The Other Side of the Coin

I have heard it and so have you. Money is ruining the game we love – baseball. Players are not following the dream but following the buck. They have no team loyalty, seeking huge long term contracts which pay them millions well after their most productive years are over. It is totally infuriating to always read, when a player signs, what the contact is both in terms of dollars and years. Selfish is the word that comes to mind in describing the modern day baseball player.

I must admit I am one to question the nature of contracts that don’t make much sense to me. Then when I stop to think, I wonder what I would do in a similar circumstance. I would like to think I would take a hometown discount playing my heart out for my team and my fans. Surely I wouldn’t bolt because of money. Then again, I have a family and the career of an athlete is short. Yes, but it offers many other opportunities after playing days are over. No, I wouldn’t be led around by a greedy agent. Yet, as a teacher, what would I have done with a young family if another school board had offered me even $1000 to leave my school and the kids I loved?

Recently I began to think a bit differently about those greedy athletes. I have read that a number of Dodgers back in the fifties were tricked into signing smaller contracts by Branch Ricky. It sounds a bit humorous now, but was it funny or fair? George “Shotgun” Shuba, a Dodger pinch hitter and reserve outfielder, sat in Branch Rickey’s office negotiating a contract. During the meeting Rickey left his office on a pretense and also left a bogus contract for another player, Jackie Robinson, on his desk for Shuba to see. When Rickey returned, Shuba settled for less than he had asked for thinking it was just less than what Jackie was receiving. He received less that Robinson did – a lot less. He had been duped.

Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey was known for his sneak tactics to get players to sign contracts for less money. (Photo courtesy of jackierobinson19.blogspot.com)

Although revered by all, Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey was known for duping players into signing contracts for less money than they sought.
(Photo courtesy of jackierobinson19.blogspot.com)

I have read stories of athletes like Sandy Amoros living and dying in poverty. Carl Furillo, an outstanding, hard-nosed right fielder for the Dodgers in the late forties and fifties was released by the Dodgers in 1960 after he was injured. Carl had to sue the Dodgers, paying legal fees, to get what was rightly his. The result – Carl received $21,000. Although MLB denies it, Carl was black balled and was never able to get a job in MLB after retirement, not even with the Mets when Gil Hodges was their manager.

Major league teams lived off the players, offering lower than deserved wages, often having them play when injured. The players with no free agency either stayed with a team, regardless of the contract, until retirement or were traded. Huh! Maybe free agency has just turned the tables in the favor of the guys on the field and not in the executive suites.

Still, MLB players are now a selfish lot, thinking only of themselves. Well, so I thought until I did a bit more reading. It turns out they don’t have hearts of stone. They are pretty much like average people regardless of their wealth. They have all the challenges in life that we do – with health, family, early deaths of family or friends, accidents, natural disasters. But, they have resources we don’t so why don’t they use them to help others?

Once again, a bit of reading put things into perspective for me and it definitely presented a problem for me. I quickly found too much to include even in several blog articles (perhaps a book would be more appropriate) and I suspect it is just the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t have to look very long or hard to find that baseball players and athletes in general are public-spirited, even philanthropic, many with hearts of gold. It became almost impossible to select what should be included on “the other side of the coin”, so I became a pollster of sorts and simply selected a representative sample randomly:

Gone but Not Forgotten

Albert Pujols broke some hearts in St. Louis when he walked away from his long time Cardinal home and signed with the Angels in 2012. The Albert Pujols Family Foundation dedicated to those with Down syndrome and the terminally ill, as well as the impoverished in the Dominican Republic, was left behind, but not forgotten. The Pujols headquarters remain in St. Louis, and the money Albert raises will impact both cities in which he has played. A compassionate Albert Pujols explained:”For me, it wasn’t easy to come over here, but it would’ve been really hard to move the organization like that,” Pujols said. “There are a lot of people in St. Louis that we really appreciate and want to keep helping out. I don’t want to disconnect myself from that city. They’ve done a lot for our organization. They’ve supported us 100 percent all the time, and at the same time, I want to show them that just because I’m not playing there doesn’t mean I’m not going to do events in St. Louis.”

