Hope springs eternal

Published 4:10 pm Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Winter is winding down. How do I know? The pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training in Florida and Arizona. Florida is home to the Grapefruit League while Arizona hosts the Cactus League. I’m talking about baseball.

Baseball has been a love of mine since the age of 8 or 9. When I was growing up, we received a daily newspaper that is no longer operating as it was then. It was the Atlanta Journal, and I don’t know why that big city newspaper would have been delivered to our house on Rural Route 2, Meigs, Ga.

It was, however, and I read two sections religiously. The first thing I read was the funnies. My favorite characters were Dick Tracy, the Phantom, Lil Abner, Nancy, Dennis the Menace and many more. I must have liked them all and it’s a good subject on which to reminisce, however, today I am thinking about that second section that I read. I saved it for last as in “saving the best for last.”

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That was the sports section, and I immediately fell in love with baseball. At that time, baseball was known as the national pastime and was the primary professional sport in the country. Much of my joy revolved around the major league baseball season that began in April and ended in mid-October.

During those months there was a daily dose of baseball news and scores. Before April, however, from mid-February to the beginning of the season, there was spring training. Most all of the teams had training sites in Florida because of the warmth and it was there in late winter and early spring that they would begin to return their bodies and minds to the subject of making a living hitting, throwing and catching a baseball.

Just as everything else in my life, things have changed from those ancient times. At least they seem like ancient times. We have traveled so far from the days of black and white pictures and television to our now digitally and multi-colored modes of living. Baseball, as well as life, just ain’t the same.

There was an innocence in the game and life, itself, that has simply gone with the wind. I will admit that the innocence I imagine was probably not a reality, but it is good to think of it like that.

I say baseball isn’t the same and the culprit is money. Biblically speaking, money is the root of all evil and it has all but ruined baseball these days. I’m sure money has always had its sway in the game, but it has moved into the realm of the ridiculous nowadays.

In 1930 Babe Ruth made a salary of $80,000 while the president of the United States, Herbert Hoover, made only $75,000. The question was asked of the Babe as to how he could justify his salary being larger than the president’s.

He simply and honestly said, “I had a better year than Hoover.”

Even when I was following baseball as a boy, salaries were big. Big back in those days was $100,000. Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, all of the “name” players of the late 1950s and early 1960s made that status symbol of a paycheck.

The great change in baseball happened in the mid 1970s. Up until then, teams dealt with players on a year-to-year basis. Contracts were made between players and teams with no middle men or agents. Players couldn’t jump from one team to another based upon who might want to pay the most. That changed when Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner signed pitcher Andy Messersmith to the game’s first million-dollar contract. Even this year’s economic meltdown hasn’t affected baseball.

Now, we have players with agents and multi-year contracts for millions of dollars. Alex Rodriguez, in the news these days for steroid use, is the game’s highest paid player at $28 million per year! Manny Ramirez, a free agent this year, has already turned down a one-year contract from the Los Angeles Dodgers for $25 million.

I don’t know about this year, but in 2008, the Yankees had the highest payroll in Major League baseball. Their team’s roster of 25 players was about $210 million or $6.74 million per player. Of course A-Rod (Rodriguez) was the highest paid and his personal salary was higher than the entire Florida Marlins team.

One more ridiculous aspect of salaries is “what you get for your money.” Take a hometown hero like Tom Glavine of the Atlanta Braves. It is reported that he was paid $8 million to pitch for the Braves in 2008. He won two games.

I know it’s silly to propose this, but the Braves are thinking about signing Glavine again for this year. They have to negotiate a salary that will be acceptable to him. Wouldn’t it be appropriate to ask Glavine to come back this year and pitch for free so that he might even up last year’s payout? I must be out of my mind to even think that way.

I still follow baseball somewhat and it’s this time of the year that I begin to get in my own kind of baseball shape. I follow the Braves and I begin to hone in on their chances at the ultimate prize; that of participating in the playoffs and even making it to the World Series.

I know that many women and men are waiting for the Braves to come back on the television. I used to think baseball was a man’s game, but I know of too many women who speak of Chipper, Frenchy, Smoltzie (traitor) and others and you would think they are talking about their sons.

Do they make too much? You bet they do!

Are they spoiled and living in an unreal world? Of course they are.

Do they make you want to scream at them? Yes. But, will you still turn the game on and hope your team wins? I guess.

Here’s hoping your team wins the pennant this year.