August 17, 2000: Baseball is Too Busy Gouging Fans to Realize It’s Losing Them

Larry Jones is going to get paid $90 million over the next six years. That works out to $15 million per year, $1,250,000 per month, $288,461.54 per week or $41,095.89 per day. And he only works part-time.

Why this much money? Has he cured cancer? Eliminated world hunger? Brought peace on earth? No. He hits a ball with a stick. As a matter of fact, he gets about 575 opportunities every six months to do so, but statistics show that he fails more than two times out of three. That kind of record in any other field of endeavor would get you fired. In the insanity called baseball, it will get you, if you’re Larry Jones, $1,712.33 every hour of every day.

If you are a teacher trying to cram learning into the head of an unresponsive child, a police officer trying to keep us from killing ourselves or an EMT dragging mangled bodies from a wreck, Mr. Jones will make your yearly salary in less than a day.

Larry Jones is, of course, Chipper Jones, the third baseman for the Atlanta Braves. He has just announced that he will stay in Atlanta for the next six years and become obscenely wealthy in the process. He joins 15 major league baseball players making more than $10 million annually. (That list does not include Mark McGwire or Ken Griffey Jr., by the way.) More power to Chipper if someone is dumb enough to pay him that kind of money.

That is where you and I come in. Fans ultimately pay Chipper Jones’ salary. If you can afford to attend a baseball game at Turner Field, you are contributing to his financial well-being. My son took his wife and two boys to a Braves game and after buying tickets, paying for parking and consuming some of the usuriously priced concessions, he was out a hundred bucks. Chipper Jones will make that much in three and a half minutes.

What makes this interesting is that the Braves paid the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games nothing for their $209 million stadium. Some additional monies went into retrofitting, but it was basically a free baseball facility for the team. Ted Turner, the team’s owner, was so impressed with the stadium that he named it after himself, instead of Billy Payne, ACOG’s CEO, who gave it to him.

Admittedly, I am not a financial whiz, but I can’t understand why my kids have to pony up a hundred bucks to see a game in a stadium that didn’t cost the owner anything. Maybe Ted Turner is down to his last zillion or so dollars and needs our help. Maybe we are walking examples of P.T. Barnum’s philosophy that there is a sucker born every minute.

But we don’t have to bear the burden alone. Corporate fat-cats buy up suites and lots of the season tickets in order to schmooze their customers in a noncorporate environment. They will be there only as long as the team is winning and will be the first to bail out when they aren’t. Just ask the Atlanta Falcons.

Baseball is slowly but surely losing its hold on young people. It costs too much for young families to go to the games on a regular basis. Besides, kids today have too many other things to do. Look at the local soccer field next time you go by. When the World Series telecasts come on after bedtime, you know baseball isn’t interested in building a future fan base. I’ve got four grandsons who follow the Braves with mild interest but nothing akin to the passion I felt as a kid for the St. Louis Cardinals, when the Braves were still in Boston. To this day, I can name the Cards’ 1946 lineup and I become absolutely reverential at the mention of Stan (The Man) Musial, the Hall of Fame outfielder who is one of two people I hope to meet in person before I die. (Willie Nelson is the other.)

Today, there are 30 so-called major league teams with 900 players. Except for Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken, the players are nomads. They sell their services to the highest bidder. Have stick, will travel.

But not Chipper Jones. Ninety million dollars has convinced him that, for six years anyway, Atlanta is the place for him. I don’t blame him. In the time it took me to write this, he will have collected $10,273.98.