I can't help myself.
To set the stage, I must first offer a confession: as a writer for TheClevelandFan.com, I have often gritted my teeth whenever we have mentioned the shortcomings of the local Cleveland sports media, particularly our friends at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. My teeth haven't been worn down because I think the PD does a terrific job; not at all (although some of their writers do good work). Rather, I cringe because I believe that we have bigger fish to fry than picking fights with a rival.
So what am I going to do now? Pick a fight with a rival.
In Thursday morning's Plain Dealer, columnist Bill Livingston takes a parting shot at former Indians ace C.C. ... er, CC Sabathia. As you may recall (or may not - we'll get to that momentarily), Sabathia took out a full-page ad in the Plain Dealer after he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers on July 7. This ad thanked the fans of Cleveland for ten "great years" and said that the experience of playing here had been "a privilege and an honor!"
Frankly, the ad was a classy move by a classy player. Sabathia did not have to express any gratitude to the fans of Cleveland. Certainly the marquee players who preceded him in leaving town did not. Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle ... all left Cleveland without any similar gestures. (Rumor has it that Belle did want to send a personal message to every Indians fan, but found the cost of individually-mailed letter bombs to be prohibitive.)
But Livingston ain't buying it. It certainly took him long enough to make the decision - long enough to make us wonder if he needed a souped-up DeLorean and 1.21 jiggawatts of energy to find a copy of the original ad. The ad ran in the PD on July 30 - more than five weeks ago. He's just now getting around to writing about it? (We can only wonder how he feels about the Browns' quarterback controversy. Not Anderson-Quinn; not even Couch-Holcomb; but rather Kosar-Testaverde.) In a world where opinions and analyses are being delivered ever more quickly, it's interesting - retro, one might say - that Livingston is heading in the opposite direction.
Okay, enough with the sniping about the timing of this article; maybe Livingston submitted it back on July 30th, and the thing sat buried on an editor's desk for a month. More disturbing is the weakness of analysis - more accurately, the string of class-warrior cheap shots posing as "analysis" - displayed throughout. (Give Livingston this much - he recognizes that by criticizing an ad run in his own paper ["[i]t helps pay my salary"], he is sinking his molars into the hand that feeds him.)
A few paragraphs into the hatchet job, we get to the real issue Livingston has with Sabathia:
Let the target audience remember Sabathia turned down four years at $18 million annually from the Indians. The idea of athletes leaving money on the table is as hilarious as the idea baseball players care about the viability of teams in the "flyover states."
That's right. Livingston puts on the tired old Class Warrior costume. "He turned down $72 million! Seventy-two million dollars! Can you believe it? What a greedy bastard he must be?" A point delivered with all the subtlety of a smash with a baseball bat. In case the reader is left with any doubts, Livingston provides another shot to the noggin with his next paragraph:
In view of the poverty statistics, which list Cleveland as the second-poorest city in the country, it was nice of Sabathia to honor the little people who paid the freight for his on-the-job training until he moves on to greener pastures. Maybe $72 million over four years doesn't go as far as it used to, although it would seem to go far enough to test MapQuest.
So basically, Livingston's message is this:
Let's address the $18 million over four seasons first. Yes, that is a large amount of money. It's more than I'll make in my lifetime, unless my stocks go all Warren Buffett on me over the next few decades. It's more than I'll make in several lifetimes (and I'm talking about a Shirley MacLaine parade of past lives here). But I don't begrudge the big lefty for getting everything he can. The simple fact is: as much money as it may be, $18 million per season for four years is a substantially below-market contract for a premium starting pitcher. Last February, the Mets' Johan Santana inked a six-year, $137.5 million deal (or just under $23 million per season). That's the market. That's the benchmark for a premium starting pitcher, especially one with no significant injury history.
The question that Livingston (and other class warriors) never seems to answer is: why should Sabathia take less money over fewer years to play for the Indians? The best answer they give is essentially "at some point, you lose track of all those millions, so why not play for less in beautiful Cleveland?" That answer is no answer at all.
There is simply no reason why Sabathia - or any other athlete - or anybody who draws a paycheck - should be expected to accept anything less than the maximum he can earn. That principle is as American and as capitalist as it gets. Sabathia turning down $18 million a season, when he knows that there is a good chance of getting more than $20 million per season from another suitor, is no different than the guy who rejects a $50,000 per year job in favor of one that pays $60,000. And Sabathia rejecting a four-year deal, when he knows that a six or seven year contract is likely awaiting him this fall, is similarly above rational criticism. CC is doing exactly what I would do in the same situation ... or what you would do (be honest) ... or even what Bill Livingston would do.