|We're having trouble writing this column in our usual euphoric style, but for good reason.
Turns out the chef at the restaurant we ate at last night wasn't giving it his full effort. All he wanted, he said, was to be chef for life. But no. Not good business, he was told. So he undercooked the shrimp, and now we're paying the price.
Meanwhile, all of baseball is paying the price for some other, similar complaints you may have heard of in the last week. From Gary Sheffield. From Frank Thomas. From Barry Bonds. From guys who will make more money in the next two weeks than many Americans will make in a lifetime.
"I remember when $10 million or $11 million used to be a lot of money," sighed one disgusted NL executive. "Now it's like 50 bucks."
Oh, we don't doubt that, in Sheffield's mind, he clearly has deep-rooted reasons for thinking those tight-fisted Dodgers disrespected him.
And we're sure that in Thomas' mind, he genuinely feels he was promised things by Jerry Reinsdorf that he hasn't received.
But we haven't found a single average American this week who wants to hear it. Not a word of it.
If you earn $50,000 a year, it would take you two centuries to earn the approximately $10 million that Sheffield and Thomas will make this year -- from contracts no one forced them to sign. That's two centuries. Which almost as long as Nolan Ryan's career.
So whatever those grievances of Sheffield and Thomas may be, they have no chance -- none -- of getting the sporting public to sympathize with a single one of their complaints.
And it's tough to find anyone in baseball who's shedding any tears for them, either.
"It kind of shows the sad state of affairs the game is in," Phillies advisor Dallas Green said. "The pendulum has swung so far to the (players') side, they have no sense of what is fair anymore. It's all 'I, me and my' all the time.
"It doesn't matter to these guys anymore if they get hurt. It doesn't matter if they do drugs. It doesn't matter if they beat their wife. They can still turn around and demand a trade. Everything goes now toward, 'What can you do for me?' "
But this is not a column meant to be another one of those management-bashes-players diatribes. And it isn't -- because players themselves are just as embarrassed by what they're hearing and reading.
"I wish guys would just play baseball," said one veteran utilityman. "Play to win. Have fun. And stop nitpicking about what other guys are making. It just doesn't look good -- for anybody.
"None of us have any reason to be jealous that somebody else got a better contract. We get paid a lot. Even the guys who are relatively low-paid get paid a lot. And we're getting paid to do something we love doing. So just shut up and play."
We heard these same sentiments everywhere we turned in the last week. And we heard them from every corner of the sport.
"Generally speaking, I'm always on the players' side," said one respected agent. "But in any year, let alone a year where we've got a labor battle coming up, this is just what you want to see three prominent players in headlines saying they're making $10 million and it's not enough.
"Did you see that quote from Frank: 'How can you have A-Rod making $25 million and we're coming in at $7-8-9 million?' Wow. Do these guys know how that looks? Not just to the fans. How about to the guys who bust their rear ends to make teams and stay in the big leagues and will never see that kind of money in their lives? When these guys say stuff like this, what do they think their teammates must think?"
Obviously, they don't know, and they don't care. Sheffield keeps insisting his teammates have no problems with him. In fact, the second he turns his back, they're privately making it very clear they'd boot him out the door in less time than it takes to say "Three-team deal."
Most players don't need a media-relations seminar to understand that what happened last week reflects on all players -- not just the guys doing the complaining. It's way too easy for fans to read those quotes and think these men are speaking for players in general -- when, in actuality, the reason these guys stand out is that most players have the common sense to be professionals.
"Any time you generalize," Shawn Green said, "you also hit the Derek Jeters, the good individuals who respect the game and understand how to play the game, day-in and day-out. And that's a shame.
"And you'll never hear me say the pendulum should be swinging back the other way, either. But somewhere along the line, the players have to sit back and say, 'We've got a pretty good deal here. Why would we want to screw it up?' "
It seems to us there has never been a better time to be a baseball player. But then again, maybe we're not thinking straight. Maybe all this is just a sad reflection of the way the world works now. It's an I-me-mind kind of world, we guess.
Among active American League hitters with more than 3,000 career at-bats, who has the highest lifetime batting average?
(Answer at bottom)
One aspect of Thomas' contract that hasn't come up much is that, starting this season, he has to continue to earn the right to make his $9.9 million a year.
For each of the next five seasons, his contract stipulates that he has to prove his skill level has "not" diminished -- by making an All-Star team, finishing in the top 10 in the MVP voting or winning a Silver Slugger award.
