End-of-season pay cuts at the Arizona Diamondbacks could hit 10-foot-tall Randy Johnson and oversized Gonzo hard.
The team ended its lackluster 2018 season by cutting the pay of the Racing Legends mascots and other game-day entertainers.
The racers, those fan favorites in the big awkward costumes who bobble toward home plate in the fifth inning, went from making $60 a game to minimum wage.
About 15 Legends racers and 20 members of the Rally-backs entertainment crew were impacted, according to the team.
The D-Backs front office says the move isn’t about money. Team officials said it puts entertainers in line with other game-day employees such as ushers and ticket takers. They said other Major League Baseball teams also pay game-day employees by the hour.
“This was not done for cost-cutting measures,” a team spokesman said in an email to The Arizona Republic. “Less than 35 total game-day staff were affected by the change.”
Team officials said they are protecting employees from being paid less than the $10.50-an-hour minimum wage and maintain that entertainers often work before and after games.
In other words, the team wanted to comply with minimum-wage law. It was concerned employees could work so many hours during a single game that $60 would total out less than minimum wage.
Stats don’t support team’s rationale
Baseball is a game of statistics. And in the case of game-day entertainers, the numbers used by the Diamondbacks to support the payroll change don’t add up.
A Republic analysis of D-Backs home-game times found only one in franchise history went so long entertainers would have made more earning minimum wage: 38 cents more.
The fourth game of the 2018 season against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 2 went 15 innings and lasted 5 hours, 45 minutes.
That means game-day entertainers who stayed for the entire 15 innings would have been owed $60.38 if paid by the hour.
According to MLB.com, the longest D-Backs home game prior to April 2 was in June 2015, when the team played 14 innings against the Cleveland Indians in 5 hours, 32 minutes.
Minimum wage in Arizona is set to increase to $11 an hour in January. But even at that rate, entertainers who worked from the start to finish of the Indians game would have been owed about $60.50.
Numbers show it is more likely for entertainers to work a little more than three hours per game. There were 81 home games in 2018 with an average time of three hours, 13 minutes.
So rather than $60 per game, the team would pay entertainers an average of $34.13 per game at $10.50 per hour, a savings of $25.87 per game for every employee, based solely on the length of the game.
That could equate to tens of thousands of dollars in savings in a single season.
The Diamondbacks maintain that using game times is an unfair comparison, and fails to take into account hours entertainers worked outside of games.
Team officials say if entertainers arrive two hours before the game starts, then they might work more than five hours during a single game. That increases the likelihood they will hit the minimum wage ceiling — and would reduce the team’s overall savings.
Some mascots contacted by The Republic estimated they work less than four hours a game. Team officials, however, say there is almost no way an entertainer would work only three hours.
Mascots’ work is fun, grueling
Running around the bases in a 45-pound costume for 40,000 screaming baseball fans — and making it look like fun — is not a job for everyone.
Thomas Bross, a 2018 Racing Legends mascot, said he doesn’t think people understand the amount of work that it takes to don a character suit and yuck it up. Not only for the on-field antics, but dressing up to meet kids outside the stadium.
“It’s very physically demanding,” he said. “The team puts a lot of cultural importance on it. The people really like us.”
Bross, 25, of Phoenix, said he has done a lot of mascot work and once had “Disney aspirations.” He has performed as Zizzy, the Goodyear Ballpark mascot, and dressed up as a purple panther and a koala bear at Makutu’s Island restaurant in Chandler.
Diamondbacks entertainers were told in a September email the team was changing their pay with only a few games left to play in the season.
Bross took it personally.
“It left me feeling devalued,” he said. “I am frustrated that that people see the work as not valuable enough to be compensated for doing.”
The Legends race occurs in the fifth inning when the mascots run from the right field corner to near home plate. Bross said he has run as both Gonzalez and Williams. He said racers rotate the mascot costumes, except for Johnson, which always goes to the tallest runner.
Bross said the races are not always scripted, so when you see the mascots huffing it down the field they are often competing for real. On special-event days, he said, the outcomes are sometimes predetermined.
The team has tryouts for Legends racers in February. Racers from previous seasons are usually invited to take part in the tryouts and some racers have worked multiple seasons.
Legends mascots are typically at the park for three to four hours during every home game, Bross said. He estimated that he worked about 30 games in 2018 and made about $400 a month. Under the new minimum-wage structure, Bross said he stood to make about half of that.
After his pay changed, Bross said he elected not to perform in the remaining games and doubts he will return next season.
“It’s a nice organization to work for,” Bross said of the D-Backs. “And I really did enjoy connecting with the fans.”
‘I don’t care about the money’
Other Racing Legends mascots said they could care less about the pay and would perform for free just to be part of the team.
“It’s such a cool thing to do,” said Brenden Rawlins, who worked in 2018. “Half of us would do it as volunteers, because we get to be out there with the fans.”
Rawlins described the work as part-time and described the pay as unimportant.
Joshua Sanchez, who has been a Legend for four seasons, said the money is a kind of bonus in addition to getting to go to games, working with the team and making friends.
“I didn’t go into the job looking to get paid a lot,” he said. “I go for the experience. … I get to make peoples’ day.”
Racing Legends Mascot Ryan Segall said the minimum wage change only affected two checks in 2018 and won’t dissuade him from coming back in 2019.
“I don’t care about the money,” he said, adding: “I just enjoyed being out there.”
Segall said being a mascot is for those who “really do love baseball and seeing smiles on everyone’s faces.”
And there’s one more thing: You get to run around on the field during the game. How many people get to do that in their lives?
Greinke made almost $32M in 2018
You won’t see any MLB players offering to play at no cost.
Money, of course, is critical to any major league franchise. The ability to sign top players means offering multimillion-dollar contracts, and the Diamondbacks are no exception.
In fact, the team upped the stakes on player pay in 2018, moving from the bottom of team salaries to the middle with contractsapproaching $140 million.
That was a club record for salaries.
“I think it’s another reflection of the support we get from ownership and the desire to win and add players of a quality,” General Manager Mike Hazen told The Republic in February.
The team’s highest-paid player is pitcher Zack Greinke, who made almost $32 million in 2018. His total contract with the team is worth more than $200 million.
First baseman Paul Goldschmidt was the second-highest paid player in 2018, making $11.1 million. Outfielder A.J. Pollock was third, earning $7.75 million, and pitcher Patrick Corbin was fourth, with $7.5 million.
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