A shitty thing about baseball, stretching back to Bob Costas’s largely wrong-headed conditional invocation of socialism and beyond, way back into the sport’s dusty past, is it has a way of making the teams that pay their players lots of money out to be the bad guys. For one thing, those teams appear to be plundering the rosters of the cheap teams, lavishing huge contracts on some team’s homegrown star every year in an arms race that knocks the competitive landscape of the league out of balance. For another, those teams are the favorites, and there’s always more juice in rooting agains the favorites.
Neutral fans generally take up with the underdog. Anyone you’re rooting for is bound to take on a certain benevolent glow, and that glow sometimes even makes its way up to the office of the shitheel tycoon whose profit model involves tamping down salary costs. It’s undeserved! The bad guys in baseball—the worst guys in an ownership club that definitionally excludes any actual good guys—are the tightfisted owners of “small market” teams, who are always either saddling their teams with competitive disadvantages, or underpaying players who deserve a larger cut, or both.
Fans are dumb about this stuff because they’re fans. Players should never be dumb about it! Tampa Bay Times reporter Marc Topkin asked Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier Wednesday how it feels to be in the American League Wild Card game despite playing for one of the cheapest teams in baseball. The Rays spent just about $53 million on their 25-man roster this season, according to Spotrac, which is the fourth-lowest figure across baseball, and $25 million less than their Wild Card opponent, the Oakland Athletics, the second-cheapest team to make the playoffs. Kiermaier probably meant to say something about how it feels good to overachieve, or how it’s fun to be an underdog. What he said, instead, sounds real dumb:
The only way this makes sense is if “the man” is Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, and by “stick it to,” Kiermaier meant make it to the postseason when our owner is a real-life version of the villain from Major League. That would be satisfying, but also false—Sternberg and the Rays front office weren’t trying to sandbag their way to 120 losses, they were just willing to be bad, if being bad is the consequence of spending as little as possible on professional baseball players. That the Rays made it this far is a testament to lots of good work by various people in the organization, but it also means Sternberg is paying a bunch of winning baseball players as if they are losing baseball players. Those players’ next best chance to stick it to the man will be when they hit free agency, cash in, and get the hell out of western Florida.