For Love of the Game? Only in the Movies

With Max Scherzer recently signing a $210 million contract with the Washington Nationals to play baseball for 7 years, fans are once again left shaking their heads, and wondering about what this game has become.  How many players are really playing mainly because they love the game, and how many are just in it to collect a paycheck?

In the 1999 film, “For Love of the Game,” Kevin Costner plays the role of Billy Chapel, a nearly washed up pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who is starting the final game of his 19 year career.  It is obvious that Chapel truly loves the game of baseball, but for him it is not about the money; it’s about playing a game that he loves.  The clip below shows Chapel about to pitch in the final game of his career.  Don’t worry, this is not an article about that movie, though I was one of the few who liked it!

Now, before people start going crazy, let me make myself very clear. I am not just blaming the players for taking the money and running.  A 162 game Major League Baseball season is without a doubt one of the most mentally and physically draining seasons in all of sports.  In order for a player to be successful season after season, for an extended period of time, he has to have a love for the game too, right?  I have no doubt that most players in the league do love the game of baseball, some more than others of course, but I also have no doubt that most players would change teams in a heartbeat if the money was right.  Does that make them a bad person? Of course not, anyone who says that is uneducated in the politics behind baseball. What I believe is that today’s players, and not just baseball players, have fallen victim to what the system has become, and that is a system that allows for agents to almost hold organizations hostage until they get the contract that they want.

The Tigers offered Scherzer $144 million to stay in Detroit in what seemed like a very fair offer, but Scott Boras, Scherzer’s agent, just brushed it off knowing very well that they could hold out for more. Guess what, he was right and they cashed in big time. The way that the $210 million contract, that Boras negotiated, is structured, has Scherzer getting paid $15 million per year for the next 14 years! That’s right folks, he will actually be getting paid for an additional 7 years after his contract is over. Is that for love of the game? I think not.

As I said, only blaming the players does not make sense, but this is a business and the point of a business is to make money, and many players are cashing in. Take a look for yourself, here is a list of the top 10 contracts that are currently being paid to Major League Baseball players.

  1. Giancarlo Stanton – $325,000,000 (2015-2027)
  2. Alex Rodriguez – $275,000,000 (2008-2017)
  3. Miguel Cabrera – $248,000,000 (2016-2023)
  4. Albert Pujols – $240,000,000 (2012-2021)
  5. Robinson Cano – $240,000,000 (2014-2023)
  6. Joey Votto – $225,000,000 (2014-2023)
  7. Clayton Kershaw – $215,000,000 (2014-2020)
  8. Prince Fielder – $214,000,000 (2012-2020)
  9. Max Scherzer – $210,000,000 (2015-2021)
  10. Joe Mauer – $184,000,000 (2011-2018)

Are you interested in seeing more of these out of this world contracts? Check out this link to Baseball Prospectus, it lists the top contracts of all-time. You can even view the top contracts by position if you would like.

If Billy Chapel were in the league today, the movie may have turned out very different.  In fact, Chapel surely would have parlayed his perfect game into a 5-year $50 million contract that he knew he would never play out.  I guess we will never see Costner, or any other actor for that matter, portraying Scherzer in a movie about playing baseball because he loves the game and money does not matter.  Wait a second, I think I hear the phone ringing. Yep, it’s Tom Cruise calling, gotta go! Show me the money!