Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Leagues Examine Ways to Decrease Wages for Rookies

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Leagues Examine Ways to Decrease Wages for Rookies

Article excerpt

In most industries, new hires usually get the lowest pay. The big money comes later, with experience, promotions and proven performance.

Then there's professional sports.

Before even putting on a pro uniform, top rookies in the four major team sports are set for life. Year after year, owners shell out big bucks to unproven talent, sometimes paying newcomers more than all-star performers.

Leagues restrict rookies' bargaining power by assigning rights to one team, but contracts seem to grow bigger each year. Tired of paying so much, the owners are taking a Susan Powter approach to rookie salaries: "Stop the Insanity!"

The National Football League and National Hockey League added rookie salary caps to their latest labor agreements. The National Basketball Association probably will do the same under a labor deal now being negotiated, so the first dozen or so players selected in Wednesday's draft might be the last to win budget-busting NBA contracts.

Jerry Stackhouse, it's your lucky day. You, too, Joe Smith. Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Bryant Reeves are likely to hit the jackpot, too. Spiraling rookie pay is most glaring in basketball, a sport in which one player can make the most difference to a team's fortunes. The Milwaukee Bucks signed Glenn Robinson, last year's No. 1 pick, to a 10-year, $68.15-million contract. Hakeem Olajuwan, perhaps the best player in the league, only could squeeze the Houston Rockets for $25.1 million over four years.

What's more alarming to NBA owners, rookie pay has risen rapidly in the 1990s. Derrick Coleman, the top pick in 1990, received $15 million over five years.

High rookie salaries aren't a headache only for NBA teams. Tony Boselli, the second player picked in last April's National Football League draft, agreed to a $17-million contract over seven years. In 1993, the Ottawa Senators shocked the National Hockey League by doling out $12.25 million over five years to center Alexandre Daigle. Major league baseball's ranking bonus baby is Josh Booty, who signed with the Florida Marlins for $1.6 million in 1994.

Almost everyone in sports takes potshots at rookie millionaires. Team owners want to further shackle draftees as a way of slowing an upward surge in payrolls. Veteran players resent the big money being paid to athletes who haven't paid their dues. Fans, making less in a year than Stackhouse or Smith will get for their first games, cringe. …

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