Framing the Dialogue

A Rough Pitch

My career as a newspaper delivery person has been fairly rewarding even though it is a tough job.  In a typical year I probably accurately deliver about half of my papers. So for 2000 deliveries per week I screw up around a thousand.  Last year was a bad one for me and my accuracy as I only delivered 200 correctly. I don’t always deliver to the wrong house, sometimes I am just late or my toss misses and the paper ends up in the gutter or in the neighbor’s yard.  I count those as “misses.”

It’s not all my fault as I rely on others for support like the person who delivers to me, the weather, my trainer, or how dark it is. It is a tough job. My customers were not happy and often complained about the product not meeting expectations for the price that they pay. When it came time to discuss salary with my boss I put a bold face and asked for a big raise. I know this may seem bold, but I know that most delivery people screw up almost as much and there are few who want the job. Determined to improve my lot, I asked my boss to triple my salary. Do I have “stones” or what?

Right about now you are asking yourself whether I got fired. I did not. In fact my boss countered with an offer to double my salary. I have had better years and I could potentially get better and perhaps even be successful 75 percent of the time and it was probably worth the risk for him. It didn’t seem to matter because our customers still paid and we were still making good money.

Knowing this I decided to hold firm. There are those “stones” again. We have this impasse where I want triple while my boss only want to double my salary. Since we want to come to an agreement, we agree to present out case to a neutral, third party. Unfortunately this process requires me to overvalue myself based on my fellow delivery persons and my boss has to tiptoe around trashing my value while knowing that he wants to keep me on board. The good news is that I prevailed and got my salary tripled! I also do not have to guarantee that my success this year will be any better. What a fairy tale.

So then I wake up right? The essence of the story is true, but I had tweaked the details to “protect the innocent.” Now for the truth; I am not a newspaper delivery person nor would any newspaper delivery person maintain the job with that accuracy rate. In fact there is perhaps only one profession that tolerates and even rewards that kind of performance…Major League Baseball.

The story is about Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Ross Ohlendorf who recently won an arbitration case against the owners. Since I alluded to old detective shows before I’ll continue with “just the facts:”

  • Mr. Ohlendorf’s record last season was 1 win against 11 losses (that’s a success rate of just over 8 percent). His success rate was much lower than the teams overall success rate (57 wins and 105 losses – 35% success rate). So he was substantially worse than a substandard MLB team.
  • He does pitch for the “professional” team that has fielded 18 straight losing teams ( a new professional record)
  • Mr. Ohlendorf did not get a 300 percent raise (triple); he asked for and was awarded a 361 percent raise!
  • Mr. Ohlendorf’s 2011 salary will be $2.025 million.
  • Mr. Ohlendorf spent a portion of last season on the disabled list on two different occasions. Past injuries do not necessarily forecast future availability, but had he been available more he could have had even more losses.

Rather than be embarrassed by the bonanza Mr. Ohlendorf had this to say,

“My win-loss record only tells part of the story. We went through all my stats in the arbitration process. So I don’t feel guilty about the salary I’m going to make.”

Pirate ownership has fielded 18 losing teams in a row! ESPN reported last year that in spite of the pitiful on-field performance the owners typically make nearly $30 million dollars a year (based on 2007 and 2008 reports). Oh and in case your head has not exploded yet, the team recently announced that they were going to raise ticket prices.  If they maintain the same attendance as 2010 (1,613,339) that would be approximately $1 per ticket just to pay Mr. Ohlendorf’s salary increase.  So the message, perhaps, is to rip the schoolbook from your child’s hand and replace with a baseball glove.

Here is a little test to see what would happen if various professionals matched Mr. Ohlendorf’s success:

February 13, 2011 update is available at this link.

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