Rounding bases on money issues -- a look at earned-pay averages

The pay for eight months of throwing, catching, and hitting a small leather ball: $2 million. At least eight major leaguers will top that figure with salary, bonus, and benefits this year. Almost 40 players will make more than $1 million. The average player's salary has shot up from $51,500 a year to $363,000 since 1976.

Are the Boys of Summer worth it?

It's hard to calculate the value of a Mike Schmidt, a Jim Rice, or an Ozzie Smith. But owners apparently feel such a player pays off in more excitement, more victories, more ticket and broadcast revenue, and, yes, more prestige.

Are the players justified in demanding such sums?

The working-class fan has trouble swallowing a strike when the quibbling is over such big bucks. But players contend they are finally getting their due. And careers are short, they point out, so earnings will peak in just a brief span of time.

On average, a player's major-league ca-reer lasts four to five years, according to the Major League Players Association, and few players make the top dollars.

``A baseball career may be as long as 15 years,'' says Ronald Shapiro, president of Shapiro, Robinson & Associates, a Baltimore-based sports financial planning firm. ``But that includes five or six years in the minors earning $500 to $600 a month, on the road bouncing around in buses.''

If you make it to the majors, the first two years (three years beginning 1987) are typically with a non-negotiable salary. Then, if you're good, ``the big time for five or six years -- but your entire earning power is focused in those few years,'' Mr. Shapiro says.

Before 1976, players had little leeway in negotiating. They were essentially the property of the team. Salaries rose slowly. In 1963, Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton won 21 games but earned just $10,000. During eight years in the majors, he says, his average salary was $19,000.

In 1975, the courts struck down the ownership clauses binding players to teams. After six years in the majors, play-ers can sell their services to the highest bidder. Owners have bid aggressively, and salaries have soared.

Still, once a player's career ends, earnings often come to a halt.

``Unlike a TV or rock star, you can't come back in another show or with a new group. You're left with a total retooling of your skills, your life style, and spending patterns,'' Shapiro says.

He does not agree with paying athletes, rock stars, or TV personalities so much but says it's unfair to single out baseball players. ``You have to put them into the context of the entire entertainment industry. Johnny Carson earns $10 million a year. Michael Jackson made something like $60 million last year. Bruce Springsteen, $50 million. At least, that's how I rationalize it.''-- GRAPH: Baseball players' average salary (in thousands)

$350

250

150

50

0

1976 '77 '78 '79 '80 '81 '82 '83 '84 Source: Major League Players Association Inflation-adjusted $51,500 $329,400 $183,000

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