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Baseball's Grand Scam

Is A-Rod's golden glove a golden fleece?

So much talk. At the very moment Selig was venting, the lowly Milwaukee Brewers, the team he owned before becoming commissioner, were giving so-so outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds, who roamed the Coors Field pasturelands last season, 22 million bucks for the next three years -- the richest contract in Brewers history. The Rockies were talking about a ten-year "lifetime contract" for star first baseman Todd Helton that would cost, well, let's not talk about it. Owners were cringing and agents were rubbing their palms together at the prospect that the Cubs' Sammy Sosa and the Cardinals' Mark McGwire, the game's premiere home-run hitters, will both be free agents next season and command who-knows-what on the open market.

For now, predatory agents like Boras, along with the highly paid players, continue to believe that monster deals like A-Rod's and Ramirez's underscore the economic viability of the sport. Baseball's money pie is bigger than ever, they say, and there's plenty to go around. But the doomsayers -- a much larger group -- say that Rodriguez's quarter of a billion was the straw that finally broke baseball's back in struggling markets like Montreal, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. The game could be forever ruined, they say.

Who's right? This season, it wouldn't hurt to keep our eye not only on the Ballpark at Arlington, where Alex Rodriguez will be making more than a thousand dollars a minute playing shortstop, but on Coors Field, where Hampton and Neagle will try to prove to Rockies fans who had begun to lose heart that the two of them are worth every penny of 172 mil -- that men with good arms and big hearts can get batters out even at 5,280 feet. Billy Swift, Bret Saberhagen and Darrell Kyle couldn't do it. Of course, they were only single-digit millionaires.

While we wait for spring and, come fall, another crisis, let's try to remember that no matter what you hear, money is not quite everything in baseball. To wit: A peek at Alex Rodriguez's personal Web site (www.arod.com) reveals that any eager fan can own a limitededition Mariners jersey personally autographed by the reigning Croesus of the major leagues for just $599.95. Hey, why not pass the hat and send one to poor Nolan Ryan? It might enrich his otherwise impoverished day.

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