The $400 Pizza

Baseball season is coming up. This time of year I’ll usually read a book about baseball to psyche myself up for the season. Some of the best ones I’ve come across in recent years are George Vecsey’s Baseball: A History of America’s Favorite Game and George Will’s Men at Work. This year I chose Ball Four by Jim Bouton.

Bouton was a pitcher who bounced around the league after having early success with the Yankees. Ball Four is a diary of his 1969 season with the expansion Seattle Pilots, who lasted only one year as a franchise; after the season ended they moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. Bouton ended the 1969 season with the Houston Astros after a late-season trade. Besides being wickedly funny, the book is something of a tell-all, and is surprisingly cynical for a book about a children’s game. It also made him persona non grata in the league.

What does all that have to do with the title of this post? Ten years after Ball Four came out, Bouton added an epilogue titled “Ball Five” for a new edition. In it he writes about his post-playing career as a sports reporter for New York-area television stations, and he shares a story about friend-of-CEI John Stossel:

I also had a lot of respect for our intrepid consumer reporter John Stossel who exposed rip-offs in the marketplace. I particularly remember one of John’s rip-off stories that never got on the air. John was doing an exposé on the fast food industry and one Sunday he bought a pizza for $400. The reason it cost $400 was not because of restaurant business practices but because of television labor practices. John needed a pizza for a prop but he couldn’t get it himself. A set decorator had to get it. Then a prop man had to hold it. Then a stagehand had to give it to him. By the time they figured out the overtime and holiday pay, it came to something like $400. Of course, if John had tried to expose the cost of the television pizza he might have had to finish his story in a suddenly darkened newsroom.

Bouton doesn’t say what year Stossel’s story didn’t air. So let’s assume it’s 1980, when he wrote the chapter. According to the Minneapolis Fed’s handy inflation calculator, that $400 pizza would cost $1,128.43 today.