In The Room
I'm curious how much money Sam Miller makes. Not because Sam is particularly special… although as EIC of my favorite baseball website I'll admit he's kind of special… but yeah, he's a person, so I'm curious.
My mailman—what's he making? What about the receptionist at my dentist's office? 40-ish, right? Or that panhandler by the overpass? I wonder how well he does.
When it comes to the salaries of others, we're relegated to curiosity because most private companies prefer to keep that stuff private and people, by nature, are built the same way.
But not in sports, dear reader! In sports, not only are salaries widely available, they're literal pieces of news that get crop-dusted across the breadth of the popular culture. In some cases, the details of a player's contract will serve as fuel for entire (or several) news cycles. And I'm not entirely sure why this is the case.
I understand that local tax bases largely dictate a team's marginal finances, both in terms of stadium revenue and TV contracts. But in almost every case, the teams are still private entities, even if local dollars help build a team's home (which is silly).
That said, and rather than delving into an examination of why sports salaries are made public, legally and economically, let us simply agree that, in this case, sports are weird.
And it's here that we'll begin this week's tour of MLB clubhouses, because professional athletes live in a (weird) world in which the cultural norms and mores surrounding money and salary are different from the rest of us. That's a long and meandering way of saying I wanted to see how comfortable these guys are when talking about their money.
Revel in the lack of couth!
Adam Wainwright is making $19,500,000 this year. For some context on just how much money that is, he makes about $53,424 per day. Yeah. He's made more than $56,000,000 to this point in his major-league career, and he's guaranteed to eclipse $130,000,000(!) in career earnings, via salary, by the time his current deal ends in 2018.
He is super-rich and represents the high end of our scale this week.
I began my chat with him as I did with all of our subjects: Is it weird to you that your salary is made public? As with most of our respondents, he said something akin to, 'Sure, but it's part of the game…' With that inherent sports-weirdness noted…
Does he remember his first signing bonus? How much did he get? And what did he use it for?
"Yeah, and I got a very good signing bonus. I was a first round pick (29th overall in 2000), so I was very fortunate to come into some money early on in baseball. But I was completely overwhelmed with it to be honest with you. I didn't change the way I lived at all, really; I still ate Chick-Fil-A…"
I interrupted here, offended, and explained that Chick-Fil-A is really good. Adam agreed. Best of breed fast food. All of the waffle fries. We continued.
"I did splurge on a car—I bought a GMC Yukon for my first legit car, and I was very excited about it. But other than that I still overdrafted my accounts all the time, I still felt like I was living off pennies, because that's what I'd been used to in high school. You go to work, you make, what, 50 to 75 bucks, and then you take your girlfriend out for a dinner and get her a $20 necklace sometimes, and you're back to being broke again.
"I'd go to the gas station and get $8 worth of gas—I still did that for, like, two years after I signed! I still lived that same way."
So what about that bonus figure? Would he be willing to discuss it aloud, despite it being public record? Is he willing to spit in the face of cultural couth?!?
"Yeah, I made 1.25 million dollars."
And he'd get $8 worth of gas.
"Yeah, I'd go in and get eight, nine dollars and drive off and be like, 'You know, I probably could've filled it up right there.'
"But I know I was fortunate because I played with a lot of guys who just couldn't afford to play anymore, guys who didn't get a signing bonus and were pretty talented, but they had to go to work to support themselves. You know, I didn't have a comma in my (biweekly) check until I was in Triple-A. It was like $304 every two weeks when I was in the low minors.
"People think that when you sign to be a professional baseball player that you automatically just make all this money. If you don't get a signing bonus, you don't make hardly anything."
Matt Adams can speak to that. The Cardinals first baseman was a 32nd round pick in 2009, the 699th pick overall. Would he care to share his bonus?
"I'm not gonna share that. I know what it was, and I was just happy to get the opportunity to continue playing baseball. I didn't get millions of dollars like some of these guys did."
For the record, Matt received $25,000 to sign.
So what did Matt do with his 25k?
"I never really grew up with a lot of money, so I really saved it and put it to good use when I got home during the offseason. I paid off some of my school loans and stuff like that and some other things that are personal."
I was also curious how players go about managing their money; while stories of professional-athlete fortunes are well known, so are the cautionary tales of fortunes squandered.
