Chill out, Samson
Originally Published: July 20, 2007 3:29 p.m.
Are you ready for the first $30 million-a-year baseball player? David Samson obviously isn't, but like the rest of us, he better get used to it - and soon.Samson, the president of the Florida Marlins, imploded on Miami station 790 AM when host Dan Le Batard asked his opinion of the Seattle Mariners impending signing of Ichiro Suzuki to a 5-year, $90 million contract extension. In his typically overstated fashion, Samson railed, "I would say it's the end of the world as we know it ... It will take the sport down, that contract ... it's a joke, it's inexcusable, it's complete mismanagement."Samson, of course, would be right - at least on the issue of mismanagement - if the Marlins were on the giving end of an $18 million per year contract. The Marlins have the second worst attendance in all of MLB - 17,800 per game during the first half of the season - and their entire player payroll is only $30 million. The Fish play second fiddle to the NFL Dolphins in a stadium built for football, and without MLB revenue sharing, the team would suffer losses in the tens of millions of dollars per year.But the Mariners aren't the Marlins. They play in a shiny new ballpark and draw the major league average of 31,000 per game. According to the Mariners' most recent annual report, which is filed with the Seattle Public Facilities District in compliance with a condition of their lease, the club made a profit in excess of $23 million last year. The Mariners have consistently been among the most profitable teams in MLB.Ichiro is more than a ballplayer to the Mariners. Beyond his hitting and stellar defense, he's arguably the face of the franchise, a veritable icon in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to helping put W's on the board, Ichiro is the rare athlete that puts fannies in the seats and dollars in the cash register. If it weren't for the presence of Ichiro, that $23 million profit could easily turn into a $23 million loss. Rather than being accused of mismanagement, a strong argument could be made that the Mariners got a bargain at $18 million per.Samson's concern is understandable on one level. Under MLB's compensation system, one player's salary serves as a standard for all players of similar ability, regardless of their worth to the team they play for. Ichiro's contract with the Mariners will affect what all teams, including the Marlins, pay their players. But the system was negotiated between - and approved by - the union and the owners, and Samson's irritation with the Mariners is misdirected.Furthermore, Ichiro's contract doesn't set any salary standard that hasn't already been breached. A number of players have contracts worth $20 million per year. Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was the first to average $25 million per year when he signed a 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers in 2000. And A-Rod will most likely be the first to the $30 million-per-year mark, probably as soon as next season.A clause in A-Rod's contract allows him to become a free agent at the end of this season. If history is any guide, his uber-agent, Scott Boras, will convince him that more riches await him if he's willing to walk away from the guaranteed $75 million remaining on his existing contract.But Ichiro is no A-Rod and he isn't represented by the Boras Agency. Being the highest paid player in the game isn't important to him. Winning is, and the Mariners have made great strides in that direction this season.So Ichiro was willing to give his team a hometown discount, a rarity in today's get-all-that-you-can athlete. But Samson couldn't - or wouldn't - acknowledge that fact during his radio interview. His narrow-minded view of the baseball hemisphere apparently begins and ends in South Florida. Which left listeners salivating in anticipation of Samson's next eruption when A-Rod passes the $30 million-per-year mark.(Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University and teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming. The Prescott Valley resident can be reached at email@example.com)