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By Kaitlin Mulhere November 18, 2013

Kelly Ayotte compares size of federal deficit, baseball salaries

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., talked debt and deficit with Granite Staters at a town hall meeting last month, trying to put the enormous numbers into context for the average person.

The deficit could buy a large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee for every American every day for the next four years, she said. It also could pay for new iPhones for half of the people on Earth.

And to really hit home the size of billions of dollars of deficit, Ayotte compared the figure with the salaries of Major League Baseball players.

The deficit, she said, could pay "all of the 2013 salaries of every professional baseball player for the next 248 years."

It was fitting timing for the comparison. Ayotte donned a Boston Red Sox hat during the town hall, held on the day of Game 2 of the 2013 World Series.

It’s also an interesting statistic to cite. Could the deficit actually fund America’s favorite pastime for the next two-and-a-half centuries? We did the math.

Tracking down the federal deficit was the easy part.

At the time of the town hall event, the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent deficit estimate was $753 billion, from the monthly report  published in September.

The baseball numbers are a bit trickier to calculate.

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Each December, Major League Baseball calculates the total payroll of all baseball clubs to see which teams have to pay a luxury tax, incurred by those who have a payroll over the threshold set by MLB. The 2012 spending was $3.15 billion

But what about 2013 figures? We struck out with both Major League Baseball and the players’ union, the Major League Baseball Players Association. The communications office said the official 2013 data is currently being calculated.

So, we relied on Opening Day numbers reported by media organizations, which they attributed to a combination of the players association, club officials and Major League Baseball’s central office.

According to ESPN, the sum of all the team payrolls on opening day was $3,059,073,869. USA Today and CBS Sports have similar but slightly different numbers -- $3,100,746,107 for USA Today and $3,098,746,107 for CBS Sports. The differences are generally explained by how signing bonuses and deferred money in contracts are counted, and whether injured players are included, said Jeff Euston, a baseball fan who runs a website called Cot’s Contracts at Baseball Prospectus.

Ayotte’s math is accurate using the ESPN data -- the source her staff said she used. They said she used numbers reported by ESPN and divided that by the federal deficit estimated by the Office of Management and Budget in July. That’s $759 billion divided by $3,059,073,869, or 248 years.

Using numbers from other media organizations, the deficit instead can pay baseball salaries for 238 years or 244 years. Meanwhile, using the CBO’s estimate from September brings the years to 236 or 242.

Our Ruling:

Ayotte said the deficit this year could pay "all of the 2013 salaries of every professional baseball player for the next 248 years."

Given that she had a couple different options for data, the senator looked to ESPN for sports statistics, which seemed to us like a reasonable choice. The ESPN data produces a result of 248 years. Even if the answer is 236 years or 244 years -- the answer you get if you use different data sources -- it’s a long time. We rate her statement True.

Our Sources

Congressional Budget Office, Monthly Budget Review for August 2013, Sept. 9, 2013

Congressional Budget Office, Monthly Budget Review - Summary for Fiscal Year 2013, Nov. 7, 2013

White House Office of Management and Budget, Mid-Session Review, Budget of the U.S. Government, July 8, 2013

USA Today, Top Team Payroll, 2013

CBS Sports, MLB Salaries, Team Payrolls, 2013

ESPN, Boston Red Sox Salary/Payroll Information, 2013

Baseball Prospectus, 2013 League Compensation, 2013

ESPN, Report: Yanks hit with luxury tax, Dec. 18, 2012 

Email interview with Liz Johnson, Ayotte spokeswoman, Nov. 12, 2013

Email interview with Major League Baseball public relations office, Nov. 11, 2013

Email interview with Greg Bouris, Director of Communications for Major League Baseball Players Association, Nov. 11, 2013

Email interview with Kevin Ota, ESPN Director of Communications, Digitial, Nov. 13, 2013

Email interview with Jeff Euston, author at Baseball Prospectus, Nov. 13, 2013.

Kelly Ayotte compares size of federal deficit, baseball salaries

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