Wednesday, February 09, 2000

It's all about money




BY PAUL DAUGHERTY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Ken Griffey Jr. melodrama is not about players. Probably it never was, at least not primarily. It is about money. It is about Carl Lindner's willingness to tie up more than $100 million over the next few decades in one baseball player.

        It's not about Pokey Reese. Or Mike Cameron. Or Brett Tomko.

        It's about Benjamin Franklin.

        The Reds are patrolling the bottom line so intently, they want the Mariners to pay part of Junior's $8.5 million salary this year. What makes anyone think that next year they'll bleed the necessary $16 million to $20 million a year for several years to bring him home in 2001?

        If Griffey is willing to make a money concession, swell. But we're not talking a million or two. We're talking $10 million. Or more. A year. For a decade.

        If Junior wants to be here, he can be here. It's as easy as him saying, “I love my family so much, I'll agree to take $10 million a year less than market value.”

        Preposterous?

        Think about it.

        What bugs you most about pro jocks today? Greed, right? Some of you haven't been to a game since the '94 strike, so firm is your resolve against “millionaire ballplayers,” so thick is your disgust.

        What if there were a player who went against that notion? What if he went so against that notion, he made you stand up and cheer? Made the whole country stand up and cheer?

        Griffey could do that.

        He could say, “I'll take $7 million a year, for 10 years, because I love Cincinnati and I'll be a short flight in a Carl Lindner corporate jet from my home in Orlando.”

        Think about it: The Reds wrap up a homestand on a Sunday afternoon, begin a road trip Tuesday. Junior could hop the Lear at 6 Sunday night, be home by 7:30 and not have to be back with the team until 3:30 Tuesday afternoon.

        Imagine the affection he'd get for taking half the money he could make elsewhere. Think of the endorsement possibilities. Griffey would be on the cover of Time, Newsweek and My Weekly Reader. Ken Griffey Jr., Father of the Year. Example to all athletes who think money is everything. Answer to all fans who believe that all athletes believe money is everything.

        He'd be a bigger hero than he is already. A permanent Wheaties man.

        I'm joking. But not much.

        What's the price for happiness? What's the going rate? Griffey has enough money now. If he stopped working today, he still could live like a king the rest of his days.

        But he couldn't spend the time with his kids. He couldn't play in his hometown. He couldn't (quite possibly) play for his father. These are things not obtained with Benjamins.

        Maybe Griffey wants more. Maybe the Reds extend the deal to 25 years. Dole out, say, $7 million the first 10 years and $2 million a year for the next 15. Given the way salaries are exploding, that's a bargain.

        The point is, money is the point. If Griffey wants to play here and be close to his family, he'll concede a few zeroes in the contract. If Lindner doesn't want to be perceived as the man who didn't bring Griffey home, he'll consider it.

        If Griffey accepted such a deal, the players union might hate him forever, but so what? He's the best player in the game.

        The irony is, if Marge Schott still owned the Reds, the deal probably would be done. If the new ballpark had been built at Broadway Commons, it might be close to completion, giving the Reds a cash boost they won't have now.

        On Tuesday morning, the Reds had been very close to issuing a statement declaring they no longer had interest in acquiring Griffey, sources said.

        That would have been a pity. There's still much to be taken from this melodrama, if both sides give a lot.

        Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454. Fair Game, a collection of his columns, is available at local bookstores.

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