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A-Rod and Tiger: The Changing Face of Sport!

By John M. Ross,
Alex Rodriguez
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Alex Rodriguez will be making Tiger Woods money - and then some! (.)

The buzz among golfers seldom focuses on baseball, except around World Series time. And with the Yankees winning with such regularity in recent years, even this has simmered down considerably.

But, suddenly, in this off-season everyone seems to be talking baseball. Well, not about baseball, but about a baseball player they call A-Rod who will be paid about $10,000 each and every time he steps up to the plate and takes a swing for the next ten years.

"This A-Rod is making our Tiger guy look like a piker," one of the regular foursome at the club was saying.

"Yeah, Woods made only - I say only - $9 million this year for playing most of the 12 months and traveling around the world a few times," another chipped in. "A-Rod will pull down more than twice that for playing what, about half the year?"

"It's almost obscene," said another wearily. "And they're only 25. When I was 25..."

Of course, A-Rod is Alex Rodriguez - in this day of quick-speak, words or names over two syllables are subject to abbreviation or some short bite - and his name seemed to be on everyone's lips when he signed a 10-year contract for $252 million with the Texas Rangers a few weeks ago. That's about $2 million more than Rangers owner, Tom Hicks, paid for the whole Texas franchise three years ago, but he made the deal with a smile.

"He'll get us into the World Series one day," he said. But he'd better have eight other fellows to help him.

Fascinated by the number of zeroes in the annual rate of $22.5 million, a fellow with a calculator at the ready determined that A-Rod would earn about $262,000 per game. That would break down to, roughly, $40,000 for every time at bat, and the aforementioned $10,000 per swing.

Further examination of A-Rod's whopping contract also reveals that he will be paid more than the assessed value of 18 of the 30 major league teams. And it will bring him more money than any other player has earned in a lifetime - more than Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe Di Maggio, all of them.

Is Rodriguez that good? Well, he's an excellent shortstop, and he has a .309 batting average for seven years in the majors. Not spectacular, but extremely reliable. But should that rate him over the Tiger, easily the world's best golfer at the moment, and possibly en route to the "best ever?" Absolutely not.

Woods has made several millions more than his official prize money of $9 million this year. Unofficial events, TV specials and some incredible appearance money in foreign ports have almost doubled this. And on top of that is the real money from his endorsement contracts with Buick, American Express, Rolex, Wheaties and Nike, which pay him an estimated $54 million a year.

No, shed no tears for Tiger.

Golfers appreciate the earning power of his play. His nine wins on the tour divided out to about $1 million each. Playing in 19 events, his payoff breaks down to a $470,000 average per tournament, and with a season stroke average of 67.67, this spins out to about an average $6,900 per stroke. Stacked up against these numbers, some of those $5 Nassaus I brag about do seem rather paltry.

Since the A-Rod story broke, the sports pages have looked and read like the Wall Street Journal. One enterprising editor even went to the trouble of totaling the salaries of baseball's ten highest paid players and then shocked one and all by revealing that they surpassed $1 billion. And just when things seemed to be simmering down, tennis superstar Venus Williams announced she was signing a $40 million contract with Reebok, making her the highest paid woman athlete in the world.

All this while many of us are simply hoping Santa will put an extra sleeve or two of balls in our stockings!

Hitting the jackpot for million-dollar payoffs does excite many, and that's why Lotto is such a runaway national pastime. But this preoccupation with money in sport is becoming extremely disturbing and could cast a foreboding dark cloud over the future.

On golf's pro tours, money has always been a key factor in the measurement of a player's performance. Their positions on the official money list once provided some means of comparison among players, especially on the career earnings standing. But they have little value today. The purses are so high -$3 million to $5 million in practically all PGA events - the numbers have little meaning.

A good example can be found in Jack Nicklaus' money record. In his prime years, between 1962 and 1986, he earned nearly $500,000 in prize money and topped the career money chart. Today, Woods is at the top of the list with $20 million for his five years as a pro, making him the all-time money leader. But what meaning does this have? Nicklaus has won 18 major titles, by far the most ever by a golfer. Woods has won four thus far.

When Joe Dey became the first commissioner of the PGA Tour in 1968, one of his goals was to eliminate the money list as a measuring device. Joe was known as "Mr. Golf" to many, and was a dedicated purist. He had spent most of his long career as the executive director of the U. S. Golf Association, and he had great difficulty in accepting the pro tour's emphasis on money.

Joe often got his way, but not in this instance. In trying to get on an equal footing with the other major sports, the Tour felt it was important to stress big bucks and growing purses. Television sponsors were watching. Joe tossed in the towel eventually.

Down deep, I agree with Dey's strong feelings about the money stat. One only has to look at the PGA's list of leading tournament winners for support. Sam Snead, Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Byron Nelson, the game's greats, are in the top slots. But one must look long and far down the list to find them on the inflated career money list.

For years I have advocated the development of a tournament rating that would consider the strength of the field (the number of top-20 players in the lineup), the quality of the course (in terms of difficulty), the weather (wind, rain, dried-out greens), and the player's finishing position. If there were some magic formula that could combine these factors into a meaningful statistic, I believe that would be a true measurement of performance.

I doubt there is a genius among us who could pull this off. In the meantime, we'll simply watch the parade of the millionaires, and wonder how long it will be before Tiger is in charge of Fort Knox.

(c) Copyright John M. Ross

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