- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It’s usually pointless to rant and rave about the salaries today’s athletes demand and command. You might as well set your word processor on fire bemoaning the price of gasoline. As Uncle Walter Cronkite might put it if he were still doing his CBS News gig, that’s the way it is.

Having said that, let’s add six contrary words: Aaron Crow is for the birds.

If you’ve been able to tear yourself away from watching NBC slobber over Michael Phelps in Beijing, you know that first-round draftee Crow and his agents rejected a $3.5 million signing bonus from the Nationals - thereby costing this beleaguered club a prime pitching prospect who might have made their rotation next season.

Crow’s lowest acceptable number was $4 million, compared with an original request for $9 million that his agents, Randy and Alan Hendricks, must have submitted while under the influence of something or another.

Even the $4 million figure was outrageous, but the Nats came within $500,000 of matching it because they’re building a hopefully happy future largely on the strength of live young pitching arms.

“We tried to value the player properly,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “But we’re not going to be bullied.”

Way to go, Jimbo. Crow, whatever his talents, is a completely unproven commodity. We’re not talking about Johan Santana, CC Sabathia or Brandon Webb here. We’re talking about a 21-year-old kid who could be a huge bust.

He also could be a superstar, but one of the nice things about baseball is that you have to prove it between the lines.

Talk is cheap, even if athletes aren’t.

What can Crow buy with $4 million that he couldn’t with $3.5 mil? Or to quote Gilbert Arenas a while back, “What can I do for my family with $127 million that I can’t do with $111 million?”

Of course, Crow might be a nice young man in the hands of greedy agents - you never know. Still, the words that come quickest to mind over his $4 million request are “sheer effrontery.”

Do you know how much $4 million really is? I don’t, because my mind can’t contemplate such a windfall in personal terms.

Many of us would consider a windfall of, say, $100,000 beyond our wildest dreams. The Nats were willing to pay Crow 35 times that, and he told them where they could stick it.

Effrontery? Make that white-collar highway robbery.

Such antics are not restricted to baseball, of course. Top-line newcomers in other pro sports, especially football, also cash in outrageously. An All-American from a top-level college program can become the highest-paid player on his team before he has so much as laced up his spikes.

Heck, even Major League Soccer is prone to such nonsense. When D.C. United signed 14-year-old Freddy Adu, he immediately became the league’s highest-paid employee. (When United traded him a few years later, it became clear this was a case of Much Adu About Nothing.)

The dictionary defines potential as “capable of being but not yet in existence.” It describes achievement as “something accomplished successfully.” Too often, it seems, one is mistaken for the other.

Crow’s arrogance matches that of baseball owners who, until the middle 1970s, had their players by the, er, necks. Play for what we offer or you don’t play at all, they growled. So what we’re willing to pay you is unfair? So what?

All that ended in December 1975, when federal arbitrator Peter Seitz granted free agency to star pitchers Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith. Faster than you could say “Holy Cow,” star players were making more than entire teams had a few decades earlier.

Nowadays, as we have seen, utility players batting .230 make more than Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson combined earned at their peaks.

That’s progress, I suppose, but every now and then a male gold digger like Aaron Crow appears to remind us anew how preposterous pay structures have become in sports.

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