A young man named Bryce Harper signed a contract assuring him $330 million over 13 years on the condition he play baseball in Philadelphia.
It is unkind to say that persuading anyone to spend 13 years in Philadelphia easily could have cost more and that the city, and its team, the Phillies, secured a bargain rate.
I would not, myself, make such a suggestion because I happen to like Philadelphia, which has Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, cheese steaks and this knockout little corner Mexican joint we discovered that serves killer enchiladas.
The only drawback I have found is that Philadelphia is filled with Philadelphians who have that funny accent I remember from watching Philly-based "American Bandstand" in the 1950s — they call their own city Fluffya! — and scream murderously, and sometimes act accordingly, at sporting events.
Fortunately for Fluffyans, just a couple of hours up the Jersey Turnpike is New York, where the world’s most accommodating people stand ready to provide guidance on faultless pronunciation and superior public decorum.
Among other things I also need not mention is the colossal salary Harper, at 26, stands ready to collect.
According to my overachieving computer calculator, Harper, formerly of the Washington Nationals, will enjoy an annual reward of $25,384,615.38461538. Certainly, his agent will expect the usual cut but Harper and his wife, Kayla, needn’t worry about the small change. They are set — and how.
Like you, perhaps, I remember a time when baseball players were apt to be paid more like steamfitters than sultans and when, for instance, the Brooklyn Dodgers — even the biggest stars — lived next door and sometimes offered neighbors a ride to the ballpark.
Most were working-class lads back then, earning more than our fathers and mothers, maybe, but still not in the category of tycoons. You are right to say, yes, but why should the robber-baron owners get all the loot? And I would agree. Share the wealth, absolutely. Spread it around. Power to the People.
But it isn’t the same when the fellows on the field are fabulously loaded — after Harper signed with Philadelphia he promptly was outdone by outfielder Mike Trout, who agreed to a record $426 million for 12 years with the Los Angeles Angels — and you are going broke buying single-game tickets, $6 pizza at the concession stand and $25 for the privilege of parking adjacent to the elevated 7 train at Citi Field.
But the beautiful thing about baseball is that just about nothing can ruin it.
Sublime and eternal, the game withstands outrageous prices, exploding scoreboards, torture-level soundtracks, imperial owners, instant replay, gold-accessorized, rich-dude players — even the screwball decision by Major League Baseball to begin summer’s game in March.
At the ballpark, sitting in my favorite topmost row where one need not fear a shower of beer or X-rated protests from the soused contingent just behind, I try to put aside petty jealousies and gossipy stuff about players — their off-field antics, domestic issues, political preferences — and enjoy the abiding encounter on the field.
It’s not long before I’m thinking back to the Dodgers, to dear Uncle George Craig who took me to my first game at Ebbets Field and to those heroic gents on the diamond, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider — the whole glorious bunch.
Included in that exalted cast would be Don Newcombe, too, the great Brooklyn pitcher who once started both ends of a doubleheader (against Philadelphia). When one of our kids balked at the occasional double duty of taking out the garbage and walking the dog, I was inclined to summon Newcombe. “Guy started both ends of a twinbill, for Pete’s sake. Grab the leash.”
Before me, the game progresses slowly. Time crawls by. Action comes in fits and starts. Mostly, it’s pitch and catch, pitch and catch until, at last, a double down the line, single to left, stolen base, diving catch. Then it’s back to go. Pitch and catch, pitch and catch — hypnotic and serene.
“Stee-rike,” cries the ump to break the spell. “Bee-ah, Hee-ah,” says a vendor patrolling the stands.
Oh, I may complain about the prevailing wage for superstars, but the game goes on. Even when the kingly players flop, I don’t hold it against them. Like the fans who help pay their hefty salaries, these guys are only human. That’s still the essential lesson of baseball. We’re good one moment, not so much the next. It’s a tough sport and nobody’s perfect. Batter up.
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