- - Wednesday, March 20, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In their classic hit, “For the Love of Money,” the O’Jays outline a few things some people do to obtain “that mean green.”

They lie, rob and cheat. They don’t care who they hurt or beat. They steal from their mother and their own brother. They’ll let money drive them out of their minds.

However, most reasonable people agree that cash isn’t everything. The same remains true when the pile approaches a half-billion dollars, like, the $430 million contract reportedly being discussed by outfielder Mike Trout and the Los Angeles Angels.

Undoubtedly, that’s a whole lot of money, money, mon-ey.

But here’s what I don’t understand: Some folks use baseball contracts to mock Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray for choosing football with its nonguaranteed deals. And then those same folks criticize athletes like Bryce Harper and Antonio Brown for chasing the last dollar.

We can’t have it both ways.

If there truly is more to life than bank accounts and ledger sheets, no one should urge Murray to reconsider his decision just because baseball salaries are legitimate, compared to the fantasy numbers the NFL tosses around.

And can we just drop this misleading reporting practice in football? Instead of saying Washington signed Landon Collins to an $84 million contract and Green Bay signed Aaron Rodgers to a $134 million contract, can we stick to the only numbers that are truly pertinent? Deals should be reported this way: “Washington signed Collins for $45 million guaranteed and Green Bay signed Rodgers for $98.7 million guaranteed.” Amounts beyond those figures are the equivalent of incentives and shouldn’t be in the headline.

Back to the point:

Athletes who play simply for the paycheck are not held in high esteem. Yet, it appears that some folks think Murray should’ve stuck with the Oakland Athletics and pursued baseball because that sport offers better longevity and — for those who excel — more financial security.

Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in last year’s NFL draft, signed a deal for $32.7 million guaranteed. I think Murray can scrape by on something similar if he’s the first overall pick.

By selecting football, Murray must be following his heart, supposedly a good thing. Besides, there’s no guarantee he’d become a baseball superstar who could command a contract like Trout, Harper ($330 million), Manny Machado ($300 million) or Nolan Arenado ($260 million). And baseball’s nine-figure paydays are usually six years in the making, at minimum.

Trout’s deal has unleashed a wave of ridicule for Harper, who was intent on breaking the salary record for North American team sports. The erstwhile Nationals star held the mark for less than three weeks before being lapped by $100 million. There’s no shame in that fact, since Trout is universally regarded as baseball’s best player. But there’s a bit of embarrassment after publicly lobbying for Trout to join him in Philadelphia.

Critics argue that Harper was done in by his insistence on topping Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million deal. Presumably, for a few million less, Harper could’ve remained with the organization that drafted him, perhaps retiring as a one-team icon like Cal Ripken, Derek Jeter and Tony Gwynn.

But competition comes in a variety of shapes, often at levels unimaginable by less-intense individuals. Being No. 1 means a lot more to some of us, whether it’s in cards, checkers or contracts. Call it a character flaw if you must, but realize it could be a crucial element in high-achievers’ penchant for greatness.

Harper, like former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown, put a premium on getting paid top dollar. That doesn’t mean money is everything to them, just that they like using it to keep score. The thrill is in the chase, not necessarily the kill.

Conversely, it appears that Trout couldn’t care less. He gave Los Angeles a hometown discount, arguably leaving millions on the table. His would-be free agency after the 2020 season was expected to be bigger — and more fruitful — than what Harper and Machado experienced.

Trout might be in the minority, but he’s definitely not the only athlete to sign for less than maximum value. Never forget that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all accepted lower salaries when they joined forces in Miami, hoping the savings would be used to make the roster stronger.

There can’t be right answers if there are no wrong ones. Trout could’ve determined that he owed it to his peers to test the market. Murray could’ve reasoned that baseball was a smarter path and he should deny his passion. Harper could’ve concluded that being happy in D.C. was better than being slightly richer elsewhere.

The challenge for all of them — like the rest of us — is to follow the O’Jays’ advice:

“Don’t let money fool you.”

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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