Dubuque: What players make and how we talk about it

From Patrick Dubuque at Baseball Prospectus on January 16, 2019:

The cover of the April 20, 1987 Sports Illustrated does not feature the action photography one generally associates with the magazine. Instead, the pictures of 43 random baseball players, from Neil Allen to Herm Winningham, are lined like mugshots against a solid green background, along with their names, their team, and their 1987 salaries. The bold title, “What They Make,” has all the weight of an exposè, but the actual article begins with the barest of prefaces before devoting pages, phone book-style, to each major-league contract. Perhaps SI felt little need to editorialize, as though the evidence was damning enough.

It wasn’t even the first time the venerable publication had tackled this story; two years prior, the cover itself provided a list of baseball’s millionaires, though it should be noted (as it was not at the time) that baseball player millionaires is the accurate description. The owners, naturally, were omitted. That article focused on the dramatic rise in salaries, not through free agency, 10 years old by that point, but through the secondary effect of arbitration.

The title of the 1985 article is “The Money Game,” but it may have been a last-minute amendment, because the page headers in the article are rather ironically titled “Moneyball.” It’s fitting, given that finance has been tied to modern baseball analysis since that book took hold in the public’s imagination. The path from those early days of “building a team without being able to spend” to “building a team without having to spend” to wherever we are now, the dreaded and anticipated free agency season of 2018-2019, can be plotted with a straight line.

Read the full article here: https://www.baseballprospectus.com/news/article/46244/cold-takes-what-they-make/

Originally published: January 16, 2019. Last Updated: January 16, 2019.