In the afterglow of the Tigers and Max Scherzer failing to reach agreement on a contract extension, Lynn Henning of the Detroit News summed up things nicely with this tweet:
Old lesson, re-learned this morning: People adore the free market. Except when it applies to athletes.— Lynn G. Henning (@Lynn_Henning) March 23, 2014
I realize that "fans" aren't, definitionally, the most rational of human subsets, but the anger directed at players over money decisions never ceases to amaze/chagrin. Invariably, the player is rendered as greedy and selfish for not recognizing how lucky he is to be paid millions to play baseball. Spared from any indictment, however, is the team that failed offer enough to secure said player's services. Why is that?
First and foremost, I'd submit, is that it strikes many of us as, well, indecent that ballplayers are paid such salaries. That's an understandable feeling, but it's also one that's embarrasingly quaint. This is the world we live in, and it has been for a very long time. Tom Cruise is going to be paid millions upon millions for playing dress-up and pretend, and Robinson Cano is going to be paid millions upon millions for hitting and catching a cowhide orb. That's not going to change. You might as well lament the tides of the ocean.
Perhaps it would be a better world if firefighters and teachers and cops were paid more than entertainers, but the economic reality is that it's easier to find people to fill those roles than it is to find those capable of playing baseball at the highest level. The other reality is that ballplayers in the aggregate have made MLB a wildly profitable industry.
The larger point, though, is that player payroll and salary allotments within MLB don't hit the fan in the wallet and or handsome leather coinpurse. Despite what some team execs put forth in the media from time to time, player salaries don't affect ticket prices. Teams determine their pricing strategies based on demand, nothing more. Suffice it to say, if the teams could raise prices every time they needed more money, then they'd be raising those prices much more often. For instance, tickets to college sporting events cost, you know, money despite there not being any payroll (insert football-factory jokes here).
Otherwise, is there envy involved on some level? Almost certainly so. Who among us wouldn't want to become unthinkably wealthy in exchange for playing baseball? However, unless you're a current, former or future MLBer reading this, though, you very obviously lack the talent. So some of us stomp our feet and wail that it's unfair and that these ingrates should be happy to make anything at all. It doesn't matter that you'd play the game for much less because no team will have you.
Really, though, know that it's about the money on both sides. The player wants to be paid as much as possible for his services, and team wants to pay as little as possible for those and other services. Players good enough to carve out a career in MLB spend the first six years of that career being paid far, far below market rates. Those who log the necessary service time have absolutely earned the right to test the market. Some choose to sign extensions; other choose to exercise those rights. That's really the extent of it. It's not a matter of "disloyalty" or "betrayal" or any other word larded with value judgments. These are sober business decisions on both sides. Sometimes, those decisions turn out to be incorrect (see: Cruz, Nelson this offseason), but that has nothing to do with whether or not fans should take personal umbrage at things like the news that Scherzer and Tigers haven't reached an accord.
While I'd never deprive anyone of their cherised irrationalities, if you're angry at a player for making or seeking to make money, then that says more about you than it does the target of your tantrum.