Albert Pujols' generosity stretches from St. Louis to Anaheim - and beyond. (Photo courtesy of thegoodinsports.com)

Albert Pujols’ generosity stretches from St. Louis to Anaheim – and beyond.
(Photo courtesy of thegoodinsports.com)

Youk’s Kids will continue on, both in Boston and Chicago as well as New York. Youk’s Kids is a program that was set up by Kevin Youkilis to support children of those who give their lives protecting others. The Twins’ Josh Willingham started the Josh Willingham Foundation in his home state of Alabama with the initial intention of helping underprivileged kids. When tornadoes hit in 2011, the organization switched gears and raised more than $100,000. Although Willingham has been on three teams in as many seasons, relocation hasn’t been an issue. He reiterated a bottom line that Youkilis and Pujols also offered: “If a player wants to help, he can, regardless of how much he moves around. “

It’s Not Just the Money

Casey Blake still lives in Indianola, a small town in Iowa. In 2010 he and his wife Abbie donated $1 million to the Indianola School District and challenged the community to match it. Casey was certainly not one of the more highly paid players during his career although he did very well. However, no matter how you cut it, a $1 million donation comes from the heart. “Casey and Abbie are completely committed to our community,” Indianola High School Athletic Director Bernie Brueck told the Register. “He’s a hometown hero and so many people look up to him. For him to want to provide so many opportunities for local kids – that’s tremendous.” Donating money is the easiest part of being charitable and providing money may well be a onetime thing – but not for Casey Blake. He is active in all of the fund raising activities and celebrations in his community including the Indianola Community Youth Foundation. Casey and many other athletes are aware of their celebrity but they don’t wear it. They use that celebrity as opportunities to help those in need in their communities in a variety of ways that almost defy the imagination.

Former Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake continues to donate to his hometown of Indianola, Iowa. (Photo courtesy of icyf23.com)

Former Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake continues to generously donate to his hometown of Indianola, Iowa. (Photo courtesy of icyf23.com)

Community Involvement

Although he has been with the Dodgers only a very short time, Gold Glove first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and his wife Betsy have gone way beyond the call of duty. In addition to their continuing support in the San Diego community with their Adrian and Betsy Gonzalez Foundation, A-Gone and Betsy have also been extremely active in L.A.’s Hispanic community, along with fellow Mexican Dodger Luis Cruz. Although it is wonderful that so many MLB players have their own charities, being out there on the streets and actively involved within the community itself is a classic example of the generosity of many MLB players, particularly guys like Cruz, who do not have huge contracts. It is clearly not just the money with these guys.

If there is an event going on in the community, you can pretty much rest assured that Adrian Gonzalez and Luis Cruz will be there. (Photo credit - Jon SooHoo)

If there is an event going on in the community, you can pretty much count on Adrian Gonzalez and Luis Cruz being there. (Photo credit – Jon SooHoo)

Baseball Player Foundations and Charities

A quick Google of Foundations and Charities reveals only a part of the charitable work active and retired players do, supporting these charities year after year. I selected just one such Foundation, an unusual one, which benefits from the commitment of Frank Catalanotto and his wife Barbara who are the co-chairpersons of the Vascular Birthmarks Foundation (VBF). The Albany, NY based foundation is geared towards getting families that have an infant with a vascular birthmark to the proper physician to be diagnosed. Dr. Gregory Levitin, director of the Vascular Birthmark Center of New York said the support from the Catalanotto’s has allowed the VBF to stay in existence while networking over 50,000 adults and children to help them discover possible treatment options.

International Charity

We are all delighted that Clayton Kershaw, at age 24, won the much deserved 2012 Roberto Clemente Award. This award is given annually to a Major League Baseball player who “exemplifies incredible sportsmanship, charity and community involvement.” Kershaw’s Challenge is a foundation that helps raise money and awareness for a group of charities he supports. Arise Africa supports orphans in the African country of Zambia. Hope’s Home is an orphanage for children with AIDS in Zambia for which Clayton is financing the construction. The pictures of Clayton, his wife Ellen and Shawn Tolleson wrapping their arms around young orphaned children in Zambia are breath taking. The smiles on their young faces most likely reveal a love those children had never known.

It's no wonder that Clayton Kershaw won the 2012 Roberto Clemente Award. His and Ellen's generosity has undoubtedly saved countless lives. (Photo courtesy of ariseafrica.org)

It’s no wonder that Clayton Kershaw won the 2012 Roberto Clemente Award. His and Ellen’s generosity has undoubtedly saved countless lives.
(Photo courtesy of ariseafrica.org)

We learned last week that R.A. Dickey, considered to be self centered, is headed to India with his daughters to work with the Bombay Teen Challenge, an organization that rescues girls from human trafficking. And of course we will never forget Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash while on a humanitarian mission to Managua, Nicaraguan following a devastating earthquake on Dec. 23, 1972.

