An extra 382 grand and change won’t affect, say, Max Scherzer’s life much, but how that number is determined and the impact it can have is kind of fascinating.
And it’s less about Scherzer or Strasburg or Zimmerman, each of whom made a salary in eight figures for 2019 alone, each of whom could donate his postseason share to charity and not really notice. This is about the organization, about the players who were here for a portion of the season and the people who work for the team in anonymity — not just when it wins a championship, but in some cases for years and years and years beforehand.
“More than anything, over probably the last two decades, the generosity of the players as a whole absolutely rules these meetings,” said Steve Rogers, who for 13 seasons pitched for the Montreal Expos and for years has served as a special assistant to the players’ association. “The generosity comes out in the votes and the number of people they want to include in giving money to.”
The number of people for the Nats: 61 full shares, 14.13 partial shares and two cash awards. That’s more shares than there are players, and that requires some explaining.
Here’s how this works. That $382,358.18 for a full share comes from the players’ cut of the profits from the postseason, which this year was $80,861,145.74, the third highest ever, according to Major League Baseball’s announcement. That is collected strictly through gate receipts. The players’ pool consists of 60 percent of the gate receipts from the first four games of the World Series, the first four games of each league championship series and the first three games of the division series — plus half the gate receipts from the two wild-card games.
Two things about that total: It’s impacted enormously by the specific franchises that advance deep into the playoffs. The Nationals eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the division series. Great for them, bad for the players’ pool, because the more games at 56,000-seat Dodger Stadium, the better. It’s no coincidence that the record players’ pool from 2018 included the Dodgers in the World Series. (A full share for last year’s champion Boston Red Sox was worth more than $416,000.)
Secondly, the players’ pool isn’t affected by how long the series are. The gate receipts from the last three games of a seven-game World Series — as the Nats had against Houston this October — go straight into the pockets of the owners.
We know all these numbers now because we know how many people bought tickets not just in Washington but in St. Louis and Atlanta and the Bronx and Minnesota, etc. The World Series winner gets 36 percent of the pool. The loser of the World Series receives just less than a quarter, 24 percent, while the two losers of the league championship series receive 12 percent apiece. The four division series losers combine to receive 13 percent, and the two wild-card losers get 3 percent between them.
But here’s the thing: The players vote on how many shares they want to issue before the postseason begins. Some do it in late September. Some do it on the last day of the season. Either way, it’s determined before they know whether they’re dividing up $1.2 million, the pie piece for a wild-card loser this year, or more than $29.1 million, what the Nats ended up with after winning it all.
Any player who is on a major league roster as of June 1, whether active or on the injured list, and remains through the end of the season automatically earns a full share. Almost as important: Those players get a vote on how the money will be divided up. So someone such as Jeremy Hellickson, who opened the season as the Nats’ fifth starter but didn’t pitch after May because of shoulder issues, has a seat at the table.
“When a guy hasn’t been able to be around the whole year — they had Tommy John surgery or some major issue and they’re rehabbing off-site — sometimes guys go: ‘Wait a second. Why can they vote?’ ” Rogers said. “But you can’t discriminate against somebody that got hurt playing the game.”
Remember Trevor Rosenthal, the reliever who couldn’t get anyone out and was released in June? The players who were still here in September considered how much he should get. How much someone like Rosenthal — or Matt Grace, or Wilmer Difo or anyone else who appeared in the uniform but didn’t hoist the trophy — got is voted on in that meeting. The guideline that’s generally used: how many days of service the player had with the big league club divided by the number of days in the season. Even if your ERA was north of 10 — as Rosenthal’s was — you are likely to get some prorated cash.
Still, it’s not always straightforward, and it can be delicate, because it’s not just players. Players can vote for nonuniformed support staff to receive a cut — awards that, in some cases, could equal a full share, which would be life-changing money for many employees.
“Every team is different in how they vote,” said Mike Myers, a major league reliever on nine teams over 13 seasons. “Some teams are very lenient. Some have been very stringent. It’s been contentious in some cases, and it’s also been smooth and easy.”
Myers, like Rogers, now works for the union, which can provide guidance to teams about how, in previous seasons, their club has handled the voting and which employees have been included. Some teams vote a share to, say, the scouting department, where it can be divided among the anonymous scouts who spend all those nights on the road. Others have voted a share to the entire minor league coaching staff, a nod to player development.
The final category the players vote on is cash awards — say, a thousand bucks to each member of the grounds crew, a few grand to the security guards who work outside the clubhouse door. In some cases, clubhouse personnel, media relations staff, athletic trainers, coaches — you name it — have been chosen to receive money.
“That’s really the players reaching out to the organization and saying, ‘Thank you,’ ” Rogers said.
There are limits, though. Front-office personnel who have a hand in decision-making are not supposed to get a cut. So Mike Rizzo and his top lieutenants: Sorry, no extra dough.
“The assistant GM may be the greatest guy in the world,” Rogers said. “But he can’t get one.”
One final word: The decisions are usually kept under pretty tight wraps, even within an organization. There are cases in which two employees with similar jobs get vastly different awards, and that can foster bad feelings if it’s public.
“The bottom line is: It is the players’ money,” Myers said, “and they’re generous to offer it to other people at times.”
So don’t read Tuesday’s news as the rich getting richer. In lots of cases, it’s about the rich distributing that wealth to people you never hear about.
For more by Barry Svrluga, visit washingtonpost.com/svrluga.