May 24, 2019 | 60° F

HITCHINGS: Greed outweighs love for game in sports

Opinion Column: From the Nosebleeds

On Tuesday afternoon, Major League Baseball (MLB) insider Jeff Passan shook the world with the long-awaited announcement of show-stopping free agent infielder Manny Machado’s new contract. Ten years, $300 million to become the new shortstop for the San Diego Padres. Machado will go from making $16 million in 2018 to $30 million a year for the next decade. The deal is the largest ever signed by a free agent, but will likely be eclipsed in the coming weeks, as the free agency floodgates open up and the start of the season grows dangerously close.

MLB's annual free agency hot stove is consistently one of the most entertaining among American sports. But this year, considering National Football League (NFL) running back Le’Veon Bell’s full season contract holdout last fall, has unfortunately set a precedent in professional sports to prioritize maximizing contracts over actually playing.

This baseball offseason saw a highly-touted free agent class, which was headlined by Machado and former Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, but also notably filled to the brim with studs like 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, seven-time All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel and five-time All-Star outfielder Adam Jones, all of whom remain unsigned at the time of CBS's column publication.

Harper’s free agency storyline has gone Hollywood, becoming a marketing tool for this year’s "MLB The Show 19" video game. Harper was announced to be on the cover back in November, but the game developers have yet to reveal what jersey he will wear until he signs with the team. With the games release now less than 50 days away, they must be sweating this deliberation just as much as fans are hopeful to welcoming Harper to their team.

Now, as pitchers and catchers have already reported to all 30 spring training programs, and opening day looms just five weeks from today, free agents and teams will be forced to scramble to distribute multimillion-dollar contracts to these players to finalize their rosters. 

The cause for this delay starts at the top. Machado and Harper stood out from this group as candidates for historically large contract recipients, and turned their negotiations into a bidding war. If Harper signed first for say, $300 million, Machado could demand the same per year. Now that Machado has signed first, expect Harper to push for an even larger pay day and for the rest of the free agents to use these contracts in their own negotiations. 

This trend of greed among athletes is understandable, as everyone in every profession strives to make as much as possible, but it is also irresponsible, as it compromises a period in the league year meant for training and preparation rather than contract negotiation. In the end, these men are paid hundreds of millions of dollars to play a game they have played since they were children. This trend of prioritizing money above all else compromises what thousands of ball players would gladly do for free. Chris Long, a defensive end for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, did the latter in 2017.

Long announced in October 2017 that he would be donating his entire season salary of $1 million (3.3 percent of what Machado will make in 2019) to charities in Philadelphia, St. Louis, Boston and Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Every game this year I took the field with a little extra motivation. I knew that in doing what I love on Sundays, I was able to enhance my platform and do more good,” Long said in a statement.

Karma proved true for Long, as he won the Super Bowl at the end of the 2017 season, and the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for player volunteer and charity work in 2018.

As Harper and the other free agents sign their deals — and show up late to spring training — people will forget about the circus that this offseason was. The public will return to its role as spectators, while free agents in future years will evaluate their options and strategize on how to make more money than any person could ever need. Baseball legends of past generations would shiver in their cleats at the thought of players not reporting for work due to contract negotiations. 

Babe Ruth, an all-time great, signed his historic trade from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees 5 months before the start of the 1920 season, because a priority until recently was to actually have the players settled in and ready for the start of the season. Unfortunately for baseball purists, and fans in general, the love of money has taken over the love of the game.

T.J. Hitchings is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies, with a concentration in sports media. His column, “From the Nosebleeds,” runs on alternate Thursdays.


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T.J. Hitchings

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