The huge contracts signed by professional athletes continue to be controversial. I have been reminded at times that the money they are paid isn’t mine. More importantly, I am now reminded that the time and money those same athletes invest in an amazing array of charities also isn’t mine.

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12 Responses to “The Other Side of the Coin”

  1. CRANBROOK MIKE says:

    Awesome article Harold! We just happen to have one of those sports hero’s here in Cranbrook BC. Scott Niedermayer. Scotty, who will be undoubtedly be enshrined in the hockey hall of fame, is such a class act. Ever since he made it big in the NHL, he has always come back to town in the summer and gave back to this community by holding some sort of a fund raising function for somebody that was having health or medical issues. The guy never ceased to amaze me. I knew a guy in town( Dan Bartraw), in 2007 who’s daughter( 6years old) was going through leukemia. While in a waiting room in a Calgary hospital he received a phone call from Scott’s dad (who happens to be a doctor in town), told this Dan that Scott and his brother Rob had heard about his family’s situation. He explained that they would like to help the family out and give them $10,000 towards the mounting expenses. The funds came from earlier that year when they held thier Stanley cup celebration in town and were selling 8×10 photos. They obviously had decided that the sale of these photos would go to a good cause, but at that time did not know about the Bartraw girl.
    I tell people that I put put Scott on the same platform as an Albert Poujols echelon. I am VERY proud to say that I am from the same town as Scott Niedermayer, a true sports hero who always conducted himself in nothing more than a professional manner, never drawing negative attention to himself throughout his fabulous hockey career. Not to mention being Captain of the 2010 Olympic gold medal hockey team. Not to shabby for a kid from the sticks where nobody knows!!!

    • Bluenose Dodger says:

      Glen Murray, from Bridgewater (10 minutes away), who I coached in Jr. High basketball, does the same thing. I think Glenn now resides in LA having played for the Kings. He returns every summer and hosts events, donates to causes and basically just gives back.

  2. MFGRREP says:

    What a feel good story, thank you Harold for enlightening us. I have been one to quickly say “what professional athlete is worth so much just to play a game”? I have been stuck on the idea that we the fans ultimately pay the price at the gate for all they make. It’s very refreshing to see that with many the money is well spent. I can only hope that it continues and the one’s that don’t give back will see the error of their ways.

    Thanks for sharing Harold.

  3. ebbetsfld says:

    Another great post, Harold. The bottom line is that there are good people everywhere, and the hope is that the wonderful work done by these folks rubs off both on their teammates and those who are affected by the good that they do.
    I was always charitable, but my retirement has freed up a lot of time I never had before which I now use for volunteering. Frankly, it’s a selfish thing because were I not doing my volunteer work, I’d be driving myself and my wife crazy! But the things I do are so satisfying and appreciated that I wish I had found the time to do them while I was still working.

  4. OldBrooklynFan says:

    Thanks Ron for another fine article.

  5. KSparkuhl says:

    Way to go Harold! Thanks for helping to point out some of the many fine examples of quality men that play in the major leagues. It’s hard to immagine what we’d do when faced with similar temptations of excess. It’s heartwarming to know that guys like Kershaw, while still being relatively young, exist in the league and set positive examples for other men of his age group.

    Good research and report… thanks!

  6. CRANBROOK MIKE says:

    I’ve said it before, this world would be in serious trouble with the countless hours of volunteerism each and every day all around the world!

  7. Ron Cervenka says:

    In most cases, there is a clause in the huge contracts that baseball players sign that require them to make an annual contribution to charity. A lot of guys do so without any publicity or fanfare (kind of like what Sandra Bullock did for earthquake and tsunami victims). But guys like those mentioned above in Harold’s article take it to an entirely new level and go WAY beyond their contractual agreement.

    Having been blessed to come to know quite a few MLB players on a more personal level than most folks get the opportunity to, nearly all of them are incredibly generous and all around good people (most are very spiritual, too). Granted, there are a few jerks in the bunch, but this is true with every group in life.

    Thanks for another great article. I particularly liked the A-Gone and Cruz part. ;)

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