If he doesn't, the White Sox can drop his base salary to just $250,000 -- plus $10.125 million deferred. If that happened, Thomas then would have the right to terminate the contract and become a free agent.
The upshot of that complicated language, though, is that while numerous clauses were inserted in the contract to protect the White Sox, there is no clause that protects Thomas himself from dropping out of the ranks of the highest-paid players. So it's hard to see how Thomas has much of a complaint.
"Any player has to know because it's always true that if you sign a long-term deal, somebody is always going to pass you," said an agent who does a lot of business with the White Sox. "If you sign a deal for nine years, what do you expect? And if the owner says to you while you're negotiating, 'If you're not in the top 10 salaries, we'll make an adjustment,' you should put a clause in the contract. And if you don't, hey, don't get ticked off."
One story circulating last week had Sammy Sosa vetoing a three-way deal that would have sent him to the Dodgers, Sheffield to the Mets and Mets prospects to the Cubs. In truth, according to two sources involved in those discussions, that deal was never agreed upon.
It was merely talked about and died as soon as it turned out that the Cubs weren't interested in trading Sosa for prospects, and that the Dodgers weren't ready to negotiate a long-term contract before trading for Sosa or anyone else.
In the meantime, Sosa's contract talks continue with the Cubs. And the more Sosa distances himself from the Gary Sheffields and Frank Thomases by honoring his contract and professing his desire to remain a Cub, the more likely it is that is exactly how it will turn out.
One National League executive couldn't help but be amused by Bonds' suggestion last week that the Giants needed to let him know whether he'd be back next year "for his kids."
"By now," the executive said, "the guy could buy a house in every other big-league city, in the event he had to move there next year."
Alex Rodriguez denied again last week that his agent, Scott Boras, ever asked the Mets or any team for an office, a marketing staff, a personal concession stand or any of the other alleged perks the Mets claimed he asked for. But an official of a club that was interested in A-Rod said he would testify in court that Boras talked about all of that.
"I wonder," he said, "whether A-Rod even knows Boras asked for that stuff. I honestly bet he doesn't know."
It now appears the commissioner's office will issue its ruling in the David Wells-Mike Sirotka labrum-gate case Tuesday or Wednesday.
At this point, the club that would be voted Most Likely To Make A Deal This Spring is the Padres, who are shopping Ruben Rivera, Ben Davis, excess pitching (Jay Witasik, Kevin Tollberg) and backup shortstops (Chris Gomez, Alex Arias). And Phil Nevin still could be available.
Trade rumor of the week: Sheffield's teammate, F.P. Santangelo, constructed the perfect deal last week for two high-profile players looking to move on. "How about Sheff for Dikembe Mutombo," Santangelo proposed. "With the new high strike zone, he'll be perfect."
Orator of the week: Ever-fiery new Phillies manager Larry Bowa's first speech to his troops wound up lasting longer than George W. Bush's inaugural address. Asked to describe the speech in two words or fewer, Scott Rolen offered these two words: "Caged animal."
Ageless one of the week: Yes, there are still players out there who realize this is a great game. Like Jesse Orosco, for instance. He turns 44 in April. He was healthy enough to pitch to just 16 hitters all last season. And the Dodgers are still going to pay him $1.5 million for the honor of being left-handed.
"I heard someone in the stands say to me, 'You're too old, Orosco,' " the ageless one reported this spring. "I turned around and said, 'You ought to be happy somebody in the game is still representing us old people."
Asked how long he thought he could pitch, Orosco said: "My agent (Alan Meersand) thinks I can go to 100, I guess. Even this winter, coming off surgery, he said, 'Don't worry. You'll get a job easy.'" I said, 'I'm glad you think so.' But he was right."
Underpaid guy of the week: Poor Nomar Garciaparra. A-Rod got a 10-year, $252 million contract. Derek Jeter got a 10-year, $189 million contract. And Nomar, assuming the Red Sox pick up his option for 2004, is going to make a piddling $37.45 million over the next four years.
Asked for his reaction to the A-Rod and Jeter contracts by the Boston Herald's Jeff Horrigan, Garciaparra replied: "When I go out with those guys, they're buying dinner."
Quote of the week: On the day A-Rod arrived in Rangers camp, to massive media hoopla, reliever Jeff Zimmerman was asked if he could recall the last time he'd seen this much excitement in Port Charlotte.
"Well," he replied, "maybe the early-bird special over at Outback Steakhouse. That might rival this."
Useless information dept.
It's great to have Sid Fernandez back in uniform if only for the trivia alone. Since Fernandez's last win, on April 5, 1997, that Yankees team he now plays for has rolled up 428 wins (counting the postseason).
