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Joe Guzzardi: Modern baseball stars are overrated — and overpaid

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Posted: Saturday, January 11, 2014 12:00 am

This week the Hall of Fame announced its three newest inductees, pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and designated hitter/first baseman Frank Thomas. Even though they’re worthy candidates, my reaction to news was to yawn. Although I’m a lifelong fan, I’m pretty much done with modern day baseball.

Sure, I said the same thing after the 1994-95 strike, the third of its kind since 1972.

Then I pledged to not pay attention to baseball when the cocaine and steroid scandals unfolded.

But this time, I really mean it. The HOF is a running joke. What should be the most exclusive club in professional sports will soon admit dozens more players. Because of the backlog of candidates, the Baseball Writers’ Association of American is considering a 15-man ballot instead of the traditional 10. The BBWAA either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care that a smaller HOF is a more exclusive and therefore better institution.

But the membership size and the inevitable controversies about which worthy players may be left out or which undeserving players get voted in isn’t my biggest problem.

Insane sums of money are.

Take a look at some of the recent stories: various MLB franchises may post the $20 million fee to Japan’s Rakuten Golden Eagles in exchange for the rights to negotiate with its star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. The winner will then invest somewhere in the range of $125 million and possibly much more to lock Tanaka up for five years.

Actually, $125 million is small potatoes in the baseball world. Shin-Soo Choo rejected the New York Yankees’ seven-year, $140 million offer. Among the more well known names, Alex Rodriguez has earned more than half a billion playing baseball. ESPN’s Buster Olney, after speaking to MLB insiders, wondered if Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout might sign a 12-year, $400 million contract which would easily eclipse Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275 million deal. Olney and others concluded that $400 million is not far-fetched.

Not to worry about the owners who sign the checks; they’re printing money. According to a recent Forbes Magazine report based on 2012 data, the average baseball team is worth $744 million, 23 percent more than a year ago and the largest increase since in 1998. During the 2012 season, revenue net of stadium debt service rose 7 percent, to an average of $227 million per team.

The rich are about to get richer. Last year, Fox, TBS and ESPN inked new eight-year broadcasting deals that for owners will generate $12.4 billion over eight years, an average of $52 million per season for each of the league’s 30 teams — through 2021. The new deals begin with the 2014 season and are worth more than twice the league’s existing television contracts.

I can’t escape my sense that rooting for a baseball team or an individual player is like rooting for Standard Oil and John D. Rockefeller.

My suggestion for the HOF would be to end the annual voting and thereby spare the fans of pointless arguments the most tedious of which is whether Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens should be inducted despite their links to steroid use.

But keep the non-HOF Cooperstown Museum open so that fans can study the game’s great history. In Cooperstown, visitors can learn about the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional base ball (as it was then spelled) team that went 57-0 for the season. I guarantee you that the Red Stockings of 145 years ago are more interesting than the 2013, $2.3 billion Yankees.

Joe Guzzardi is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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