Can Cardinals Afford to Pay Pujols $35m/year?

Oct 01, 2009

I love baseball. I love Cardinal’s baseball. And I enjoy Pujols and Holliday as the best 3-4 combination in the majors. My youngest son’s room has a life-sized Pujols pin-up, I own five Pujols rookie cards (including a card that is one of only 15 printed), and I will join any “retire #5” club. But I do not support $35m to keep Pujols.

I know many St Louis fans will say “Spend whatever it takes!” to keep Pujols. But I, for one, love Cardinal’s baseball much more than any individual player. I would hate for DeWitt to move St Louis into the same mentality of the Yankees and Red Sox owners, continually pushing the salary envelope to field a team of superstars.

Unlike New York who feels without superstars you won’t draw a crowd, St Louis doesn’t need superstars to fill the seats. People come to watch the Cardinals, not Pujols. Yes, Mark McGwire & Albert Pujols are great additions and fun to watch, but I maintain that the vast majority of St Louis fans are there to watch baseball, not baseball players.

This is one of the reasons St Louis fans are constantly donned by the league insiders as the best fans in baseball; the most knowledgeable fans in baseball; or the most devoted fans in baseball. This is the reason Cardinal’s fans cheer great plays made by opposing players (as long as his name isn’t Manny).

The argument can be made that Pujols will put fans in the seats and therefore make more money for the team’s owners. No one can argue that, but after such an incredible year how much more can they get out of the Cardinals’ fan without raising prices? An increased salary for Pujols of $19,000,000 per year will have to come out of someone’s pocket. Is there any doubt whose pocket?

Consider for a moment what tickets prices have done in New York in just the past three seasons:

The Yankees’ $72.97 average ticket cost is a 76.3 percent increase from last year, the club’s last in The House That Ruth Built when the average ticket price was $41.40, an increase of 18.1 percent from 2007. Source: BizOfBaseball.

Now the Yankees are making news that their ticket prices are being cut, but the fine print shows that only the expensive tickets are going down:

…some ticket prices will be lowered in 2010 at The House that George Built, while 80 percent will remain flat:

Some of the highest price seats will see reductions of up to 40 percent, including those in the Legends area and the Delta Sky 360 Suite. The first level of non-premium suites, which are one level up behind home plate, will be reduced from $325 to $250 or $235 per game per seat, depending on the location. To account for the challenging environment, the Yankees had already given some fans in these areas extra tickets to each game. Source: BizOfBaseball

The Cardinals have had their share of ticket increases over the past five years, and if ownership deems a $35m pricetag for Pujols is worth it…another round of hikes will be our fate.

The owners can point to the season ticket sales and justify higher prices and those higher-priced tickets will probably be purchased. But higher ticket prices have already changed who attends the games on a regular basis.

The ballpark experience has already been stolen from America’s lower class, and soon much of the middle class will feel the same fate.

For those who have gotten to this point and are thinking “Brian, this is anti-Capitalism”, I have two thoughts to share. First, baseball is a government-controlled and protected monopoly which completely pushes capitalism outside of the discussion.The existence of salary caps is enough evidence to support this view.

Second, even the economic law of supply-and-demand doesn’t factor in the outside forces of a baseball stadium. Supply is constant (seats at a stadium multiplied by number of home games) and demand is a manipulated by team performance, fan loyalty, superstars, rivalries, and cross-market draw (Yankees and Cardinals continue to pull big ticket sales even when visiting bad markets).

As I said earlier, the St Louis Cardinals will fill the seats if they increase the seat price, but not because of supply and demand economics. It will just change who can afford to attend the games.

One of my favorite players of all time was Tommy Herr. Number 28 was whisked away in the middle of the night to Minnesota. As a fan, it was hard on me. Tommy was the reason I played 2nd base! But I didn’t stop loving Cardinal’s baseball and if we lose Pujols, my sons and all the other young fans will be faced with the same challenge: to love baseball, first; Cardinals’ baseball, second; and individual players a distant third.

  1. Ted

    As goes Larusa….so will Albert. If the Cardinals can’t sighn Larusa in the offseason Pujols will go to the highest bidder by his own reasoning not the organization.

  2. Kale

    Can the Cardinals afford to pay Pujols $35m/year? I think they have to whether they can actually afford it. I agree that baseball salaries are too high but Pujols is the best player in baseball right now and he should be paid accordingly. Pujols doesn’t even make the list of the top 25 highest paid baseball players for 2009. He makes a little over $14 million a year where as Alex Rodriguez is making well over $30 million a year. That will change when Pujols is resigned when his current contract is over. The Cardinals will sign him because they have to. They need a big name player to help draw in the crowds. It is true that diehard fans will still go to the games but that is not where the money is made. The real money is made in the merchandise. The bigger the star then the more stuff that is sold. So to answer the question, yes. I do think a figure more around $25-30m/year is where he will end up.