Since Fernandez's last strikeout, Randy Johnson has 1,377 strikeouts.
And since El Sid last gave up a homer, Mark McGwire has hit 224 homers.
Meanwhile, Fernandez's return means there are still four members of the '86 Mets in spring-training camps 15 years later: Fernandez, Orosco, Dave Magadan (a September call-up that year) and Dwight Gooden with Rick Aguilera and Kevin Elster barely working on their retirement tee times.
Here are the survivors from other '80s World Series champs:
'83 Orioles: Cal Ripken
'84 Tigers: None.
'85 Royals: Bret Saberhagen.
'87 Twins: None.
'88 Dodgers: Orosco, Tim Belcher, Ramon Martinez.
'89 A's: McGwire, Jose Canseco, Stan Javier, Jim Corsi, Felix Jose with Rickey Henderson still sending out his resume.
And in our final Sid Fernandez bulletin for this week, let us recall that in his day, El Sid was one of the most unhittable pitchers ever. The all-time top 10 in fewest hits allowed per nine innings, according to Baseball-Reference.com:
1. Herb Score, 6.386
2. Nolan Ryan, 6.555
3. Pedro Martinez, 6.726
4. Sandy Koufax, 6.792
5. Sid Fernandez, 6.851
6. J.R. Richard, 6.876
7. Tom Henke, 6.918
8. Tom Hall, 6.924
9. Andy Messersmith, 6.937
10. Randy Johnson, 6.959
Time to announce the winners in our Highest Numbers in Spring Training competition. Not counting Turk Wendell and Todd Hundley, who chose No. 99 on purpose, the champs this spring are:
94: Dodgers C Geronimo Gil
93: Dodgers UT Shawn Gilbert
92: Yankees P Brandon Reed
92: Dodgers P Doug Linton
91: Yankees P David Walling
90: Yankees INF Kory Briggs
90: Dodgers P Cam Smith
It's amazing those guys didn't arrive at their lockers this spring and find shoulder pads.
Is Sheffield worth Manny Ramirez dollars? No one disputes the idea that he's a feared hitter in the middle of any lineup. But it's a funny thing. Since he signed his current contract in April 1997, Sheffield hasn't ranked in even the top 20 in baseball in any of the big power-bat statistical categories. Here's where he stands, since '97, in all these departments, according to the Elias Sports Bureau:
Home runs: 23rd
Slugging percentage: 29th
He did rank fifth in walks. But read into those numbers whatever you wish.
Booth Newspapers' Danny Knobler reports that it wasn't until the Tigers' media guide came out that anyone realized last year's club set a single-season Tigers record for home runs on the road, with 108. But that might not be such a great record -- because of the way it reflects on the impossible dimensions of Comerica National Park. The same Tigers team hit just 69 homers at home last year.
Experience in the rotation doesn't always guarantee you'll play baseball in October. But it helps. So for what it's worth, here are the prospective starting rotations with the most and fewest career wins heading into this season:
Yankees: (with Dwight Gooden as fifth starter) 742
Red Sox: (with David Cone, Tim Wakefield and Frank Castillo) 529
Indians: (with Charles Nagy and Jaret Wright) 481
Marlins: (with no Alex Fernandez) 64
Expos: (with Scott Downs as fifth starter) 69
Angels: (with Mike Wise as fifth starter) 101
Phillies: (with Cliff Pollitte as fifth starter) 107
Athletics: (with Cory Lidle as fifth starter) 109
We need your help
Finally, reader Craig Unruh referred us to a trivia question that has been making the rounds in Detroit lately. The question is: What is the longest term of service a team has gotten out of the signing of a single player? The term of service can be extended indefinitely through trades, draft picks obtained from losing free agents, etc. It ends when the player either retires, is released or becomes a free agent and no service is gained from the compensation pick or picks.
In earlier editions of this column, we used Frankie Hayes as an example. We said he was linked from the 1933 Philadelphia A's to Dave Righetti of the 1994 A's. That wasn't quite accurate. Hayes is linked directly to Righetti, but not continuously through the A's. (The final link was a Rangers/Yankees trade that involved Sparky Lyle and Righetti.)
However, we'll take suggestions on both fronts. One-team-only continuous service and player-to-player continuous service.
If you have an answer, send it our way, by emailing our friendly editor at email@example.com. And we'll compile the best next week.
Derek Jeter (.322).
Jayson Stark is a Senior Writer at ESPN.com.