Trout signing sends bad message

Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels recently agreed to a 12-year, $426.5 million contract extension that averages to an annual salary of $35.5 million.

The contract establishes a new record for professional sports in North America. The annual salary is another record.

The announcement of the deal begs a series of related questions. First and foremost, is Trout, a .307 career hitter who has averaged 33 home runs and 90 runs batted in during seven full seasons, worth his new salary?

That depends.

Is Trout’s worthiness of nearly half a billion dollars to be based on individual production or the postseason success of the Angels over the life of the contract?

In a societal context, do the skills of a professional baseball player merit payment of $219,135 per work day, based on a 162-game regular season schedule?

How long will the market — which is simply another word for the fan base that passes through the turnstiles at the ballparks, subscribes to the television satellite and online television packages and purchases apparel bearing the uniform number of players such as number 27 Trout — support record-shattering salaries in the sport?

Let’s be realistic. Arte Moreno, the owner of the Angels, is signing Trout’s paychecks, but the fans, in more ways than one, are providing the financial resources necessary to introduce numbers like $426.5 million into the contract negotiations.

Angels fans are understandably ecstatic that their centerfielder, widely regarded as the best all-around player in the game, will in all probability finish his career in Anaheim, particularly since their club has won only nine division titles and one World Series championship in nearly six decades of existence.

In Trout’s first eight seasons, the Angels have reached the postseason once, getting swept in the division series by Kansas City.

Trout certainly understands that his contract carries the implicit expectation that multiple pennants will accompany hefty numbers at the plate and spectacular plays in the field.

If he doesn’t, he should call or text Bryce Harper, recent beneficiary of a then-record 13-year, $330 million contract in Philadelphia, or Manny Machado, who signed a 10-year, $300 million deal in San Diego.

In terms of sheer marketability, these lottery jackpot-like contracts create speculation on what Babe Ruth would command if he played for the New York Yankees today. It has been suggested that he would be the first billion dollar major leaguer.

Ruth was the sole leader in season salary from 1922 to 1934, and earned a then-record $80,000 in 1930 and 1931. During that 13-season stretch, the Yankees won six pennants and four World Series titles.

In contrast, outfielder Lonnie Smith played 17 seasons in the majors and was a catalyst on World Series teams in four cities: Philadelphia, St. Louis, Kansas City and Atlanta.

The owner of three world championship rings, he earned a peak salary of just over $2 million in 1991, when Darryl Strawberry earned the top salary, which at $3.8 million, was nearly double Smith’s.

Looking past the reality that airplane mechanics, police officers, nurses and a host of others who impact your health and safety on a daily basis are not pulling down an annual salary of $35.5 million, and the even more obvious realization that the big-market Major League Baseball teams can afford such salaries, who determines whether Trout was worth the $426.5 million investment?

Baseball fans in the smaller markets like Pittsburgh certainly deserve a say. Those fans will more than likely pose another question: How can our team compete with that?

Jim Caltagirone resides in Altoona. This is his first submission to Voice of the Fan.

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