Baseball Winter Meetings: Money, Sports and Skewed Values

Dexter RogersCorrespondent IDecember 14, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - NOVEMBER 02:  Starting pitcher Cliff Lee #34 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch against the New York Yankees in Game Five of the 2009 MLB World Series at Citizens Bank Park on November 2, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies won 8-6.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The baseball winter meetings have my brain racing with random thoughts of money, American sports, athletes and hypocrisy.

Carl Crawford just inked a seven-year, $142 million deal to play with the Boston Red Sox.

Is Jayson Werth actually worth the seven-year, $128 million contract the Washington Nationals gave him?

Then there is first baseman Carlos Pena: He signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Chicago Cubs after batting a meager .196 last season with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Perhaps I am in the wrong line of work. If Pena can bat .196 for $10 million, I feel I can hit .075 for $4 million.

Pitcher Cliff Lee was the most prized free agent of them all. Lee just signed a five-year, $120 million contract to rejoin the Philadelphia Phillies.

These huge signings made me think of how far Major League Baseball players have come.

There was once a time when African-Americans were kept out of the game, but Jackie Robinson came along and smashed the color barrier in 1947.

Once upon a time, the “reserve clause” was the law. Players were the property of their franchises. They literally had no rights to negotiate with other franchises until baseball player Curt Flood and union leader Marvin Miller came along. Together they planted the seeds that ushered in an era of free agency.

Flood played in the Major Leagues from 1957 to 1969 and in 1971, as well. He played most of his 15-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals. 

Flood was one of the best center fielders of his time. He was a seven-time Gold Glove winner.

As a hitter, Flood amassed 1,861 hits and had a career batting average of .293.

Flood was an integral part of World Series championship teams in 1964 and 1967. He was the quiet leader of a team that boasted the likes of Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Tim McCarver and Bill White.

As it turns out, Flood was more than a great baseball player: He was a man who stood on strong principles. When Flood was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1969, he refused to go. He felt he should be able to negotiate with other teams.

Flood’s refusal was a direct challenge to the longstanding reserve clause. He felt so strongly about his rights that he had the guts to file a $1 million lawsuit against Major League Baseball to secure his rights.

In a 1970 interview with Howard Cosell, Flood suggested he was being treated like a slave. Cosell suggested to Flood his $100,000 salary was not exactly “slave wages.” 

Flood responded, “A well-paid slave is nonetheless a slave.”

With Miller by his side, Flood lost his case by a 5-3 vote in the Supreme Court in 1970. Even though Flood lost his case, it opened the floodgates to free agency as we know it today.

Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally were the first free agents in 1975.

Flood’s loss in 1970 was everyone’s gain in 2010.

That being said, how can Major League Baseball have a Hall of Fame and not have Curt Flood and Marvin Miller in it?

Are sportswriters and fans so caught up in the now that they ignore the past?

There likely isn’t a scientific way of measuring the following statement, but I’ll make it nonetheless: There are few, if any, who love sports more than I do. I can watch, think, play and write about sports every day.

But despite the euphoria sport provides me, it is not strong enough to cloud my judgment regarding what is really important.

We live in a society where values are severely skewed, which equates to hypocrisy. How can this country allow poverty, ignorance, disease and the ugliness of racism to destroy society, yet simultaneously allow athletes to earn $142 million for hitting a baseball?

As a citizen, I find it very difficult to embrace living in a society where professional athletes command so much money while human beings live on the streets.

Furthermore, it is rather disturbing to see very few athletes using their platforms and dollars in way that will ignite change.

How does it feel to have an athlete who earns $20 million per year gripe about the need to take care of his family when many Americans are broke?

The short answer is we as sports fans collectively allow it.

While many Americans struggle to earn a living, keep their homes and put food on the table, we simultaneously support the institution of American sport. Sport provides a temporary escape from the rigors of life, and it makes us feel good.

American sport is a vital part of the fabric of American culture. Sport is a culture that operates independently of the mainstream, yet is tightly interwoven in our everyday lives.

Professional athletes live in a Utopian society. Their earnings are off the charts compared to ours. They have access to privileges we can only dream of. 

We as fans support the institution of sports with our time and hard-earned dollars. When we attend games, purchase jerseys and sit in sports bars every Sunday, we indirectly justify athletes signing mega contracts.

After the cheering stops, fans ease back into their lives, while the athletes—who often care little about us—continue to cash their checks while contributing nothing to enhance our beings other than a brief break from the rigors of life.

Is this a fair exchange?

As a sports fan, perhaps, but as a citizen, I’d have to say no.

It is very difficult to embrace the concept of athletes earning tremendous salaries, yet educators earning paltry salaries as they struggle to educate youths in a public education system that is failing.

It is very difficult to see human beings living on the streets in America, yet you see very few dogs.

Is it rather peculiar that many sports fans care whether Brett Favre will actually retire or whether Cam Newton really took money, yet often fail to exude that same level of passion for helping those in need?

Anyway, as you continue to watch the winter meetings unfold, ponder some of these thoughts. Perhaps it will induce a level of thought above our ordinary mode of comprehension that will hopefully introduce a newfound clarity we all can use.

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