The recent press release from the offices of the Boston Red Sox made the spirit soar, made you proud to be a baseball fan, made you feel a little better about the astronomical salaries we help subsidize for these whining prima donnas.
"Inspired by the efforts of Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez to help victims of deadly floods in their native Dominican Republic, citizens of Red Sox Nation have combined to raise more than $200,000 that will aid the nation and neighboring Haiti," stated the release.
So although at least two of the three have recently engaged in loud, public contract squabbles in their quest for ever-more money, apparently these ballplayers have some decency and concern for their fellow man.
Or maybe not.
Upon an examination of the fine print, it turns out that Sox principal owner John W. Henry pitched in half the total donation from the Red Sox. Corporations chipped in another $10,000 or so, while fans donated $31,095.75 at collection sites at Fenway Park and through the mail.
That means those magnanimous Red Sox -- Martinez (whose 2004 salary, according to USA Today, is $17.5 million), Ortiz ($4.6 million), and Ramirez ($22.5 million) -- made contributions of maybe $10,000 apiece, less if their teammates opened their wallets for the cause. To translate to dollar amounts that are more in our, um, ballpark, that would be the equivalent of a $22,500-a-year teacher dropping a $10 bill to help a cause near to his heart. And the teacher's not getting a press release praising his "inspired leadership."
All this is to say that numbers are funny. Without context, they are essentially meaningless, able to be molded and shaped in whatever manner will put the stock or the fund in the best possible light. So the next time you receive a come-on for an investment opportunity, take a minute and figure out the context. As my friend Shannon Zimmerman tells me in the Dud of the Month column in the upcoming issue of Champion Funds, one mutual fund proudly boasts of its fat gain of 129% in 1999. But the fund sinks like a rock in lean years -- between March 2000 and December 2002, for example, the fund lost nearly 10 percentage points more than its bogey. That's probably not mentioned in the fund's advertising copy.
"American dollars have a lot of power in our small nation," said ace Pedro Martinez in the glowing Red Sox press release. "This money can help so many people."
So could a little bit of context.
For an excellent look at the numbers of baseball, read Bob Bobala's Foul Ball!
Roger Friedman is a Motley Fool senior editor. In the interest of full disclosure, he's a Dodger fan, though he was quite pleased with Pedro Martinez's performance for his fantasy baseball team last year.