Saturday, August 05, 2000

Brian Grant chases title instead of dollars




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        Brian Grant has been offered 90 million reasons to relocate to Cleveland. And said no.

        There's a Mistake-On-The-Lake joke in there somewhere, and I'm sure I'll find it once I'm out of shock. Sports salaries are hard to distinguish from pinball scores these days, but some numbers are still numbing.

        Seven years. Ninety million dollars. Xavier University has built a new basketball arena for less than half of the inducement its former star has declined in order to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers.

        To the rank-and-file wage earner, Grant's decision may be almost incomprehensible. To Ken Griffey Jr., however, it is totally transparent. Wealth has a wonderful way of clarifying what's really important.

        “He has the money,” Griffey said Friday night. “He wants to win. If they're going to trade him to a team that has no chance of winning, it makes perfect sense (to say no).”

Another world
        ŁThe very rich are different than you and me, F. Scott Fitzgerald observed, and he wasn't speaking merely of their net worth. Big money means never having to sweat a car payment or a landlord's knock. It can be liberating, if you don't let it consume you.

        Neither Brian Grant nor Ken Griffey Jr. will ever have to worry about the source of their next meal. What's refreshing about them is that neither athlete is obsessed with landing the last dollar. Griffey's Reds contract is worth $116 million — the richest in club history — and yet it is far less than he could have made on the open market or by remaining with the Seattle Mariners. Much of the money is deferred.

        Griffey made significant financial concessions to come home. Grant, at least for the moment, is taking less to stay put with a contending team.

        “I think this speaks volumes about the man,” agent Mark Bartelstein told reporters. “It's incredibly unbelievable in this day and age for an athlete to say so strongly, "It's not about the money.'”

        Incredibly unbelievable? Maybe not. When your pay stub contains more digits than a toll call to Cairo, don't the dollars lose some of their meaning? How many wishes can't Ken Griffey Jr. gratify? How much more does Brian Grant really need?

        Griffey Jr. owns three homes and six or seven cars and he is hard-pressed to spend as quickly as his interest compounds. Grant is already set for life, hairstyles notwithstanding. When an athlete starts his career, Griffey said, he should think about making enough to finance his retirement. The second big contract is for peace of mind.

        Grant and Griffey have stashed enough cash that their career decisions can be based on factors other than providing for their families. Should George W. Bush succeed in killing the estate tax, Grant and Griffey will be able to leave their families set for centuries.

Other priorities
        “The best part about me coming home,” Griffey said, “is my son and my dad can be together. They're so much alike. They act the same, they walk the same. And Trey is the only son I know (in baseball) who can wave at his dad and his granddad at the same time.”

        The man who moonlights to support his family must sometimes miss the sunset. The very rich get to savor it. Brian Grant and Ken Griffey Jr. have the luxury to chase their dreams instead of the dollar.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.