How Much Are We Worth?

June 14th, 2011
Photo © shgmom56 (via Flickr) | Used under Creative Commons license

Earlier this year, as pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training, much of the baseball world was busy talking about a first baseman.

The St. Louis Cardinals and three-time National League Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols failed to reach an agreement on a new contract. Pujols will be a free agent at the end of this season and has said that he will not reopen talks with the team until then. Analysts believe that Pujols is seeking between $25 and $30 million dollars per year over ten years. The Cardinals’ seeming refusal to commit to such a large sum has led to trade rumors. Perhaps the Cubs or the Nationals would be willing to give one of the game’s biggest talents one of the most lucrative contracts in sports history.

Pujols has hit 32 or more home runs, while maintaining a batting average of .312 or better, in each of his ten Major League seasons. His career on-base percentage is .426, his career slugging percentage .624. He is a nine-time All Star and has finished first or second in National League MVP voting seven times. He has been a Rookie of the Year, a batting champion, a World Series champion, and a Sports Illustrated Player of the Decade. One could argue (without much difficulty) that Pujols is the best position player in the game today.

But how much is he worth?

In our culture, when we ask how much someone is worth, we are usually interested in knowing that person’s annual income or how much a company or organization is willing to pay for his or her services. The language we use to talk about income and earning potential gives the impression that some occupations, gifts, and even people are more valuable than others.

As Christians, we must reject this tendency. Jesus, who was born to a peasant family in someone else’s stable, is clear that our worth has nothing to do with our finances. He commended the poor widow who gave two copper coins to the temple treasury—a large sum for her, but small compared to the gifts of the wealthier donors who surrounded her (Luke 21:1-14). He told a rich man to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor because the man’s wealth was keeping him from fully giving himself to Christ (Luke 18:18-25). Jesus tells us that we are so valuable as God’s beloved creations that we shouldn’t worry about material things, not even necessities such as food and clothing (Luke 12:22-31).

In 2000, after 11 seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Ken Griffey, Jr. signed a nine-year, $116 million contract to play for the Cincinnati Reds. Analysts at the time were shocked; they felt that Griffey (whom many at the time considered the game’s greatest player) could have earned much more. But Griffey wanted to play for the Reds. He had grown up in Cincinnati, and his father had played for the great Reds teams of the 1970s. Griffey wasn’t interested in people’s assumptions about how much money he was “worth.” When asked about his decision, Griffey said, “It’s not about how much money you make. It’s about being happy with the situation. Plus, being the highest-paid player doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re the best player.”

Using the word “sacrifice” to describe Ken Griffey, Jr.’s 2000 free agency decision would be an insult to the many people in this world who make less money in a lifetime than Griffey did during a single month of his playing career. (And those who follow baseball know that, because of injuries, Griffey wasn’t nearly as good of a player in Cincinnati as he had been in Seattle.) Still, he made a good point. One’s income does not determine one’s value. And while the Cardinals or the Cubs or another Major League franchise may find a way to sign Albert Pujols to a $300 million contract, we should not confuse this large sum of money with how much he is “worth.”

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