Albert Pujols

What does $100 million buy these days?

You know those columns where the writer has no idea what point he wants to make, so he just provides a bunch of mind-boggling stats about what ridiculous contracts handed to athletes could buy?

For example, Barry Zito’s $126 million contract (if taxes didn’t exist) could pay for 15,750,000 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon at AT&T Park. That’s because PBR (or “Peeber” as my sister and her boyfriend call it) costs $8 per can at 24 Willie Mays Plaza. That’s right. For eight dollars, you can buy a 12-oz can of watery wannabe hipster beer poured into a non-souvenir cup at the ballyard. The same price as a 12-pack at any respectable stop-and-rob.

But like I said, I’m not writing that column.

What I’m more interested in is what is the threshold when it comes to which 9-figure contracts are actually worth it. Are we talking ticket sales? Win/loss records? All-Star Appearances? Championships? Tabloid headlines?

Obviously it’s all of the above, but our decision-making process is kind of reactionary when it comes to the ultra-rich athlete. What’s the first thing that creeps into your mind when you hear a name?

Mike Hampton: Not worth it

Derek Jeter: Worth it

Todd Helton: Not worth it

Kobe Bryant: Worth it

Jermaine O’Neal: Not worth it

Albert Pujols: Worth it

Michael Vick: Not worth it

Tim Duncan: Worth it

It’s that easy to deem whether athletes are worth the large money they’re paid, but should it be?

Truth be told, way more than half of the contracts at or over $100 million would be deemed exorbitant by any standard, mostly because it’s a modern phenomenon and partly because most of them were given out after 2000 but before the “Great Recession,” after which the idea of all things exorbitant has taken on a different tone everywhere, from Goldman Sachs to Major League Baseball.

Now, after a dominant April, Barry Zito is on the precipice of having some (not many, but some) people say that his contract may end up “worth it” in the long run. Granted, after the first 2.5 years of the deal it seemed as if he’d need to win 5 straight Cy Youngs to make his deal anything other than a complete tire fire, as Ray Ratto might say (based on that time Ray filled in for Gary Radnich he must really hates tire fires, because he compared every single bad situation in the sports to one). But one amazing thing about the “what have you done for me lately” mindset in baseball (a ridiculous way of thinking since every team is guaranteed to lose at least 55 games, but forget that for now) is that all it takes is one or two great months to make everyone forget the crap you put everyone through for multiple years.

Actually, it’s not just baseball. For example, take Rasheed Wallace (not a $100 million man, but bear with me). E-40’s nemesis is the only guy in the world who could force Bill Simmons to write an entire column denigrating a Boston Celtic. That’s like Fitz calling out someone in the Warriors’ front office. Now, if for the rest of the way Sheed averaged a 14 ppg and 9 rpg, helped the Celtics beat the Cavaliers, negated Dwight Howard in the Conference Finals and made Pau Gasol cry multiple times en route to Boston’s 18th title, are you telling me Simmons and the rest of the Celtics faithful wouldn’t immediately go out and start buying Wallace jerseys and dying one spot of their hair gray?

I’m not knocking Simmons; I was there in the bleachers chanting “BARRY BARRY BARRY BARRY” the other night when I wasn’t fighting off drunk 21-year-old chicks who doubled as Tecate thieves. But I do think there is something to be said for getting a little perspective on these crazy contracts nobody can really comprehend (even the players who “earn” them). Sure, it’s easy to play the grumpy old man card and say that nobody’s worth the money they’re making, teachers only make $35,000 a year, etc. But since these contacts –  even in these times — aren’t going away, for the sanity of fans and Zitos everywhere, maybe it’s time to think about some sort of mental scale so we don’t judge these guys differently from month to month. Perhaps some John Hollinger-esque statistical model that includes all the methods of judging players I listed earlier.

Or, you can do like I am and set aside an authentic Zito jersey with matching striped socks on, which I will only purchase if he wins today. Because if he doesn’t pitch well and give the bullpen a rest after yesterday’s 12-inning beautifully psychotic mess of a game, he should give the Giants all that money back. Unless he pitches 8 shutout innings in his next start, of course. In that case I’ll get him a 12-pack of Peeber from the corner and we can celebrate together on the rooftop of his apartment building in the Marina. He owes me that much, right?

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