"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: January 2012

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Color By Numbers: Show Me the Money

Alex Rodriguez stood alone as baseball’s only $200 million man for a decade, but now he has company. In the last six weeks, the fraternity has tripled with the addition of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. However, Arod still remains firmly planted atop baseball’s all-time salary totem pole.

10 Highest Paid Players in Baseball History, by Total Value and AAV

Note: Roger Clemens signed a pro-rated $28,000,022 deal with the Yankees in 2007, but he was only paid $17,400.000.
Source: Cots Contracts

If anyone was going to top Arod’s $27.5 million average annual salary, it seemed as if Albert Pujols would be the man. However, the new Angels’ first baseman “settled” on a contract that will pay him $24 million over the next 10 years, meaning he not only fell short of Arod’s current deal, but also failed to topple the contract Rodriguez signed with the Rangers in 2001. As a result, the Yankees’ third baseman seems to be a good bet to remain the highest paid player in baseball history for several more years.

Only two other players have had a longer reign as baseball’s all-time highest paid player. Babe Ruth remained atop the financial heap for 29 years, a period that began when he first joined the Yankees in 1920 and continued until 1949, when Ted Williams finally surpassed the $80,000 earned by the Bambino in 1930 and 1931. After the baton passed from the Babe to the Kid, Williams carried it for another 17 years until Willie Mays finally claimed the throne. Between that point and Arod’s mega-$252 million deal in 2001, the title of highest paid player repeatedly changed hands like a hot potato, with some players claiming the distinction for only days.

Yearly Progression of Baseball’s Highest Paid Player

Note: Records for the period before Babe Ruth are not as complete. Salaries represent average annual contract values with bonuses included. In some cases, actual contract values may have been higher or lower based on interest/inflation adjustments and performance incentives. The highest paid designation was awarded to the player with the top average annual salary before the start of each season.
Source: archival newspaper accounts

Because of Ruth’s immense talent, his salary almost became a defacto ceiling for future players’ demands.  In addition, the depression and World War II played a role in keeping players’ ambitions in check, as did the imposition of salary limits by the government’s Wage Stabilization Board during the early-1950s. Although players like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio finally surpassed the Babe’s benchmark and broke the $100,000 plateau during this period, it wouldn’t be until the mid-1960s when salaries started rise again.

In 1966, Willie Mays became the highest paid player in baseball history with a salary of $133,000, and then the dominoes started to fall. In the 1970s, a new player became the top man in almost every season, but in 1975, Catfish Hunter put them all to shame. After the 1974 season, Hunter discovered that Athletics’ owner Charley Finley had failed to fund an annuity as stipulated by his contract, so he claimed a breach and was eventually awarded free agency by an arbitrator. Fresh off four consecutive 20-win seasons, Hunter became the subject of a bidding war that was eventually won by George M. Steinbrenner. Hunter’s average contract value of $750,000 (his salary was much lower because of annuity deferments and other consideration) set the stage for the era of free agency that came to a crescendo when Tom Hicks handed out a whopping $252 million contract to Alex Rodriguez 25 years later.

For how much longer will Arod remain baseball’s salary king? This winter, Pujols and Fielder took their best shot at claiming the throne, but came up short. And, with more and more young superstars opting to sign long-term extensions before reaching free agency, it could be awhile before someone surpasses Rodriguez’s average annual salary of $27.5 million (which could wind up being even higher if certain milestone bonuses are achieved). Then again, with baseball enjoying unprecedented economic growth, maybe a $300 million/$30 million man is not that far away?

Never Enough

Spotted in midtown. The Score Truck? The Yankee Score Truck? Nah, but close enough.

Never mind the offense and head on over to the Pinstriped Bible and check out this post by Rebecca Glass on the Yankees’ pitching.

