How much is too much to pay for a pitcher? How much can one player be worth? Felix Hernandez is getting national GNP dollars to throw for the Seattle Mariners in 2013 and for seven years, so much money that he could personally bail out Haiti.
This is a story of what the market will bear and any time we imagine that there is a limit to what the market will bear some team comes along and lets foolish us know that there is no limit, not even the sky is the limit, and maybe it is the atmosphere surrounding the moon, just not the sky around our planet factored into the limit.
We may be astonished when a team commits to paying a player $175 million as the Mariners recently did, or perhaps we have lost our ability to be astonished, but it has always been thus in the sports and entertainment world. For a team that wants to win, it must pay big bucks to corral big talent.
In the early part of the 20th century fans and sports writers marveled about the apparently bottomless bank account that owner/manager Connie Mack dipped in to in order to fund his “$100,000 infield” of Stuffy McInnis at first, Eddie Collins at second, Jack Barry at short and Frank Baker at third. That was a huge amount of money for a quartet of players in those days, but it was worth it to the Philadelphia Athletics because they won four pennants. Also, Bill James, the major domo of statisticians, rates that infield as among the very best few of all time, so Mack’s judgment was pretty good. Collins and Baker are in the Hall of Fame.
In the 1950s, Humphery Bogart was being paid $200,000 a picture to make movies. “A” list stars make $20 million a picture now, but $200,000 was pretty serious money about 60 years ago. Put it this way, Bogart was making more per movie than any Major League baseball player was making per season at that time.
The point is that talent costs and marquee value talent costs even more. Is Herandez worth $25 million a year to pitch every fifth day? Generally speaking no. But he may be worth that much to the Mariners if they can win a pennant or two with the 26-year-old, in-his-prime Hernandez hurling and it may be worth it to keep him away from rival teams. The Mariners also didn’t feel they could take the public relations hit of letting Herandez walk. After all, this franchise once had Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Rodriguez and couldn’t keep them. It would help justify the cost of the deal if the fans jammed Safeco Field every single time Hernandez pitched.
Always raised is the issue of who is going to play with Hernandez if he soaked up every available nickel the franchise had to offer. He needs able teammates to play alongside him if the Mariners are going to win. Otherwise Hernandez will just remain what he has been lately, a jewel surrounded by lumps of coal.
It seems $25 million a year is too much to pay and it seems as if $25 million is not really sustainable. But Hernandez took what he could get.