by David Sisler

This just in from the Disassociated Press: "The Atlanta Braves announced today that in pursuit of their second consecutive National League Eastern Division crown, they have signed baseball's top five free agents. Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Mike Hampton, Mike Mussina, and Juan Gonzalez will all be wearing tomahawks next season.

"‘Since none of the money to sign these baseball millionaires will come from the deep pockets of Billionaire Ted, a few of the prices at the stadium named for him will go up,' a cowardly source who would not give his name said. Hot dogs will sell for $29.95 each. Cokes will be $21.95. Nachos and pizza will require American Express Dilithium Cards. On opening day all 11,300 upper level seats will cost $100 each. The prices for box seats were not announced. The Brave's spokesman said, ‘If you have to ask, you can't afford them.'"

But seriously folks, this will be the richest season ever for the ten dozen or so baseball players who have filed for the instant jackpot known as "free agency."

Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos said he will not pay $15 million a year for someone who "pitches every fifth day." While that comment was an obvious reference to Orioles free-agent Mike Mussina, Syd Thrift, the O's vice-president, met with Mike Hampton, a pitcher who will likely command $15 million a year, or more, barring recounts.

The Cleveland Indians offered, then withdrew, a $119 million contract to their premier free-agent, Manny Ramirez. The Tribe's offer works out to roughly $100,000 for every three at bats.

Alex Rodriguez is unquestionably the top choice in baseball’s version of "Who Wants to be a Gozillionaire," and will sign a contract somewhere worth more than $200 million. The New York Mets said, "No thanks," when A-Rod’s agent announced that the shortstop wanted an office in the home stadium for Rodriguez’s marketing team to handle off-the-field issues, space to sell his own paraphernalia and charter jet service for family and friends.

Rodriguez responded by saying, "I don't play for money. What I want is a team where I can have the opportunity to ... feel good." That remark is hard to justify with his reported demands for a contract which includes an automatic escalator clause to keep him the highest paid player in the game, and an automatic trade clause if his chosen team can't keep pace.

This past season I did my annual, one-time bit to help the owners meet their payroll, purchasing tickets for a two-day series between the Braves and my poor, pitiful, punched-out Pittsburgh Pirates. Including the motel room, food, and Marta tokens, we spent $400 to watch the Bucs do what they did most of the season – lose. In spite of the outcome of the contests, we had a good time and considered it money well-spent. Convert that figure into rubles, however, and we spent the equivalent of six months' basic living expenses for a citizen of Moscow.

International agencies call Moscow one of the most expensive cities in the world. But according to a recent report in The Moscow Times, the Moscow city government has set the subsistence level wage at 1,872.97 rubles, or about $67. A Muscovite needs 17 pounds of brown bread a month, five pairs of underwear every two years, and one coat every seven years, according to Igor Sirnikov, chairman of Moscow's social services committee.

Further, the average resident needs 5.5 pounds of cabbage and sauerkraut, two pounds of beef, 19 pounds of milk and butter and 12 ounces of soap a month. Sirnikov's calculations will also be used to determine pensions, and child and unemployment benefits. With the federal minimum wage set at 132 rubles ($4.71) per month, most Muscovites struggle to reach the bottom of poverty level.

I have not made as little as $4.71 an hour since shortly after I became a part-time salesman at Taber's Jewelers in 1985. My projected earnings from now until my retirement in a dozen years will fall far short of equaling the pay for a two-day series for Alex Rodriguez. But on Thursday, when all eight members of my family gather in our dining room, which is stacked floor-to-ceiling with Christmas Shoe Boxes donated for Russian orphans, and we sit around the table spread with pink Royal Lace depression glass, ready to gorge ourselves on Bonnie's cooking, telling her, as Grandma told Mom, some 40 years ago, "The oven did a great job," I will say to the Lord God Almighty, "Thank you for this time to be together. Thank you for this food and for all of your blessings to us." And all of God's people said, "Amen!"


Published in The Augusta Chronicle 11/18/2000

Copyright 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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