Ah, spring. The green green grass white white uniform birds singing flowers blooming renewal of youth designed to break your heart slap of the leather crack of the bat stare out the window and wait for it spring.
It's here. Life is skittles and life is beer. It's the season for our heroes to gather, pull on the old pajamas, stretch out the cobwebs and snow, squint up at the sun and complain about how much money they make.
Sunday was the first day teams could unilaterally renew the contracts of players under their control. Players with fewer than three years' major league service time can be renewed by their club for one year, subject to the minimum wage of $390,000 and a prohibition against salary cuts greater than 20 percent.
"I'm not happy about it at all," said Milwaukee Brewers slugger Prince Fielder, who was renewed at about $670,000, according to the Associated Press. Fielder made $415,000 last year, his second full season, when he hit 50 home runs at the age of 23. That salary also came via a renewal.
Unless he signs a long-term contract, Fielder will be eligible for arbitration after each of the next three seasons before his first chance at free agency in 2012. His salary figures to increase at least a dozen-fold next year.
"I'm not happy about it because there’s a lot of guys who have the same amount of time that I do who have done a lot less and are getting paid a lot more," Fielder said.
That's true, if you count a player like Troy Tulowitzki, who signed a six-year, $31 million contract this offseason after a rookie year that was very fine, but not historically great like Fielder's '07. Of course, Tulowitzki money is likely available to Fielder if he's foolish enough to sell his arbitration and early free-agency years cheap. And if he was talking about guys outearning him on renewals, he didn't exactly hand out a list to reporters.
No, he just whined, which essentially means he was whining to you, dear misty-eyed, spring-fevered baseball fan, about his salary, which, to review, is $670,000 and, to be clear, makes him vastly underpaid.
In terms of scale, that's kind of like me sitting down on the couch of a person who works about half-time at a minimum-wage job and complaining that I'm underpaid. I may actually be underpaid -- just kidding, boss, and I hope you noticed I gave your car an extra coat of wax this week -- but wouldn't that be awfully rude of me?
Why do ballplayers think we working stiffs out here in the world want to hear about their money problems? However legitimate their complaints in the rarefied context of big-league baseball's economy, they're still complaining about six- and seven-figure salaries to people who make a fraction of that.
The Colorado Rockies, Tulowitzki's employer, are patting themselves on the back for locking up the young star through what would have been his first year of free agency at the relative bargain price of $5.17 million a season. I would need something like two lifetimes to make what Tulowitzki is going to make every year.
It'll take me a good chunk of this lifetime to make the 2008 salary that Fielder's complaining about. And I've got good work. And Fielder's going to make $8 million or more next year unless he joins a commune and renounces the physical world or something.
"I'm not angry," said Philadelphia Phillies lefty Cole Hamels, who had his $400,000 salary bumped up to about a half-million, mlb.com reported. "I can't think of a good word. I'm a little surprised. It's about respect, and when people don't show that to you, you're caught off guard. I thought it was a low blow."
Sort of like the low blow of a guy who makes 10 times as much money as you do, thanks in part to you buying the product he helps sell, complaining to you about how little money he makes. Yeah, it's about respect.
In the late 1960s, when St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood was fighting the reserve clause, which effectively bound players to their team for life, holding salaries drastically below market rate, he was reminded that he had collected the then princely sum of $90,000 for his most recent year's work. In today's dollars, that was similar to the reported $500,000 that Hamels will make this year.
"A well-paid slave," Flood famously said, "is still a slave."
This isn't that.
Fielder, Hamels and any other young ballplayer who doesn't like the terms of his renewed contract should remind himself that he's operating under a system that was arrived at in collective bargaining, and it's a system that lavishly rewards those who make it through three years. It isn't exactly chicken feed in the first three, either.
Nor should it be. The worst player in the major leagues is one of the best baseball players in the world, it's always good to remember. People at the top of a multibillion-dollar enterprise should get paid handsomely. Any young gun who doesn't like the bargain that was struck should take it up with the union, but of course they all stop complaining about the system once it starts working in their favor in Year 4.
This column is here to serve its betters, so here's a script for any player who isn't yet getting quite the deal he'd hoped.
"We're heading into a recession and people are struggling out there. They don't need to hear me complaining about my big salary not being big enough. Thanks for asking, but it's between me, my agent and the club."
First player who says something like that gets dinner at my house. We'll have Top Ramen. All I can afford on the peanuts this rag pays me.
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