  3. David Kelley

    I agree with you Brian. Players are being paid way to much to play. I wish I had the chance just to play the game every day. That should be payment enough. The only thing I see good about having these players like Pujols is the whole drug use thing going on in baseball. I can see paying a person like Pujols more then someone like A-rod. I think that if they are busted doing drugs they should be kicked out. The fans should not have to pay to see cheaters.

  4. Tom

    I agree that every baseball player is overpaid (Actually that applies to ALL professional athletes) and $35 million is absurd to pay anyone. However, (you knew that was coming) we are talking about a man who may be the best who’s ever played the game period. Someone is going to pay him that kind of money and he will win games for whomever he plays. It might as well be the Cards. Again, I will be the first to say that they shouldn’t make that kind of money but the reality is that they do and owners keep offering it. Keep him here. I love baseball but I would much rather see a winning team like the Cards than a team like the Royals (or Rams).

  5. Lee

    It is not just Pujols’ salary that should be criticized, but ALL of baseball. It is no longer America’s game–it is a money trap. A young family can no longer take their children to a major league baseball game without floating a loan to do so. I like to watch the Cardinals, but can do so in my living room with pop corn, hot dogs, or much more and not shell out a wad of money to see it “live”. It is no longer about competition among teams for the joy of winning, it is all about money!! So sad.

  6. gk

    Have Albert involved to a certain extent in the negotiations with Holiday, DeRosa, Duncan, and Larussa. See if a agreeable decrease in his salary is enough to help the others sign with the Cardinals.

    1. Brian Becker

      What would be awesome is if Pujols said:
      Rather than $35m, I’ll take $20m if you reduce 20,000 tickets per game by $10.
      $10 x 20,000 x 81 games = $16,200,000 + $20,000,000 == $36.2m

  7. richard

    First of all they would not have to pay him that much. you are looking at one of the top three greatest players in baseball history if not the best. albert has already said he would stay in st.louis for less if the they will build a winning team around him. I am sure that several of the others would also. They need to sign him as a lifetime or franchise player and if they don,t they a foolish

  8. angela

    Very well stated, I agree completely. I have to admit I hate to see favorites go too, but in the end, we do fine the following year without them. As for Pujols, he isnt the only one playing the game, he isnt the only one winning, they all are. I love the game more than the team and def more than the players. I watch many teams play, the Cards r my favorite b/c its St. Louis, but I watch for the game, not the fame.

  9. Alan

    I agree Brian but here are two reasons that won’t happen:

    First, Bill Dewitt is to cheap to pay him that much.

    Second, there are too many players and coaches he is going to have to sign or re-sign at the same time. If he spends all his money on Pujols there is nothing left for Larusa, Duncan, Holliday, Schumaker, Ryan and several pitchers.

    Ooo, I just thought of another,

    Third, he wouldn’t even give the 2006 World Series MVP $3m a year. There are still people mad about that one. (Personally I think Ryan is doing just as good.)

  10. Gary

    Actually, it seems to me that baseball is controlled-manipulated capitalism. As far as Cardinal Management is concerned, supply is fixed, demand is still high. Why not push the envelope with respect to ticket prices? Every business in America without stiff competition is engaged in maximizing their margin. Look at cell phone services for another example of controlled-manipulated capitalism. Each of the big three players maintains nearly identical plan pricing for data services in the 3G (and up) wireless world.

    My grandparents were dyed in the wool Cardinal fans. Up until the day she died, my grandmother maintained a bond with her remaining sister of Cardinals baseball. She just missed the post season.

    Ticket prices keep me from attending pretty much any sporting event these days. My disposable income goes farther when used for other endeavours. I also can’t stand the constant yelling for peanuts, beer or any of the other items being hawked in the stands. For crying out loud, I paid good money to see a game! Pricing for those items is outrageous as well.

    As long as there is the sucker still being born every minute and they still sell enough tickets to make a profit, the lower reaches of humanity will be priced out. It will be a shame, but we can see it coming. It’s another indicator of the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, but with America’s favorite past time at the pinnacle! Now, where’s my lottery ticket? Oops, don’t have one….

  11. sherry

    I agree I think they are all overpaid. I watch because I love the game. if the player likes to play then he will think first of the fans and then his pocketbook

  12. Doyle

    I too have to agree with you Brian..
    First off there is no way anyone should be paid 35 Mil to play baseball..
    Come on it may be a business but it’s still baseball.
    Yes Pujols is a great player but he is not perfect… he either won’t or can’t hustle full out to first on an infield hit.
    I wonder how much there is to the sport commentator’s statements about Pufols saying that fielding a winning team was more important to him than his own personal income?
    It has got so that an average family in today’s economy has a hard time justifying the major investment it takes to attend a game now.
    I have grown up in a family that is a bunch of Cardinal fanatics. We used to buy four season tickets for anyone in the family to use. But when the new stadium opened the ticket prices jumped so drastically we had to say forget it. All the same I feel that if the Cardinal front office can put a respectable team on the field their fans will be there! Go Cards!

  13. David

    I agree 100%, they can live without him, the last few days have shown his short comings.