It took exactly two days for pitcher Mike Hampton's blockbuster
$121 million deal to become chump change.
The Colorado Rockies had put together what looked like an
astounding offer: $15 million a year for eight years. When pen was
put to paper, it was the second-largest contract in the history of
sport - falling just short of a 1997 basketball deal.
Now, it's a distant fourth.
The Texas Rangers' signing of slugger Alex Rodriguez to a 10-
year, $252 million contract has staked out a new standard in
professional athletics - one that may imperil the very foundations
of America's pastime.
Certainly, landmark contracts have always been met with concern
and derision. Four years ago, some sportswriters scoffed at
Shaquille O'Neal's $120 million pact with the Los Angeles Lakers as
shocking and irresponsible.
But the Rodriguez deal makes that one look positively Little
League. Next season, the coveted shortstop will make more money
than all the players on the Minnesota Twins or the Milwaukee
Brewers or the Kansas City Royals.
It's an apt comparison. As big-market baseball clubs like the New
York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers spend untold millions to
secure the game's premier players, teams in smaller cities make do
with the scraps.
No team has folded or moved since 1972, when the Washington
Senators moved to Texas to become the Rangers. But more teams
report that they are losing money, and with Rodriguez's $27-
million-a-year salary as the new benchmark, the future prosperity
of Major League Baseball is as clouded as it has been since the
days of the strike in 1994.
"Baseball has to deal with its financial imbalance," says Andrew
Zimbalist, author of several books on the economics of sports.
"Something needs to be done, and this is one more piece of evidence
that baseball is out of whack."
The Rodriguez deal is unprecedented.
*The $252 million the Rangers will pay Rodriguez is $2 million
more than owner Tom Hicks paid to buy the club in 1998.
*It's equal to what the Pentagon recently agreed to pay to keep a
satellite phone system in orbit.
*Today, 18 of 30 teams are valued at less than $252 million,
including the Chicago Cubs, according to Forbes magazine.
*Based on last season's statistics, Rodriguez will make about
$49,000 per at bat this year.
*His yearly salary is enough to pay for all of the Boston
Ballet's expenses this year (with about $9 million left over). …