As a kid growing up in the Los Angeles suburbs of Manhattan Beach and Hawthorne, I got to go to several major league baseball games, NFL football games including the Pro Bowl, NBA games and NHL hockey games. USC and UCLA games also were a treat.
No, my dad wasn’t rich. The games were very affordable and at times free. The Rams (they were the Los Angeles Rams then) had a great deal — five kids got in free with a paid adult admission. The same deal was good at the Pro Bowl, which was held in LA Coliseum. Since the Pro Bowl was never a sellout, recreation departments could take bus loads of kids to the games for free. UCLA and USC also had great deals.
One could get into a Dodger or Angel game for $1.50. The highest priced ticket was $3.50. There were some $5.50 dugout level tickets at Dodger Stadium, but they were not available to the general public — or that is what my dad told me. Kids could get into general admission with a coupon from the back of a Fritos (5 cent) bag or a cola can. When I moved to San Diego in 1975, I was shocked to find out that the Padres had tickets priced at $3.75 and general admission was $1.75, but the Padres also had deals for kids.
Peanuts were two bags for 25 cents. Frozen malts were the same. Dodger Dogs and hot dogs (Angels, USC, UCLA, Lakers, Kings,) were a buck. Five bucks was good for a game, hot dog, drink and some peanuts — any season, any sport.
Players made better money than my dad, but most had to have an off-season job to prepare for their career after baseball and to make ends meet. Some superstars made as much as the president of the United States. Babe Ruth made more than the president in the Depression but, as he put it, “I had a better year.”
Then with free agency came much higher admissions and concession prices. Parking costs more than 10 tickets in the good old days. Few families can go to a professional baseball, football, basketball or hockey game. The average salary is north of a million dollars.
Why are there lockouts in two major sports? The baseball strike almost ruined the game. Attendance dropped. Interest in the game dropped. Fans couldn’t understand why a millionaire would go on strike. It took a steroid epidemic to bring fans back to baseball.
I am not taking sides. In a way I am rooting against both sides, especially in the NBA. Has the cost of bail and lawyers gone up so much that players’ salaries almost match the national debt?
When I was a kid, the sportswriters only wrote about sports. The sports pages only covered sports. Players may not have been role models, but most acted like role models or at least said the right things. Their arms didn’t look like billboards. They didn’t sell autographs. Kids traded baseball cards and used them to make their bikes sound like motorcycles. There was a police blotter for the tabloid stuff that gets on SportsCenter and in the papers and on the internet.
I knew all of the players on the Dodgers and Angels rosters and most of the prospects in their minor league systems. Teams developed players. Teams built winners, they couldn’t buy them.
Every time I see an article complaining about how overpaid teachers, police officers, fire fighters, armed forces personnel and other public servants are or how much their retirements are, I wonder if the same people complaining have season tickets for the Lakers?
I am all for a standardized salary for professional athletes with healthy bonuses for jobs well done. The Dodgers are still paying Manny Ramirez, and they are having a horrible year in many ways. If a guy has a good season, pay him well for it. Don’t pay him $25 million for the next 10 years for a job done in the past. Sure, careers are short, but nobody is worth over $100 million. If they are that good, they will make it in endorsements. If they really went to college, they could make it in investments. A .260 hitter making $10 million a year is still a .260 hitter. Have a good medical plan for those who are maimed by the games.
In business, sales people get bonuses. Sports should follow suit. Actors who sell tickets at the box office get more money. When their box office appeal drops, so does their income. Sports should follow suit. Great surgeons make great money, but not after they can’t operate any longer.
Professional soccer has a good policy in Europe. If a team doesn’t or can’t compete then they lose their “major league” status and another team moves up to the bigs or premier or whatever they call it in Europe. If baseball had that policy the Dodgers would not be in the trouble they are in. If an owner can’t or won’t try to compete give another group or owner a chance, but don’t make him pay for Manny Ramirez for the next ten years.
I have another question. How come the San Diego Padres are a small market team and the San Diego Chargers are not? And a big market like LA doesn’t have an NFL team. Lucky LA. Maybe that is why I don’t understand the lockouts. The economy is bad, and people can’t or won’t pay the prices they once paid. Basketball is in big trouble. Football will come around. Hopefully baseball learned a lesson from its last work stoppage. Hopefully, players and owners in all sports will come to their senses and prices will come down.
Hopefully, today’s kids will get to see as many games as I got to see in the Coliseum, Dodger Stadium and Anaheim Stadium.