by David Beck
Installment 3 -- December 11, 1997
Remember in the last installment when I said that Joe Journeyman wasn't a problem in baseball, wasn't a problem with the rocketing costs due to free agency? Remember that? Did you happen to notice how brutally wrong I was? In the past few hot stove league tank shots, it has been demonstrated that Joe Journeyman is now not just asking for a raise from $400,000 to $450,000, but rather from $400,000 to $2 million. Or $3 million. What the heck, $8 million.
And the reason I am kicking myself in the butt for not seeing it coming was that I did see it coming and then shrugged it off. Next time, I won't.
The moment I saw it coming? The day Greg Maddux signed that $10 million-a-year deal to stay with the Braves. The sentiment going around was along these lines:
Greg: "The Braves have been good to me and I simply could not say no."
Braves: "Greg is one of the greatest pitchers ever and he should be shown that he is."
Joe Public: "How gracious of Greg to take what he is offered, and how magnanimous of the Braves to reward him generously." [Mild applause.]
Okay, all this is seen as no big deal, except that he was getting a ton more than any other ballplayer, and, being pretty much the best pitcher of his age aside, the other major leaguers took notice of this and said:
"We now want to get paid more too!"
It's kind of like what happens when, after going to the bathroom, you carelessly pull your pants up over a long stream of toilet paper, and as you walk back into the office, a long tissue tail is sailing in the wind behind you while co-workers snicker and then break into howling laughter.
The Braves and Maddux are that last, good cleaning-up wipe at the can. ("That's all taken care of.") All the other major leaguers are the trailing stream. ("We want some, too!") Of course, a major part of this situation is the result of the crazed shopping spree by the expansion Diamondbacks and Devil Rays, but there still had to be the twisted perception of the Maddux "benchmark."
The most notable case that to me just sticks out among the many (and there are many) is the signing of Darryl Kile. This guy is, what, 71-65 over his career? Why isn't he saying, to himself, to his agent, to the bidding teams, and most importantly to the fans, "Yeah, um, what was that deal worth? Maddux signs for $10 million? Okay! That's great! That must mean I'm worth at least $500,000 a year now!"
See what free agency does? Somehow in this cockamamie system it went from $500,000 to -- gulp! -- $8 million a year.
And why is that? Because Kile was really thinking, "Hey, Maddux gets $10 million a year, I need $8 million."
I'm asking you this simple question.
Who the hell is going to shell out this kind of money for Darryl Kile?
It's not the obvious answer, the Rockies.
If you haven't figured it out by now....
See, this is just what blows me away about all this. The Rockies' execs are beaming about their new acquisition, introducing him to the fans as if he's the reincarnation of Walter Johnson, and the fans just gush.
Those same execs will then turn right around and slobber over the truckloads of money they figure Rockies fans are going, to shovel into their gaping pockets. Those bright, intelligent Rockies fans, they'll see through the scam and realize they are paying gobs upon gobs of money for Darryl Kile and oppose such highway robbery, won't they?
And I don't mean to single out Rockies fans, but I speak only of them in addressing what Joe Fan is doing any time he goes into the ballpark. He is saying, "Yepper-doo, here's my contribution to the $8 million dollar till for Darryl Kile. I just hope this is one of the winning games he has on his way to a 12-12 record."
(Don't get me wrong -- I don't think either Maddux or Kile should be making as much as he is.)
Remember the days when a ballplayer would sign for these amounts and we'd all gripe? But that was also the days when ticket prices were lower, a 35-cent soda cost less than $4, parks weren't named after corporations, networks didn't cram every last commercial and promo into every crevice of available time, promotional items were real and not plastic, and baseball was just that: baseball.
Now we have Pedro Martinez signing a $12.5 million-a-year contract with the Red Sox. I can't wait to see somebody like Russ Springer now come to the table with a $10 million demand.
That toilet paper stream is getting longer and wider all the time.
EEEEEE! Contributing Editor David Beck is a history teacher at a Southern California high school. He has also taught social studies, math, government, and economics, and recently he turned down the offer to lend his editorial skills to Gregg Pearlman's 9,742-volume treatise on brevity.
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