"I was actually part of the rookie development program," Adams recalled. "We'd go to seminars and learn how to handle the money, the media, how to save and plan for the future."
An important lesson, that, as MLB players have an extraordinarily small window in which to earn the big bucks. Whereas media hacks like myself have a lifetime to hone our crafts and slowly build a nest egg, the average major leaguer has to do it in… … … any guesses?
So while earning the major-league minimum ($500,000 in 2014) is great work if you can get it, the average player never escapes those first six, club-controlled years of earning power.
"Yeah, our window of opportunity is small," said Tony Watson, the Pirates' go-to left-hander out of the 'pen. "It can close anytime, so you gotta be savvy with your money. I'm lucky I have a really smart wife that helps out with that."
Watson, by the way, spoke openly about his bonus—he signed for $85,000 (ninth round, 278th pick overall) and used it to pay off his student loans.
"It's kind of a crazy environment here. You got guys all over the clubhouse making absurd amounts of money, so you've just got to be careful with what you do, who you're hanging out with and just be smart, because you never know when that window's going to close."
Did he mean teammates there? Like, be careful not to go clubbing with millionaires? That sort of thing?
"I was kind of goin' with the entourage thing. In some other sports, and even here, you've got people hanging on, because they do know how much you make. So you've got to be careful… but you gotta have fun, too. It's all part of life and life's short, and this window of opportunity playing baseball is even shorter."
I had to ask the obvious question—does Tony Watson have an entourage?
"I do not have an entourage, no. I don't have any Johnny Dramas running around."
A.J. Pierzynski (he wouldn't discuss his bonus and I couldn't find it online; third round, 71st overall, 1994) also lacks an entourage, but he's made ~ $60,000,000 in his 17-year career and had some things to say about his spending habits relative to those he's seen in the bigs.
"Obviously, my house is very nice. It's the biggest purchase I've ever made. But other than that I don't have expensive cars, I don't have a big boat or anything like that. If anything, I spend money on going places—I like to travel."
Me, too! So where's he been?
"My favorite place has been Africa." He's been on safari. "It's cool over there."
He and his wife are currently figuring out where they'll go during this upcoming offseason. They've been to every continent but Australia and Antarctica.
"Yeah, I always beg my wife to go to Antarctica, but she doesn't want to go there." I added that the shopping in Antarctica is terrible. "Yeah, so that one might be tough. Exactly."
It seems Pierzynski's spending habits are on point.
"I look at it like, I have a pretty good life and I don't want to do anything to lose that. I just don't try to keep up with other people; I know a lot of people that are way wealthier than I am, and they're buying things and I'm like, 'that's amazing', but at the same time I'm like, 'man, I don't need that.' I know people that have planes and boats… "
Who the hell has a plane?!?
"A lot of people I know. Baseball players, non-baseball players. And when you meet those people, it's amazing and you're happy for them. But at the same time I don't have any desire to chase them."
The Reds' Jay Bruce (12th overall in the '05 Draft, $1.8 million bonus and talked openly about it; paid off his parents house, bought his sister a house and a GMC Yukon Denali for himself) echoes that sentiment.
"It's really easy to do these things, to spend money when you're making the money, but our earning window is so small. We have to set ourselves up, lifestyle-wise, in order to sustain, because anyone—whether you're living on $30,000 a year, $300,000, $3,000,000 or $30,000,000 a year—no one wants to go backward. And that's something I'm very aware of, even as I'm making this large salary, which I'm very fortunate to be doing.
"You see all ends of the spectrum. You've got guys who order pizza in every night and basically hoard their money, which, you can't blame them. And then you have guys that own five or six exotic cars and two or three houses. I just hope, for everyone, that they're happy with the decisions they're making and not doing it for other reasons, and are able to support their families."
We'll end where we began, with Adam Wainwright. Given his nine-figure fortune, I asked him how he planned on spending his time on Earth after baseball.
"I've made enough now that I'll be able to live off that, but I don't want to just do nothing. I have some charitable endeavors that I'm very involved with and my wife and I want to give away as much of (the fortune) as we can. So my financial planner and I came up with a plan that, when I die, after we've given away most of it, to bounce the last check.
"You can't take it when you go. Why go down like that?"