John Rondy is a Bay View-based freelance writer.
At what point does the paying public finally say “enough” when it comes to professional athletes and sports agents who hold pro sports teams hostage for ever-rising salaries?
The latest example of this is the case of Prince Fielder, who is in the second year of an $18 million contract. Next season, the Brewers still have Fielder locked up in an arbitration year as a restricted free agent. Then he goes on the market.
That means Milwaukee has Fielder, and his 40 homers and 110-plus RBIs per year, for two more seasons until his agent, Scott Boras, holds up the highest bidder for something at or above the eight-year $180 million contract that first baseman Mark Texiera signed with the Yankees. Some say that Fielder is as good as gone in 2012, that the small-market Brewers won’t be able to afford a New York-sized deal for mega dollars.
While Fielder’s future status as a Milwaukee Brewer remains a topic of speculation for local sports pundits, it was a remark the 270-pound first baseman made recently at Brewers FanFest that hit me the way opposing players do when they have the misfortune of colliding with Fielder on the basepaths.
"When I signed (the two-year deal) it really made it a lot easier because in baseball you know you're going to eventually be well-off if you have any skills," Fielder was quoted as saying in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "But the thing is the waiting part. I mean, I want a house, too."
Huh? According to published reports, he already has one, and a nice one, at that.
The $7.5 million Fielder grossed last year, not to mention his previous earnings since advancing to the majors in 2005, was apparently enough for Fielder to recently purchase a house in the same pricey Windermere, Fla., neighborhood as Tiger Woods. According to a published report, the home has a workout facility and a batting cage.
While many people continue to suffer job losses and default on their mortgages in one of the worst recessions in modern U.S. history, it’s insulting that Prince Fielder would imply that he can’t buy a house with the money he has already made as a professional baseball player, especially since he already has.
For those of you scoring at home, Fielder’s comment was the verbal equivalent of an E-3 (error on the first baseman).
It smacked of the infamous remark made by Milwaukee’s own Latrell Sprewell, a former professional basketball player who turned down a $21 million contract extension in 2004 when he was making $14.6 million a year for the Minnesota Timberwolves. “I’ve got my family to feed,” said Sprewell, who ultimately retired, squandered his earnings and declared bankruptcy.
While Fielder’s off-the-cuff comment was not as egregious as Sprewell’s, what surprised me is that no one in the local sports media picked up on it.
Maybe it’s because the media doesn’t want to offend Fielder and see him leave, as the Brewers will most certainly not be the same team without his run production in the middle of the lineup. Or maybe it’s because we’ve become used to the unrelenting greed of professional athletes, who take full advantage of a free agent system that is slanted in their favor.
To wit, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sports editor Gary Howard wrote a recent column beseeching Brewers owner Mark Attanasio to do what it takes to sign Fielder. The number that Howard threw out – $100 million for five years – is not nearly enough to get the deal done.
Brewer fans need look no further than the case of C.C. Sabbathia. As a “rent-a-player” for half a season, the big lefthander pitched the Brewers into the 2008 playoffs. Sabbathia reportedly loved it here as a Brewer, but when the Yankees came calling with $161 million for seven years, it blew Melvin’s offer of $100 million for five years out of the water.
Howard is not the only one going public to keep Fielder in a Brewer uniform. Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin is also at Fielder’s mercy. He so much as acknowledged that when he implored Fielder over a microphone at an open forum at the Brewers On Deck event:
"We understand Prince is a star-caliber player. We want Prince to be here. Is he in the building? He can hear me? Prince, we want you to stay."
The fact is, Fielder is not going to stay. After the 2011 season ends, the Prince and his notorious agent, Boras, are going to get a king’s ransom for his ability to crush a baseball out of sight. There is no way the Brewers can afford to pay the kind of money that Boras will demand for his client.
Remember, for as much as pro athletes pay lip service to the time-worn concepts of team and fan loyalty, money wins out every time. Even hometown hero Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins, one of baseball’s best players, is playing it coy in the final year of his contract.
So, at what floor does the ever-rising salary elevator stop? I remember the buzz when Dave Winfield signed the first $1 million a year contract with the Yankees in 1990. Now, 20 years later, multi-year deals with salaries paying $18 to $20 million a year or more for top players are common.
Without a salary cap in baseball, which Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and the team owners have shown no inclination to institute, the Brewers are destined to be what they essentially have been since the early 1990’s: a major league also-ran that can’t afford to pay to keep top-flight talent.
The system is broke. And increasingly, so is the average fan, who is being priced out of the national pastime by greedy, calculating sports agents who call the shots.
At least it’s a relief to know that when he eventually signs with another team for something in the neighborhood of $200 million, that Prince Fielder will finally be able to afford to buy a house to his liking.
Postscript: Contrast this posting with today’s (3/1) sympathetic treatment of Fielder and his financial status in the JS sports section.