The Other Woman

Nice piece by Sarah Weinman over at Slate on Penelope Gilliatt:

In her first few years at The New Yorker Gilliatt wrote, as sharply as she ever had, on films as varied as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. She’d always made the case for comedy as an art form, helping to revive the reputation of the “poetic widower” Buster Keaton with a crucial 1964 profile in the Observer. In The New Yorker that advocacy continued. “Maybe all funniness has a tendency to throw settled things into doubt,” she wrote in The New Yorker about a Jacques Tati revival. “Where most people will automatically complete an action, a great comedian will stop in the middle to have a think about that point of it, and the point will often vanish before our eyes.” Even when Gilliatt got things wrong, sometimes spectacularly so, she did so with panache. (On the “Gynecological Gothic” 1968 Polanski film Rosemary’s Baby: “Why on earth does a major film-maker feel seduced by a piece of boo-in-the-night like this story?”)

Gilliatt also thrived, at first, on the half-year schedule of reviewing films in New York and writing for page and screen in London. Her screenplay for 1971’s Sunday, Bloody Sunday garnered an Oscar nomination—as well as [Pauline] Kael’s approval—for its sensitive portrayal of a love triangle between a divorced working woman, a well-off Jewish doctor, and the man they both fall for. (Triangles figured prominently in Gilliatt’s fiction, from her 1965 debut novel One by One to the playlet Property, a devastating portrayal of a woman caught, like chattel, between her first two husbands.)* Her strongest short-story collection, Nobody’s Business (1972), featured charming, off-kilter, dialogue-driven portraits of those looking for “grace of mortal order” in a chaotic world. (One prescient story looks at the relationship between a cyberneticist and his creation, FRANK, for “Family Robot Adapted to the Needs of Kinship.”)

New York Minute

Seen a few weeks ago on a warm night in Times Square.

Emily and I said congratulations as the bride and groom swept passed us.

“Nice quiet getaway,” I said. “Don’t worry, nobody will notice.”

A few people around us laughed. It wasn’t an imaginative thing to say but the moment cried out for a remark and it’s better to try and fail than to keep quiet. At least in this town it is.

Beat of the Day


Morning Art

Collage by Tim Jarosz

Legacy Students

Joe Paterno died Sunday at age 85. Life and career retrospectives abounded. Wins and losses were mentioned, as were bowl game triumphs, the iconic look he brought to the sidelines every Saturday. Most of all, his contributions to the “student athlete” and the culture he created outside the gridiron and the towering edifice that is Beaver Stadium were discussed.

Not be ignored, though — and it wasn’t — was his role, his actions and his inaction regarding a certain former assistant coach and alleged pedophile. The Onion’s satirical headline spoke volumes: “Joe Paterno Dies In Hospital; Doctors Promise to Tell Their Superiors First Thing Tomorrow”.

Legacies are meant to demonstrate an example to be set for successors. Sounds simple but legacies are complicated. Look at Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Pete Rose, Woody Hayes, Bear Bryant, Bobby Knight, Vince Lombardi, Wilt Chamberlain, Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Lawrence Taylor, or most recently, Bill Conlin. Look at any iconic athlete, coach, writer, celebrity or politician whose indiscretions  made them as infamous as their contributions to their chosen fields made them famous. Look at the names I just listed. If we were playing word association, you could probably think of the words racist, drunk, womanizer, gambler, bully, insane, drug addict or kid toucher as quickly as you could think of Hall of Famer, Hit King, 714 home runs, 6 titles or  14 majors. Bryant, winner of 5 NBA titles and still considered in many circles the best player in the sport, was acquitted of the rape charges nine years ago; yet when a philandering husband suddenly buys a lavish gift for his spouse as a means of apologizing, it’s called a “Kobe Special.”

Observing how the media has treated those players and coaches over the years, has there been a reluctance to hold any of them accountable for their actions? In many cases, no. Thus, in reading and listening to the Joe Paterno tributes, I was curious how the media would address Paterno’s role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal in the context of his legacy.

The common refrain was that while we can’t dismiss his management of the Jerry Sandusky situation, we shouldn’t let that cloud our view of the man. If you knew someone who had a reputation of always going above and beyond for others, yet suddenly did the bare minimum and expected that to be enough, what would you think?

