I constantly go back and forth trying to decide what exactly is the best job in sports. For a while I settled on pro golfers. Golf is not too physically demanding, golfers are always in good weather and the money is good. Then I recently realized that if you are not one of the few top players you are constantly fighting for a win and need to play every week to be sure you keep your tour card. This means being on the road for about 7 months a year and disqualified golfers from contention.
All of the recent stories about pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training opened my eyes to the true best job in sports: a starting pitcher. The major reasons I landed on how starting pitchers landed this title are laid out below.
Starting pitchers have an incredible impact on every game they play. A starting pitcher in the National League is the only player in sports that has complete control of a game. I don’t know if it has ever happened, but a no hitter and a home run by a pitcher guarantees victory. A hockey goalie can put up a shut out but can’t score goals, a QB can throw 5 TDs but can’t play defense and even a star NBA player can have a great night but can’t defend all 5 players on the other team. Of course these are extreme examples, but a starting pitcher being on or off his game has a pretty linear correlation to whether a team wins or loses.
You play once every 5 games, with very limited work needed in between. The baseball season is a grind, no doubt about it, but a starting pitcher can relax for 80% of the games. There are no worries at all, just a front row seat that most fans would pay about $1,000 for. Pitchers can totally mentally relax when on days when they are not pitching. How great would it be to have to physically show up to work five days a week but only be productive one of those day. One might say that relief pitchers also don’t pitch every game, but when they wake up in the morning they don’t know if they would be pitching that day and cannot totally relax.
Even if you are average at your job the money is great. Let’s not even talk about stupid contracts like AJ Burnett’s. You can look at guys being overpaid at any position in any sport. A better example is the pay of a thoroughly average, but reliable back end of the rotation pitcher: Bronson Arroyo. His has a 112-105 career record and an overall ERA of 4.28. He made $7.7MM in 2011. This ranks much higher than the average major leaguer. It even scores well when compared to mid-tier players in other sports. The NBA’s much talked about mid-level exception, which is really designed for the NBA equivalents of Arroyo, now maxes out at $5MM. Let’s also not forget that all baseball contracts are 100% guaranteed.
There is low risk for long term physical injuries. By this I am referring to how an athlete’s profession impacts their quality of life after they retire. All in all, baseball players have it pretty easy in this category. Yes, pitchers run into shoulder injuries all the time, but they don’t have to worry about concussions or hits that prevent them from living healthy and productive lives after they retire. If anyone questions this, simply spend an afternoon with a 50 year old former pitcher and a 50 year old former running back and see which one is getting around better.
That is the case I make for starting pitcher being the best job in sports, very happy to hear other perspectives.