Miller made millions for baseball’s ‘average’

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Marvin Miller died last week at the age of 95.

Miller is without doubt one of the top-10 figures in baseball history.

No, he never played the game, but he shaped it like few others.

You see, Miller was the first Executive Director of the Major League Players Association. When he took over the union in 1967, the average salary for a ballplayer was about $6,000.

Let me repeat that. The average Major League player earned $6,000. Not per game, not per month. PER YEAR.

Players were basically indentured servants — their fate solely decided by the teams they played for. There was no such thing as free agency. The team offered the salary, and the player either took it or didn’t play. It was a simpler time.

In 2012, the average salary was about $4 million. Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez took home $29 million. For one season.

Yes, by any measure, Miller did well for his constituency. Whether your favorite team plays in a big or small market, you really can’t argue that people should have a say in where they work.

Mr. Miller’s death sparked the long-standing debate about whether he deserves to be in baseball’s Hall of Fame. (He missed out in the Veterans Committee vote two years ago by one vote.)

But this column is not intended to debate the merits of one man’s contributions to the game. Miller’s passing got me to thinking about the divide that now exists — intended or not– between players and fans.

As I mentioned, the average big-league player earns about $4 million. For the Tigers, we’re talking about second baseman Omar Infante.

Let’s look at exactly how much $4 million is:

First, some perspective. Back in 1967, the average household took in $7,200. Yes, that’s right, the average Joe earned more than the average ballplayer.

Having trouble digesting that? Try wrapping your head around this — most players actually worked in the offseason! Think about that for a second.

“Yes, Mr. Cabrera, I like those shoes. You’ve got yourself a sale!” or “Thanks for your help, Mr. Verlander, we’ll take plastic bags, please.”  

Pretty wild stuff, eh?

Now let’s look at today, $4 million. What does that mean in “real life?”

Let’s say that you’re a college graduate. For the sake of our discussion, you were fortunate to find a job that pays $100,000 a year. (Yes, I’ll be asking for a loan after we’re done.)  

According to Forbes Magazine, you’re making just more than double what the average graduate makes in his/her first job.

Now let’s say you continue your streak of good fortune (pun intended), and get a 4-percent raise each year. How long do you think it would take to total Mr. Average Major Leaguer, Omar Infante’s, 2012 salary of $4 million?  

More than 24 years.

Players might argue that $4 million isn’t really $4 million. There are taxes, they need to pay their agents, and that stuff adds up.

Does it really?  

Let’s use Mitt Romney’s tax returns as an example. The former presidential candidate reportedly paid 13.9 percent. With that percentage, the average player pays $556,000. Heck, even if we double the tax rate, that only comes out to $1.112 million.

Just about every player in the bigs has an agent. Their rates vary, but for our purposes, we’ll use 7 percent. Take that off of the top, and we’re talking about $280,000. If we add that to the high tax rate, $4 million turns into about $2.6.

But even that isn’t totally accurate.

We all know that professional athletes spend half their time on the road. When baseball players travel, they get about $100 a day in per diem. Have you ever tried to eat $100 worth of food in one day? Every day?  

Oh, by the way, whether they’re at home or on the road, the team has pregame and postgame spreads. So if a player wants to, he could eat lunch and dinner in the clubhouse — absolutely free.

They obviously aren’t paying for transportation — most teams own or share a charter (which actually has more food on it) — and they stay in the best hotels, too. Of course, their medical bills are also taken care of.

The point here is, athletes often don’t pay for the same things that we do, so their “bottom line” income is even more than it appears.

I’d make the argument that Marvin Miller’s greatest legacy isn’t that Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera get paid more than $20 million annually to play baseball. I think that’s more a result of the old adage about supply and demand.

If you’ve got a special gift and someone is willing to pay for it, you’re in business. Whether top salaries would have grown as high as they are is up to interpretation.

Look at George Clooney or Bruce Springsteen — they can do things that very few others can. The top talent always gets rewarded.

No, I think that Miller’s biggest accomplishment is that an average baseball player — Omar Infante in our case — can make more money in a single year than many people will make in their lifetime. It certainly makes one reconsider the term “average,” doesn’t it?

Oh, we forgot to talk about baseball’s MINIMUM salary. After all, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, right?  

Every Major League player is assured of a minimum salary of $480,000.

Want to do the math on that one?