In The Nation, Dave Zirin wrote:

…according to our conception of who this man was supposed to be, there was no authority above Joe Paterno. There was instead an expectation that this man of integrity would without hesitation do far more than just fulfill his minimum legal requirements. Is that fair? When it’s your statue on campus and when the buildings bear your name, most would say hell yes.

Howard Bryant wrote one of many commentaries for ESPN.com on Paterno’s death. He brought forth a similar sentiment as Zirin:

…Paterno had too much power with not nearly enough oversight. He was bigger than the school, and the school cowered to him. Paterno gave millions back to Penn State; and as his power grew and grew unchecked over four decades, the university lost the ability to control whether he was benevolent or a tyrant.

It was not a power particularly special to Paterno, but to his industry. The entire culture of the coach deserves deconstruction and revision, for the same can be said in varying degrees of Bryant and Knight, Bowden and Calhoun, Krzyzewski and Boeheim.

When it was time for Paterno to use the power that he had accrued — when he became aware that for years, children allegedly were being molested under the ceiling of the football monument he had built — he did not lead.

Joe Posnanski is writing a book about Joe Paterno. He did not blog about JoePa’s death, but he filed a piece for SI. The last words of the column quote Paterno, who said that “hopes the victims find peace.” Posnanski precedes the quote by writing that Paterno wanted his life measured in totality rather than by “a hazy event involving an alleged child molester.”

Perhaps the most vivid piece of writing about “the hazy event” and Paterno can be found in  this diary. Warning: it’s not for the sensitive. It is heart-wrenching, explicit, and likely represents the anger of many who have sat back and thought “WTF?” regarding Paterno, Sandusky and the events of the past two months.

Jeff MacGregor also posted for ESPN.com, with a take that I’m sure will be used in the Sport Studies curriculum at universities across the country. I’ve written in this space about man, myth, and legend; I did so in my first story on this topic back in November. MacGregor is much better with metaphor:

Joe Paterno was no more and no less than human, and no living man can contend with his own legend. No man can live in his own shadow.

A bronze statue of Joe Paterno standing seven feet high and weighing 900 pounds was swung into place at Penn State on Nov. 2, 2001.

Four months later to the day, March 2, 2002, Mike McQueary stood at Joe Paterno’s door. He had a terrible story to tell.

There’s a poignant scene in “The Deer Hunter” near the intermission when Robert De Niro’s character, Michael  is carrying Steven (John Savage), a badly injured friend, over his shoulder to safety. It is one scene among many makes the film’s title so significant; Michael is carrying Steven the same way he’d carry a deer after shooting it. Steven had become the deer carcass. Similarly, is it not reasonable to believe, based on MacGregor’s closing paragraphs, that four months after his statue was erected at Penn State, that Paterno became the statue?

Paterno told Posnanski he wanted the victims to have peace. The first step could have been taken right then and there. Maybe even sooner. That, for many, is the focal point of any discussion about the late Joe Paterno’s legacy. And in the cumulative analysis of the man, the coach, the academic, the philanthropist, benefactor and humanitarian, we cannot be afraid to hold him accountable for that.

[Photo Credit: Dr Brady]

Talkin’ Baseball

Another cold winter night in the city.

Sox looking to add pitching. Maybe the Yanks move a pitcher before Opening Day. Prince Fielder’s deal: pro and con.

Have at it.

Afternoon Art


[Picture by Uros Begovic]

Blind Faith

Check out this cool-ass 1990 interview with Ry Cooder by Jas Obrecht. The talk is Blind Willie Johnson and the Blues:

Q: What’s your attraction to “Dark Was the Ground – Cold Was the Night”?

RC: That’s the most transcendent piece in all American music, the way he used his voice and the guitar. This other tune that I love so much is “God Moves on the Water.” Oh, that thing is like a roller coaster, man. He’s got an energy wave in there that he’s surfing across the face of that tune so mighty! He hits the chorus, and to me it’s like ice skating or downhill racing – it’s an awesome physical thing that happens. But “Dark Was the Night” is the cut – everybody knows that lick. You can throw that lick at anybody nowadays. I threw it up inside Paris, Texas, you know, and everybody relates. And now you play that lick, and everybody knows what it is. It’s like an unspoken word. It’s really amazing. [Legally download these tracks at http://www.archive.org/.]

