There's Alex Rodriguez grinning like the cat that ate baseball. Everywhere you look there's that knowing grin. In this paper, Newsweek, ESPN, the Internet.
And why shouldn't he grin? He IS the cat that ate baseball.
As all the world knows, he signed a contract with the Texas Rangers, who, in a moment of delirium agreed to pay him $252 million--I repeat, $252 MILLION--for ten years work. And what work! All he has to do is pick up a stick on numerous occasions and hit a little ball with it. O.K., sometimes he has to catch that little ball. But mostly, he has to hit the little ball.
It won't be easy, but let's try to put $252 million in perspective.
It's enough to employ a pro ice hockey team for a decade.
It's enough to employ 1000 short order cooks for over a decade at $25,000 per year. (Or 100 for more than a century).
It's more than we the taxpayers have paid all our presidents put together in this nation's history. In fact, it's more than all the presidential salaries over the next several centuries combined, unless future taxpayers turn out to be bigger fools than we are.
It's more than the combined lifetime government salaries of all the astronauts and cosmonauts who ever flew in space.
If it were miles instead of dollars, it would stretch one thousand times farther away than the moon.
It's... it's... out of this world!
That's the only reason I bring it up. Not because I have an axe to grind. If I were a socialist I would be outraged. But I'm not. I mention it merely to marvel.
Alex Rodriguez's salary falls into the category of unexplained phenomena, like when you hear on the radio that astronomers just discovered the largest object yet observed in the universe; that this object contains hundreds of galaxies in a tight cluster several billion light years away; that many of them are devouring one another, and someday the whole shebang is liable to disappear down a black hole.
Next time somebody pitches such a softball your way, you can knock it out of the park. "Oh yeah?" you can say with a sly grin. "Did you know that Alex Rodriguez gets over a quarter-million dollars every time he plays a game of baseball, assuming he plays 100 games each year?"
Or when somebody at a cocktail party tells you the human eye sees only a small percentage of the total light spectrum, you can say: "So what, Alex Rodriguez gets $83,000 every time he steps up to the plate. He gets $20,000 every time he swings the bat in public. Assuming he inhales 10 times per minute, every breath he takes over the next ten years is worth over $4.76 each, if you'll pardon the redundancy."
Or suppose somebody tells you Wilt Chamberlain slept with 20,000 women during his basketball career? You can say....
"Twenty-thousand!!! No way!"
OK, bad example.
The point is, this is news that transcends sport. If I loved baseball, I would find this news mournful. It would be one more piece of evidence that only about four teams in the foreseeable future will be rich enough to compete seriously for a shot at the World Series. It would be evidence that baseball had better find it's salary cap fast. It would hint at strikes and higher ticket prices, and the end of baseball as we know it.
But I'm not a baseball fan. I've tried, believe me. I too want to see the beauty of the sport that scribes like George Will describe so eloquently. Unfortunately, when I watch a game on TV, the seventh inning stretch finds me stretched out on the couch sawing logs. The game moves too slow, so I never become a connoisseur like the talented writers on our sports page and social commentators who marvel at the elegant aesthetics and mythic symbolism of the game.
I only perk up when I hear something from the world of baseball that falls outside my ability to comprehend. Something that adds to the total mystery of existence.
Hearing about Rodriquez's salary is akin to learning what amazing and surprising things an elephant can do with its trunk. Or the ability of H20 to behave as a solid, a liquid and a gas, all before breakfast. It's like learning that cow flatulence is seen by many scientists, er, I mean... is considered by many scientists as destructive to the ozone layer. That's awesome. You can't help but try and bring perspective to a fact like that.
How much is $252 million dollars?
It's enough to buy everybody in America two Twinkies apiece.
It's enough to hire 10,000 dancers.
It's enough to pay 1,000 writers an average of... but I won't go there. Too depressing.
And that doesn't even count endorsements.