Some Thoughts on Baseball's Miguel Cabrera, the Torah, and Celebrity Wealth
Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers’ third-baseman, had a pretty good year last year – and the year before that, and before that. He’s won the last two American League MVP awards. In fact, he’s been in the top five of the MVP award voting for the last five years. In 2012, as the Triple Crown winner, he became the first player since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to do so.
Miggy recently turned 31. He has 366 home runs and a lifetime average of .320. Hank Aaron, the true MLB home run champion, had 366 home runs and an average of .320 on his 31st birthday. As for RBIs? Cabrera has 50 more career ribbies than Aaron at the 31st birthday marker.
Miggy’s good. He is also now wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of any kid born and raised in Maracay, Venezuela. His contract extension earns him $248 million and assures him a total of $292 million over the next 10 years.
Eso es un montón de dinero. Here in Detroit, the big question is, “Is Miggy worth it?”
The answer? Yes, he is.
In a conversation with over dinner, a friend of mine was aghast at the idea that a man should earn $35,000 every time he steps up to the plate. She shook her head when I told her Miggy earns about $110,000 with every hit. It was, she said in her best Mike Tyson impression, “Ludicrous.”
The statistics are intriguing. Miguel Cabrera produced 14% of the Tigers offense last year and accounted for nearly 14% of the team’s payroll. The Tigers, according to Forbes’ annual round-up, are worth about $680 million dollars. MLB is in a boom time. Over the last decade, revenues are up 122%, and player salaries are up 22%. In fact, player salaries as a share of total revenues have dropped to 40%. What does that mean? It means that while guys like Miggy are doing big bank, the owners are doing even better.
Some perspective is in order. Major League Baseball (MLB) is not a game. If you want a baseball game, go watch college baseball. MLB is not in the baseball game business; it’s in the entertainment business. The owners use baseball to generate revenue, just as the music industry uses musicians to generate revenue. Taylor Swift is a 24-year-old entertainer who banked $55 million last year; Miguel Cabrera is a 31-year-old entertainer who was paid a 2013 salary of $21 million. She sings; he hits. They both fill the seats.
As a Jewish sports guy, this raises another question in my mind: How do our Jewish sages view such wealth? Turns out, better than you’d think (with a few caveats). Rabbi Reuven Bulka writes,
To those who contend that money is the root of all evil, we would counter that it is the attitude to money that is the problem. Those who seize the opportunity for money-related kindness have made wealth a virtue.
Now consider Deuteronomy 15:8:
Open your hand generously, and extend to [your needy brother] any credit he needs to take care of his wants.
We’ve all heard people complain that with such wealth, Cabrera (and other celebrities) should do more. The Talmud says, “A fifth of one's income is considered a generous contribution to charity, and should not be exceeded.” A Talmudic clause advises against donating more than 1/3 of one’s wealth to charity, lest he become impoverished himself and become a drain on the community.
By all reports, Miggy is exceedingly charitable. A few years ago, he wrote nearly $1 million in checks to Haitian refugee projects. He sponsors The Miguel Cabrera Foundation, which has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships, built a significant number of baseball fields, and organized baseball activities in under-served areas in the U.S. and Venezuela. His Tiger teammates, in recognition of his service to the community on and off the field, nominated him for the 2012 and 2013 Roberto Clemente Award for community service.
Deuteronomy, 6:5 asks us to love God with all our heart, soul, and resources. Miguel Cabrera loves his God, and he has a strong Catholic faith. He also practices Santeria and recently became a Babalawo (a sage or high priest) in that Yoruba-influenced belief system. As fans know, Cabrera has made mistakes in his past, but he continues to work at them, and he’s now in counseling for his alcohol and anger issues. When the Tigers clinched the Division title in 2012, Miggy famously avoided the clubhouse’s celebratory champagne dousing, lest he be tempted. His is a practice of teshuva, repentance.
Miguel Cabrera has done everything possible to steer his adult life in a proper direction. He’s also earned his money – and the Torah is good with that.