Keep your eyes on ball and money Class of 1993 in class of own

July 11, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Imagine this double play: $5.2 million-a-year outfielder Kirby Puckett hits a ground ball to Barry Larkin, a $5.7 million shortstop, who flicks it over to $6.475 million second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who completes the double play with a throw to $2.5 million first baseman John Kruk.

If you lost count, that's four players and almost $19.9 million in salaries.

Tuesday's All-Star Game will showcase not only the best of baseball's talent, but also the worst of its excess. When the league's two teams take the field, they will likely represent the most highly paid athletes ever assembled, according to a salary review by The Sun.

The highest is the Chicago Cubs' Sandberg. The lowest is the Los Angeles Dodgers' Mike Piazza, a steal at $126,000.

The highest-paid player not to make the starting lineup: New York Mets outfielder Bobby Bonilla, at $6.2 million.

The 56 All-Stars will earn a combined $148 million this year in salaries, an average of $2.64 million -- about three times baseball's average.

The National League holds a slight payroll edge: $75.8 million to the American League's $72.2 million.

This year's NBA All-Star Game had 24 players earning $55.87 million, or an average of $2.33 million.

Even a typical Kentucky Derby field, with 16 thoroughbreds and top-rated jockeys, earns only about $50 million a year -- and that's both horse and rider.

The only event that comes close is the NFL Pro Bowl, because of its mammoth roster. This year's had 85 players, earning a combined $83.8 million. The average was a little less than $1 million a player.

The reason for the disparity is simple: Baseball is the only major-league sport with free agency for players and no salary cap. Free agency allows senior players to sign with whichever team offers them the best deal.

The NBA pioneered a salary cap tied to team revenues. The result has been high pay -- the average of $1.2 million is actually more than baseball's $1.01 million -- but less variance from the top to the bottom of the payroll.

On the NBA champion Chicago Bulls, for example, Michael Jordan earns $4 million, or 20 times Corey Williams' $200,000.

Compare that with the Orioles, where Cal Ripken will earn nearly $6 million this year, or 42 times Jeff Tackett's $142,500.

The NFL this year reached an agreement with its players that calls for both a salary cap and limited free agency. Most analysts expect a big jump in the average salary, which stood at $496,345 before the deal was signed.

Baseball executives are seeking a similar arrangement.

"The ability of baseball to sustain these salaries comes down to Major League Baseball's ability to solve its problems," said Paul Much, a sports finance consultant with Houlihan, Lokey, Howard & Zukin in Chicago.

ALL-STAR PAYOFFS

Salaries of other sports' all-stars and how they compare with those of baseball's all-stars (average pay is in millions)

NBA All-Star: 24 players

$2.33M

Dream Team: 12 players

$2.91M

NFL Pro Bowl: 85 players

$985,882

Major-league baseball: 56 players

$2.64M

+

JEF DAUBER/STAFF GRAPHIC

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