JohnWallStreet had the pleasure of attending the 34th Annual March of Dimes Sports Luncheon, presented by Ford (F). Attended by more than 700 leaders and influencers in the sports business industry, the event raised $1.17 million for pregnancy and baby health research, education, vaccines and breakthroughs. JWS had a chance to catch up with ’86 Mets Star and current MLB broadcaster, Ron Darling, to discuss the rise in player salaries (and endorsement money) over the last 30 years.
JWS: As a player, did you understand that you were going to have to work once your playing career was over?
Darling: In my day, you certainly thought you were going to work after you were done playing. I always thought I would at 35 years old, still have something to offer.
JWS: When you look at the amount players make today, is there any jealousy or resentment there?
Darling: Whenever I think about the money made by today’s players, I never begrudge what they make. I think about Marvin Miller and the MLBPA, how hard they fought; how many great players, much better than I ever was, never made a nickel or a dime. I just think of all those players that came before, that fought so hard to get the players playing today all the rewards coming their way
JWS: When you made your first all-star game in ’85, did the endorsements start rolling in for you?
Darling: In the mid 80s, endorsements were not really moving the needle. You would get a thing here or there, but there was no branding in those days unless you were a superstar. You were very happy and fortunate with any nickel or dime that would come your way. It’s different today, there are certainly more opportunities; but it hasn’t changed in that the best of the best still reaps the most rewards and the more pedestrian players try to find a place in the market.
JWS: You signed a 3 year, $5 million contract with the Mets.Did you go on a spending spree or were you fiscally responsible?
Darling: I was extremely conservative. I was very lucky that I had a family to take care of. I only owned one car at one time, one house at one time, I didn’t have a posse to worry about; I think all players should be that way.
Howie Long-Short: Ron may not be resentful, but I’d imagine it’s difficult not to think “what if I was born just a few decades later?” Darling entered the league in 1984, when just 6 teams had a total player payroll of more than $10 million; the Mets carried a payroll of just $7 million that season. The team’s average salary was just shy of $283,000 and their highest paid player, George Foster made $2 million (Keith Hernandez had an average salary of $1.6 million). In 2017, 36 MLB players made more than $20 million; with 2 guys having made more than $30 million (Kershaw, Price).
Fan Marino: Derek Jeter traded Giancarlo Stanton (and $30 million) to the Yankees for Starlin Castro and 2 low-level prospects as the Marlins look to cut payroll from $115 million in ’17 to $55 million ’18. The new ownership group paid $1.2 billion for a franchise that lost $50+ million last season, hence the need for a fire sale. JWS got the chance to ask Ron why this group overpaid for the franchise if it meant having to strip it down to nuts and bolts?
Darling: I think because there are only 30 teams; sometimes you just want to throw your hat in the ring, you just want to be a part of an organization. You think, let’s become owners first and then we’ll figure out all the ramifications of what that means later. When you buy a team, and decide on a business model, that business model doesn’t always fit in with players’ salaries; so sometimes you must make some tough decisions. The business of baseball is much different than the aesthetics of watching it.
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