"Greed is good," said Ivan Boesky, a stock manipulator who symbolized the go-go 1980s. Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, echoed the words in Oliver Stone's entertaining 1987 film, "Wall Street."
Professional athletes are seen by fans as the most greedy people in our society. They make millions and millions of dollars. They sign guaranteed contracts. They get paid if they are injured, or play like crap. They have agents and lawyers who milk owners and fans for every cent they can pay for their clients. They blatantly demand contracts to be re-negotiated long before they run out. Players' unions have the gall to go on strike for more money and benefits.
While one can argue that pro athletes are not more over-paid than rock stars or movie stars, the fact that they play on teams and perform on an almost-daily basis for teams that communities adopt as their own makes them seem to "belong" to the fans more. Much is expected of them.
For many years, athletes were paid more in line with the rest of society. Often they had to work in the off-season to make ends meet. Free agency, which hit its stride in 1976, changed all of that. Reggie Jackson signed for millions of George Steinbrenner's dollars in 1977.
In 1978, the California Angels, owned by the "singing cowboy," Gene Autry, made their move into the era of free agency by bringing in players like Bobby Grich, Don Bailor and Lyman Bostock.
Some players understand their situation. Some have respect for the game, realize how fortunate they are to be playing it, and see themselves from the fans' viewpoint. Bostock was one of these players.
A .300 hitter in Minnesota, Bostock was a hot commodity. The Angels saw him as the catalyst of a new, aggressive, winning ball club. Free agency was a new phenomenon in 1978, and the press made a big deal of the new tycoons of sports.
All March in Palm Springs, Bostock was asked what it was like to be wealthy after growing up an inner city black kid, then playing for the penurious Twins. When the season started, expectations were very high, for Bostock and his team. The Angels were favored to win the American League West.
Bostock was carrying a heavy load, and he started in a bad slump. All through April, Bostock hit miserably. The Los Angeles media questioned the premise of paying free agent prices for talent. It was said that the players would lose all their drive once they became wealthy.
Bostock had the opposite reaction. He had all the drive in the world. He had too much drive. He wanted to contribute and earn his pay in the worst way.
As his hitting slump continued, it got so bad a month into the season that Lyman actually went to Autry and offered to give his salary back for April, or to play for free, until he started to hit again.
It was a noble and heroic offer. Autry and the Angels turned it down, and eventually Bostock hit his stride and hit over .300 in 1978. Life has its share of funny ironies, however. Shortly thereafter, he was killed in Chicago by a jealous husband.
Another example of financial nobility came in 2001 in the person of St. Louis Cardinals' slugger Mark McGwire. The former USC star, who set the home record with 70 in 1998, was approaching 600 lifetime home runs by the end of last season. Big Mac is a man of odd personality traits. He can be generous, he can be prickly. He is, however, a man of honesty and integrity in all matters.
McGwire experienced injuries that curtailed his performance last year, but he still appeared to have plenty to contribute. While his chances at breaking Hank Aaron's career record of 755 home runs looked less promising, any team still would love his bat in their line-up.
McGwire did not live up to his own high standards of performance, though. His contract was running out, but the Cardinals put an offer on the table, a multi-million dollar package that would have guaranteed McGwire the money whether he was hurt or hit .120.
McGwire coyly put the offer off. He said he would wait until the season was over. The Cardinals said there was no downside to signing it. The money was his, they would gladly pay him.
McGwire never signed it. He retired. Had he signed it, he could have had his agent negotiate an expensive buy-out that would have cost the Cards millions, while McGwire would have collected money for nothing, as Dire Straits calls it. Many, many athletes get money for nothing.
Big Mac simply chose to leave without taking a dime, because it was the right thing to do. He refused to dishonor himself by taking his team's dough for not working.
Nobody should confuse McGwire's actions with Mother Theresa healing sick people in Calcutta, and McGwire is a millionaire already, set for life. But in the context of the athlete's greedy little world, his actions have a Jack Armstrong quality to them. There are lessons about life, business and money that anybody can learn from McGwire and Lyman Bostock.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism