I love Fenway Park. I love it for its history, its nooks and crannies, the Green Monster and the Pesky Pole.
In an earlier life, I covered many ballgames there for the New Haven Journal-Courier and Waterbury Republican-American. I was present for two games with the Cleveland Indians during the final week of the 1967 Red Sox’s “Impossible Dream” season. I watched Joe Lahoud, a left-handed hitter from Danbury, beat the game’s most formidable lefty, Cleveland’s Sudden Sam McDowell, with a late-inning home run in 1971.
I chronicled three of the four Red Sox-Cincinnati games at Fenway during the memorable 1975 World Series. (Okay, I missed Game Six and Carlton Fisk’s homer). I was a member of the Fourth Estate for many unforgettable Yankee-Red Sox series during the 1970s and early ’80s, and I was there for the “Yaz Watch,” when Carl Yastrzemski was going after his 3,000th career hit in September of 1979.
As a baseball fan, though, I find Fenway Park’s ticket and parking prices a bit too rich for my taste. I haven’t been back since my son-in-law, Jeff Anderson, and I made the trek a few years ago. (Jeff is a lifelong Red Sox aficionado. I forgive him most of the time.)
What rankles me the most about Naugatuck's second favorite team are the salaries being paid to many of its key players – and even a few bit players. As a fan, I refuse to underwrite these seven- and eight-figure annual payments.
In 2011, the Red Sox have the third highest payroll in major league baseball, checking in at $160,257,476. The Yankees, as per custom, top the list at $196,854,630, and the National League’s most successful team of the past several seasons, the Philadelphia Phillies, are second at $172,976,381.
Let’s take a look at the Red Sox’s leading wage-earners for this season:
- Josh Beckett, P, $17 million. When healthy, the 31-year-old right-hander is the ace of the staff. His 2.17 earned run average ranks second in the league, and his 9-4 record is okay. If he manages to make 33 appearances, as he did in 2006, his first season with the Sawx, Beckett’s earnings will average out to $515,151 PER START.
- John Lackey, P, $15,950,000. Signed as a free agent (a misnomer if ever there was one) in December of 2009, he is an overpaid bust in Boston. His numbers for 2011 thus far: 10-8 W-L, a sky-high 6.14 ERA. If he is capable of duplicating his 33 starts of last season, Mr. Lackey will be paid $483,333 PER APPEARANCE.
- Carl Crawford, OF, $14,857,143. Another overpriced free agent, the 30-year-old leftfielder has fallen well short of his 2003-10 productivity with Tampa Bay. At mid-week, he was hitting just .257 with seven homers and 38 RBIs. His PER-GAME salary, based on 162 games: $91,710.
- J.D. Drew, OF, $14 million. Even before incurring a shoulder injury that put him on the disabled list on July 26, Drew was hitting just .219 and had been supplanted in right field by rookie Josh Reddick. He’s in the final year of a five-year contract. His PER-GAME pay based on 162 games: $140,000.
- David Ortiz, DH, $12.5 million. Big Papi, a principal figure in the Red Sox’s 2004 and 2007 world championships, has averaged 35 homers and 118 RBI per 162 games for his career. Thus far in 2011, he’s batting .295 with 23 homers and 77 RBIs. Still, for a man who is a liability in the field, he’s overpaid at $77,160 PER GAME.
- Kevin Youkilis, 3B, $12 million. You’ve got to love his grit. When healthy, he’s also a lethal hitter whether playing first or third base. Has generated 16 homers and 76 RBIs with a so-so .267 average. His salary on a PER-GAME basis: $74,074.
- Jonathan Papelbon, P, $12 million. He’s fallen off the past couple of seasons after a four-year stretch during which he AVERAGED nearly 38 saves with an earned run average below two. At last glance, he’d won all four of his decisions, logged 26 saves and had a 3.14 ERA. Should Papelbon match his previous high of 69 innings, he will be paid $173,913 PER INNING. Not bad for part-time work.
By comparison, three of their teammates are grossly underpaid by inflated 2011 standards: Second baseman Dustin Pedroia ($5.75 million), new first baseman Adrian Gonzalez ($6.3 million) and centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury ($2.4 million). They are the heart of the Red Sox batting order. Come to think of it, pitcher Jon Lester ($5.75 million) might feel short-changed, too. Pun intended.
Shed no tears for Gonzalez, though. In Year Two of his eight-year contract, his annual salary jumps several steps to $21 million and he will remain at that surreal plateau through 2018.
How many games can you afford to see at Fenway this year?