I’ll really tell you, Blind Willie Johnson is in the ether somewhere. He’s up there in the zone somewhere. But if he played flat . . . And at this point, after talking with you, I’m starting to feel that really would account for it. Because I know that if it was regular, I could be doing it. I can do what he did – I can play those notes now. I mean, I have learned. My co-ordination and understanding have developed to the point where I am capable of executing those passages, but it sounds really different when you play flat.

Here’s Cooder’s version.

Click here for more on Cooder’s recent book of stories about Los Angeles.

Taster’s Cherce

A day late, but for you peanut butter freaks out there, dig these recipes for your favorite food over at Serious Eats.

A World Apart

Last week, there was a wonderful essay in The New Yorker by Donald Hall called “Out the Window” (subscription only):

After a life of loving the old, by natural law I turned old myself. Decades followed each other–thirty was terrifying, forty I never noticed because I was drunk, fifty was best with a total change of life, sixty extended the bliss of fifty–and then came my cancers, Jane’s death, and over the years I travelled to another universe. However alter we are, however much we think we know what will happen, antiquity remains an unknown, unanticipated galaxy. It is alien, and old people are a separate form of life. They have green skin, with two heads that sprout antennae. They can be pleasant, they can be annoying–in the supermarket, these old ladies won’t get out of my way–but most important they are permanently other. When we turn eighty, we understand that we are extraterrestrial. If we forget for a moment that we are old, we are reminded when we try to stand up, or when we encounter someone young, who appears to observe green skin, extra heads, and protuberances.

People’s response to our separateness can be callous, can be good-hearted, and is always condescending. When a woman writes to the newspaper, approving of something I have done, she calls me “a nice old gentleman.” She intends to praise me, with “nice” and “gentleman.” “Old” is true enough, and she lets us know that I am not a grumpy old fart, but “nice” and “gentleman” put me in a box where she can rub my head and hear me purr. Or maybe she would prefer me to wag my tail, lick her hand, and make ingratiating dog noises. At a family dinner, my children and grandchildren pay fond attention to me; I may be peripheral, but I am not invisible. A grandchild’s college roommate, pulls a chair to sit with her back directly in front of me, cutting me off from the family circle: I don’t exist.

A few years ago I spoke to the writer Arnold Hano on the phone. He was 90. Profane and funny. He told me that something had been written about him in the local paper and the writer had called him spry. “How come you only hear the word spry when people talk about old people?” he said. “That drives me crazy. C’mere, and watch me stick my foot right up your ass.”

Click here to listen to the New Yorker podcast with Hall.

And click here to read Hank Waddles’ two-part interview with Hano.

[Photo Credit: Matthew Gordon Levandoski]

Got a Story to Tell?

Check out the  Something to Write Home About series over at the beautiful site, Pictory Mag.

[Photographs by Emily Raw and Larissa Zhou]

Beat of the Day

Extra points if anyone can guess who sampled this one (no cheating, now).

[Picture by Bags]

New York Minute

Before cell phones and before Purell I never thought twice about using a pay phone. Yeah, I’d look at the receiver before I put it to my ear but don’t recall getting all Felix Unger about it. Now I can’t remember the last time I used a pay phone, can you?

Don’tcha Wanna Give Me What I Need, Baby?

Money Grab.

[Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Image]

Afternoon Art

Untitled by Morris Barazani (1965)

Million Dollar Movie

We are familiar with Nicholson’s greatest performances. Here’s a list of worthy ones that are less celebrated:

The Missouri Breaks, Reds, Heartburn, Hoffa, and The Pledge. There are others, of course. He’s funny in a cameo role in Broadcast News.

But one of my favorite Nicholson movies is The Border. He’s coiled but not a ham. It’s a wonderful performance.  Put it on your Netflix queue.


[Photograph by Annie Leibovitz]

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver