- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2000

Today's topic shall be money, always especially relevant during the joyous holiday season. Money, as in enough already.

A quarter of a billion bucks for Alex Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers? Remember when they were the expansion Washington Senators and you had to be Ted Williams to get anything more than a pittance out of Bob Short?

Or how about the original Senators, who barely had enough dough for owner Clark Griffith to play pinochle every day? One of that club's old stars, Roy Sievers, had unfond memories of trying to make a living wage. "Heck," Roy told me a couple of years ago, "when you got up to $20,000, the Griffith family traded you."

I know it's pointless to compare salaries then and now. Still, did you notice that Sandy Alderson, an executive in the commissioner's office, said you could buy three bottom-end franchises for $252 mil? Alderson called the Rodriguez deal "stupefying," and he doesn't even have to pay his way into the ballpark.

The guy I feel sorry for is Mike Hampton, whose agent convinced or coerced the Rockies into giving the right-hander $123.8 million a record that lasted exactly two days as the biggest deal in baseball history. Or maybe Manny Ramirez, who probably thought he was the luckiest guy alive when he reached a preliminary agreement on an eight-year, $160 million contract with the Red Sox. I mean, what does a jock have to do to strike it really rich?

I feel particularly sorry for those of us who still buy a ticket to a ballgame now and then. What's it going to cost to visit Camden Yards in a year or two: $50 for an unreserved grandstand seat, $20 for a crab cake, $15 for a beer and $10 for a soda? And the Orioles probably will still be lousy.

Baseball badly needs a salary cap, although such devices haven't done enough to keep payrolls in check in football, basketball and hockey. I'm surprised the baseball owners haven't put in one to protect their own pocketbooks a fairly easy move since they control the game in the absence of a real commissioner. Then again, nobody ever said you have to be smart to own a ballclub, just rich. As prima facie evidence, I give you Peter Angelos, principal owner and destroyer of the team formerly known as the Baltimore Orioles.

Considering that most of us live in the shadow of honest and frugal government spending you can take that any way you want it's fitting that we have three club owners within 250 miles who have tried to buy championships by hauling out their platinum or gold credit cards. It takes more than money to build a winner, but two of the three don't seem to have caught on.

Angelos bought the Orioles seven very long years ago and has succeeded nicely in turning one of baseball's most respected franchises into a laughingstock. Free agents, managers, GMs and pitching coaches come, and anyone who dares to disagree with King Peter goes. Now the O's will try to make it with "prospects." Hey, Pete can you say "last place"?

Thirty-five or so miles away, of course, we have Merry Dan Snyder, who intended to get the Redskins to the Super Bowl by signing $100 million worth of aging free agents. Hey, Danny boy can you say "wait 'til next year" or the year after that?

Is there any hope for these two head cases? Sure. Just look north toward the Bronx.

For nearly a quarter-century, George M. Steinbrenner, a k a "the Boss," mounted a reign of terror in the House That Ruth Built. Free agents arrived by the boatload. George hired and fired so many managers that Bill Gates couldn't have kept track. (Rest in peace, Billy Martin.)

Then, in 1996, a funny thing happened on the way to, say, third place: Georgie Porgie was named to the U.S. Olympic Committee for the Atlanta Games. All of a sudden, he was too busy to disrupt affairs at Yankee Stadium, and the pinstripers won their first World Series since 1978. Undoubtedly reveling in the silence, feelgood manager Joe Torre and astute GM Brian Cashman have won three more Series to create a new version of baseball's oldest dynasty. And, give him credit, Steinbrenner has had enough sense not to mess with a winner.

Someday not so soon, Angelos and Snyder might comprehend that the way to win is by getting the best baseball or football people in positions of authority and letting them do their jobs not by firing secretaries, repainting offices and scaring the pants off everybody who works for you.

Don't hold your breath.

Sometimes I wonder why anyone bothers being a sports fan in these days when everybody seems to be getting unfairly rich at our expense. Sure, A-Rod is a marvelous ballplayer, but I'd rather watch somebody like Cal Ripken, who would have been happy playing for $50,000 had that glint been in his daddy's eye 30 years earlier.

Unfortunately, Cal is about done, and so is any reason for us to care about guys who make more in one inning than we do in a year. It would be nice to see pro sports regain a semblance of financial responsibility, but don't hold your breath waiting for that either.

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