Commentary

The Ryan Braun/Prince Fielder lesson

One signed an extension; the other rejected a big offer. Our reactions are revealing.

Originally Published: April 28, 2011
By Tim Keown | ESPN.com

Ryan Braun signed a $105 million extension with the Milwaukee Brewers. He wants to remain a Brewer and retire a Brewer, and his agent initiated talks with the team that resulted in Braun staying with the Brewers through 2020, which is about as close to forever as an athlete can get.

Ryan Braun, therefore, is a hero.

Conversely, Prince Fielder turned down a five-year, $100 million contract with the Brewers. He is represented by Scott Boras, whose main crimes seem to be treating the game as a business -- in much the same way as owners do -- and getting the best deals for his players. There is little to no chance Fielder will sign with the Brewers before becoming a free agent at the end of season, and probably little chance he will sign with them afterward.

[+] EnlargeBraun
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesRyan Braun's future is in Milwaukee, and he's happy about it.

Prince Fielder, therefore, is a bum.

See how easy that is? It's all settled. Cut and dried. A few easy facts and the die have been cast. Braun shows loyalty to the home team and home fans; therefore, he's the greatest thing to happen to Milwaukee since hops, yeast and Robin Yount. Fielder, while still playing hard, seems willing to wait it out and see what the market will bear.

Some of the commenters, including one who goes by "savebender55," on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website took the occasion of Braun's signing as an opportunity to bash Fielder. One wrote, "Prince, if you love Milwaukee so much, you'd follow in Brauny's footsteps." Another: "Fielder is ego/money driven." Still another: "The person you pick as your agent [Scott Boras, in Fielder's case] says a lot about who you are as a person."

Braun is the good employee, the happy Brewer, the one who shows gratitude and devotion to the team and its fans. He is no doubt all those things, as well as a fantastic baseball player and a guy who likes the city of Milwaukee. But he is also being paid $105 million for his gratitude and devotion.

With the Braun/Fielder contrast as a backdrop, consider this: A MetLife study released last week showed a 12 percent decrease over the past three years (from 59 percent to 47 percent) in employee loyalty to their employers.

Not only that, but one-third of the employees surveyed indicated a desire to be working for someone else within the next 12 months.

Presumably, a decent percentage of those disloyal employees are sports fans. Some of them would undoubtedly come down hard on Fielder while extolling Braun's virtuous, Milwaukee-loving existence. Less likely, but maybe one of them even uses "savebender55" as a handle.

So why are we so adamant in our insistence on holding professional athletes to a different standard than we hold ourselves?

[+] EnlargePrince Fielder
Barbara Johnston/US PresswirePrince Fielder might take his talents elsewhere. That makes him a bad guy?

The MetLife study was revealing because it was unexpected. As the economy begins to right itself and companies begin hiring again, workers who withstood layoffs and remained employed through difficult times are finding themselves in demand. It's logical for companies looking for good workers to target those who were retained when the workforce was pared to the bone. If they're the ones who survived, presumably they have the qualities you want.

But those employees, the ones whose talents were rewarded by employer loyalty, are jumping at the best offer. Scott Boras, surprisingly, has nothing to do with it.

Employers are shocked, believing their loyalty to the worker should be reciprocated. However, the study shows that employers have overestimated the loyalty of their workforce, perhaps believing that workers should be happy to have the jobs they have when so many others are out of work.

Clearly, Americans don't have much of a problem with the rank and file among us changing jobs. There's nothing wrong with a sales rep wanting to increase his commission by switching companies from Acme Hardware Co. to Apex Hardware Co. In fact, it's the American way. But somehow, it's both disloyal and personally offensive for a baseball player to adopt the same mentality and switch from the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club LLC to, say, the San Francisco Giants Baseball Club LLC?

Why?

Obviously, fans are invested in players to such an extent that they can't see them for what they are: employees. And they can't see baseball for what it is: a job.

Look at the situation unfolding around Albert Pujols. The pressure on him to stay in St. Louis is overwhelming, and a little bit ridiculous. When the commissioner weighs in, as Bud Selig did when he indicated it would be better for baseball if Pujols remains a Cardinal, it's pretty safe to say it's gotten out of hand.

[+] EnlargeAlbert Pujols
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesThe relationship between St. Louis and Albert Pujols could be sorely tested in the coming months.

For one thing, it's none of Bud's business where Pujols plays baseball after this season, any more than it's any of his business whether the Yankees sign him. Bud's all for a free-market economy as long as his government-controlled monopoly continues to work for him and the owners.

On a micro level, Milwaukee fans have invested in both Braun and Fielder by buying tickets and jerseys and $7 for a cup of Miller beer. They have no similar connection to the guy who sells them a car or a few sheets of drywall. Their investment in the Brewers extends to the taxpayer-funded ballpark, but tax money also paid for the Milwaukee airport, and savebender55 probably doesn't care if the head of maintenance ditches MKE for a higher-paying post in Detroit.

And of course, there's the money factor. Fielder turned down a contract that would have paid him an average of $20 million a year, stupid money for even the richest Ryan Brauns on your block. If you're a Brewers fan, you don't understand why a guy would possibly turn down that kind of money for the possibility of making $25 million somewhere else. It's incomprehensible that someone would need an extra $5 million a year, even if it is a 25 percent increase on the Brewers' offer.

Now, would the average Brewers fan leave his job for the same job with another company, with the only difference being location and 25 percent more money? Clearly, that's a different story.

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," which is available on Amazon.com. Sound off to Tim here.

MORE COMMENTARY >>

Tim Keown | email

Senior writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE