- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

Here's another thing wrong with baseball: Al Leiter.

He is an unexceptional pitcher with the Mets who just signed a two-year contract extension worth $20million.

That is a staggering amount of money for someone who has never won 20 games or struck out more than 200 hitters in a season.

It is crazy money, is what it is, Monopoly money that underlines the nuttiness of the game today.

Leiter is a 36-year-old player who is in the waning stages of a mostly nondescript career, who is four years removed from his best season, in 1998, when he was 17-6 with a 2.47 ERA and 174 strikeouts. His career record is 126-98, not bad, not great, just whatever.

Yet the Mets place the value of Leiter at $20million over two seasons.

Go figure. You might as well.

The owners and players have not been able to figure it out since the early '70s, and they have tried a zillion times. They are planning to try again, and you know what happens from there.

As Al Pacino, in "And Justice for All," might put it: "Leiter is out of order. The Mets are out of order. The whole game is out of order."

Uh-oh. Don Fehr's name is starting to show up in the newspapers again, along with his mug.

Fehr brings a lot of lip to the negotiating table, literally as well as figuratively. His lips are almost as impressive as Angelina Jolie's lips, though his are probably natural.

Whenever Fehr starts moving his lips, the hint of a strike is usually not too far behind.

As always, Fehr feels the players' financial pain, including the pain Leiter was feeling before he was able to complete the deal with the Mets.

"Obviously, that's a factor," Leiter said of the money. "But it's more about me being able to tell my wife, 'Look, this is where we're going to be.' This is some sort of continuity and stability. Security is a wonderful thing if you can get it for your family."

Those words encapsulate the mind of a ballplayer. No, they do not live in your world. They do not even live in this galaxy. They are out there with the "Star Trek" crew. They are gone, far gone.

Leiter puts his family's security at $20million. Your family's security undoubtedly goes for a whole lot less than $20million. Try not to let the otherworldly mindset disrupt your digestion this morning, unavoidable as it may be.

Leiter and his kind put on a good show last fall following September 11. They acknowledged the "real heroes" in their midst, the ordinary wage earners who gave their lives trying to rescue others at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. They said what they said, probably because someone wrote it for them, and now, more than 10 months later, they have returned to their definition of "normalcy."

This is not to begrudge the $20million that landed in Leiter's lap. We all would take it.

The difference is that most of us would try to be sensitive to the audience. We would eschew the bit on family security and quote Lou Gehrig's farewell address instead.

We also would break from the union and end the charade of having something in common with the teamsters. We would begin a movement to throw Fehr out to the streets, and ultimately, if it meant a few million less in the future, then that would be the price of sparing the game from people's worst instincts.

Leiter's windfall and baseball's intransigence come at an incongruent time in America. There is the war on terror, a convulsing stock market, corporate malevolence, layoffs, uncertainty and blue-haired grandmothers from Minnesota bent on blowing up commercial jets.

These are incredibly serious times, except for the security personnel looking to perform major body-cavity searches on blue-haired grandmothers from Minnesota.

Baseball is tone deaf to it all.

Here's $20million to an ordinary player. Here's contraction, a tie game in Milwaukee, Bud Selig, the juice that produces home runs and a strike.

The game is sick, noxious to the core and in need of a remedy.

Put out a call to Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the one-cure-fits-all practitioner.


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