Friday, February 01, 2008

Things People Say--Correctly, It Turns Out

Like Mets fans everywhere, I am on tenterhooks waiting to learn whether their blockbuster deal for John Santana, reputedly the best pitcher in baseball, will be finalized or not. (Picture above shows him hoisting one of his two Cy Young awards.)

To make it official, the Mets must reach agreement with Santana on a contract extension. Rumor has it that the deal will end up being for somewhere between five and seven years and will cost the Mets upwards of $142 million. (Once again I mentally kick myself for not having insisted that our son Matt spend less time studying and more time working on his curve ball.)

When these sorts of massive deals are discussed, you can count on some sportswriter or commentator to trot out a familiar comparison:
. . . the Mets will emerge with the best left-handed pitcher in the game on their roster and in their plans for the next six, perhaps seven, seasons. And Santana will have a guaranteed income comparable to the GNP product of a Third World nation.
Let's ignore the two solecisms here ("GNP," which is technically different from GDP, is used rather rarely as a measure of national income; and, of course, the word "product" in the sentence above is redundant, since that is what the initial P stands for). The big question is: Is it true? For once I decided to check. And it turns out that it is true--though just barely.

According to 2006 data from the World Bank, the country will the smallest GDP in the world is Kiribati, an island nation in the South Pacific with a GDP of around $71 million, well below the contract Johan Santana will probably sign. The second smallest is Sao Tome and Principe (an island nation off the coast of Guinea), with a GDP of $123 million, which Santana will probably also eclipse.

However, Santana may not match the next two contenders, the Marshall Islands ($155 million) and Palau ($157 million), and he will surely fall short of Tonga ($223 million). And all the other "Third World" nations on Earth (depending on how you define them) have GDPs way exceeding any baseball contract. In most cases, it's not even close: Togo ($2.2 billion), Chad ($6.5 billion), Yemen ($19 billion). By the time you get up to my favorite developing nation, Bangladesh, we're talking about serious money--almost $62 billion.

You could sign quite a ball club with that kind of payroll.

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