In 2007 baseball revenues were over six billion dollars. The commissioner made over 14 million dollars. The average player made 3.1 million dollars. Average, that means some were higher and some were lower. If you do the math, about half the players made lower, most of them around the minimum of 400,000 dollars. Stars on average make at least 5 million a year. Superstars make well over ten million dollars a year. As you can see baseball is flush with cash. But not everybody.

Baseball is not like the NBA, where rookies are highly prized and well paid, especially if they are one of the best rookies in the game. In baseball, rookies are highly prized (especially the past few years) but get paid the minimum. Look at Prince Fielder, the Milwaukee Brewers first basemen, who hit 50 homers last year , but will be paid 670,000 dollars this year. Or Jonathan Papelbon, the Boston Red Sox star closer, who will make 775,000 dollars this year. Normally, rising stars like thse only get paid after several years of service time.

And then they make teams pay. Often young stars go to free agency where they listen to attractive offers and choose the best. Alex Rodriguez did it when he signed his record 250 million dollar contract. Derek Jeter did it when he signed his 180 million dollar contract. I don’t blame them. Teams willingly offer them this kind of money, and in most cases they are the reason the teams have that kind of money to offer. But rookies don’t have the chance at that kind of money.

Unless you’re Evan Longoria. He is the Tampa Bay Rays new third baseman with only seven days of major league service time. And he just signed a long-term contract worth at least 17.5 millions, and 44.5 million at most. He could have waited until he was a star and then made a lot more. But he didn’t.

A cool 17.5 million dollars at worst, 44.5 million at best. That’s like winning the lottery!

I remember the first time I went to buy a lottery ticket. I felt guilty. I had always berated, sometimes secretly, sometimes openly, people who spent five, ten bucks a week on lottery tickets. If they saved up all those five dollar or ten dollar bills, then over the course of a year they would have had an extra five hundred dollars. Compounded over the ten years they had been playing the lottery, it would have been five thousand dollars. That’s a lot of money given away with nothing to show for it.

But there I was, pulling my car over to the convenience store about to buy my first lottery ticket. I had chosen my spot carefully. It was late at night out in the middle of the country. The road was empty and the store was empty. No one would see me buying a ticket, except myself. I felt like a fourteen year old trying to buy his first Playboy magazine, like I was doing something illegal, something naughty, but something illicitly exciting.

I was hoping to win the Mega Millions jackpot. I can’t quite remember what the pot was, but it was large. At least a couple hundred million. I walked back out to the car holding my ticket as tight as a boy holds his father’s hand the first time he goes to the circus. I repeated the numbers over and over, watching in my head as the imaginary balls spun around in space and then suddenly popped up the chute with the exact numbers on my ticket. At home, watching the news, waiting for the magic numbers to appear that were going to tell me that I was latest millionaire, I could barely sit down or contain my anticipation. If my numbers were called it meant a whole lot of good things.

It meant the college loans would be paid off and I would be able to pay off my parent’s mortgage.
It meant a car that wouldn’t sputter and hiss every time I came to a stop sign and that business I was always hoping to start. It meant walking down the street in New York City and not wishing I could walk into that hotel and stay the night but actually being able to do it. It meant picking up the phone and calling that number on the TV so that I could feed a child or two or three in Africa. It meant all of these things and more.

But my numbers weren’t called. I was disappointed, but only marginally so, since nobody had won and the jackpot was even bigger for the next drawing. I bought a ticket for that drawing, and the next, and the one after that. By then, it stopped being about the things I could do with the money, and it started to be more about the money. I wanted the money. I had lost sight of what I wanted the money for.

After Evan Longoria’s contract was announced, this is what he had to say: “As a player you have to look at what’s best for you, and for me the security of a long-term contract and knowing now I’m pretty much set for life, that’s just very, very assuring to me. I certainly have enough confidence in myself that I could go out and play a couple years and wait for arbitration, maybe make the six or seven (million) a year, whatever it may be, but at the same time I’m not starved for money or anything. Just to have that security factor in the back of your mind and be able to go out and play the game is what I wanted. That’s exactly why I did this deal.”

I’m impressed. Evan didn’t lose sight of what the money meant, what it equated to. It meant he would have security, that he would be set for life, that he would have assurance and peace. And secondly it would allow him to go out and do what he wanted: play the game.

I need to remember that the next time I drive under the great big Mega Millions sign with its huge numbers (which just happens to be everyday – twice!). Money is just stuff that I trade to get what I really want.

© Seth Crossman