It's hard for most wage earners to swallow the numbers that dot the sports pages nowadays: Eric Davis, three dot one million dollars a year; Mark Langston, three dot two; Mark Davis, three dot two-five; Dave Stewart, three dot five; Will Clark, three dot seven-five. The figures grow more and more stupendous, and we become more and more stupefied. Randy Bush of the Minnesota Twins is making $350,000 more than George Bush of the United States of America—and Randy is not as good a fielder as George was in his prime.
Be advised that this is not yet another polemic on baseball players' soaring salaries. Besides, any complaint about how much money a person makes leaves one open to the stinging rejoinder "Aw, you're just jealous." (Damn right!)
Nor is this essay going to be a series of rationalizations in defense of the high cost of utility infielders. In brief, the three standard arguments the players use to justify their lavish pay go something like this: 1) Nobody is holding a gun to an owner's head; 2) people don't complain when Jack Nicholson or Mick Jagger breaks the bank, and athletes are in the same business—entertainment; and 3) the average player's career is so short that he has to cram a lifetime of earnings into just a few years.
The point to be made here is that there should be an unwritten contract between an athlete and his public. Here's the deal. We won't begrudge you a dime of what you make as long as you live up to certain conditions. We're not talking about points or goals or RBIs, although those are the numbers that determine salaries. We're talking about what a player does off the field. Simply put, they are the three C's: Courtesy, Charity and Community.
April 15, 1990
•Courtesy. Please be kind to the kid seeking your autograph, and don't do card shows for money unless the money goes to a worthy cause (other than yourself)-Don't misbehave and give folks a bad impression about athletes. The kids and the parents who take their kids to games are the people who make it possible for you to earn such princely sums. And please be cordial to the men and women of the media, because you speak to the public through them. Thank you.
•Charity. As it is written in the Bible (I Corinthians 13:13), "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." All the world's major religions place a strong emphasis on charity, and because sport often takes on the status of religion, you, the athlete, should show your followers a generosity of spirit. Start by picking any worthy cause, and invest it with your money—Jack Morris of the Tigers once gave $100,000 to Detroit's Children's Hospital, without a hint of fanfare—or, even better, your time. The Biblical meaning of charity, after all, is love for your fellow man, especially those less fortunate than you. So instead of exhausting the Spectravision movie schedule in your hotel room, visit a hospital or a school.
•Community. Become involved in the area around your arena. Follow the example of Dave Stewart in Oakland or Kirby Puckett in the Twin Cities or Harold Reynolds in Seattle. They devote themselves to their communities, and many other athletes do the same. Then again, there are jerks who have 900 numbers and sell their memorabilia on TV.
Here's the way one baseball player, who appropriately enough asks to remain nameless, feels on the subject:
"We could and we should do much more. We make all this money because of the adulation we receive for what we do on the field, and we should redirect that adulation back into the community. I'm not counting the guy who visits one hospital one day a year and there's a photographer on hand to record the event.
"The other night I saw The Pride of the Yankees again, and there's a scene in which Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig visit a hospital. While Ruth is getting photographed and putting on a big show, Gehrig stays behind and quietly talks to a kid. We should be doing Gehrig's kind of work.
"I don't understand it when my teammates take off the minute the season ends and don't appear again until spring training. I don't see how guys can make a little kid pay five dollars to stand in line at a card show and not even talk to him when the child comes up. Signing for charity is one thing. Signing to make money is totally reprehensible.
"A lot of us in sports believe in sharing the wealth, but others don't think they owe the public anything. These guys don't know what they're missing. If you visit a child with cystic fibrosis, a child in a life-and-death situation, you realize that going oh for 4 is not such a big deal. The feeling you get in helping someone or cheering someone up, well, that's an inner reward that beats anything with a dollar sign on it."
Don't expect athletes to make less money. Ask them, though, to give something back.