Integrity: Some People Just Don't Have It

For The Love Of The Game. It's a great movie and sends a message that is often overlooked. In today's game, what players are supposed to do isn't how it always works. The love and respect for the game can become secondary when today's players consider the money. Integrity seems to be lost.

Two headlines caught my attention lately; "Boone injures knee playing basketball, could miss '04 season" and "Mets say Mo Vaughn not retired."

Last summer, the New York Yankees traded top pitching prospect, Brad Claussen to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Aaron Boone, solid hitting third baseman and son of former Phillie catcher Bob. The trade was made necessary due to multi-million dollar prospect Drew Henson's failure to develop into a big leaguer. In December, Boone signed a one year $5.75 million contract that forbade him from playing basketball. Due to the injury's nature, the Yanks can void his contract for just a little less than a million dollars. That's a lot of money to pay a man whose blatant disregard of the rules he agreed to has now forced his team to scramble for a replacement. With just 18 days until pitchers and catchers report for spring training that's a tall order, even for Brian Cashman. Sadly enough, we have to give a nod to young Aaron for walking the line between integrity and the middle ground. At least he told the truth.

Two years ago, then-Giant second bagger Jeff Kent broke his wrist doing wheelies on a motorcycle and missed the first week of the season. According to his contract he shouldn't have been within a ballpark of a motorcycle much less on one. Far less interested in setting a good example to the youth of the nation, Mister Kent lied and claimed the injury occurred while washing his truck. Pity a fan with a camcorder caught his Evil Knievel routine on tape.

About the contracts, a source close to the Yankees was quoted as saying "you give up a normal lifestyle, but you agree to it when you sign."

Which brings me to "Mets say Mo Vaughn not retired." I need to know how this man looks in the mirror each morning. Since signing a four year $80 million contract in 1999, he's only played in parts of two seasons and will not play again, a point made clear in Sunday's Boston Globe with Vaughn quoted as saying "I'm through man. My career is over." But there's a hitch; he won't retire. That's because all he has to do is sit on the DL and collect $15 million for this year and a $2 million buyout for 2005. By then he will have made over $60 million on the DL.

Reminds me of Albert Belle. Remember him? Would it surprise you to know that he became a free agent this year? Even though he hasn't played since 2000, the five-year $65 million contract he signed with the Baltimore Orioles back in 1999 just expired. Why else do you think the Orioles finally had the money to go after free agents this off-season?

It's sad when men who've already earned millions playing a boy's game continue to milk the system years after their playing days are through. I can't speak for you, but I think I could live the rest of my life pretty comfortably off the interest on the millions Vaughn legitimately earned while actually playing the game. The Mets get compensated for 75 % of the loss through insurance, but somewhere down the line somebody pays for all of this waste… and it's you and me, the one's who buy tickets to the games.

Back in the 80's a woman I was close to claimed to have grown up next door to a girl named the Callison. Her father's name was Johnny and he sold cars, his wife worked at a diner. That would be the same Johnny Callisson, who while playing for the Philadelphia Phillies finished second in MVP voting in 1964. There's something terribly inequitable about this, that Callison never made enough as a player to retire when his baseball days were through, while players like Albert Belle and Mo Vaughn continue to collect fortunes without ever taking the field.

Phillies fans need to keep all this in mind while salivating over the huge long-term contracts the club has handed out the last couple of years. While I believe it was money well spent, the truth is David Bell may not overcome his back injury, Pat Burrell may not turn it around and there may come a day before his contract expires when Jim Thome can no longer answer the bell. The Phils were wise to give the big money to high character players, the kind of guys that might take a cue from Mike Schmidt and simply walk away from the money and the game. One never knows.

One thing is clear though; there must be an answer somewhere between integrity and the middle ground. Unfortunately for players like Kent, Vaughn and Belle the line was forgotten long ago.

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