· · · · · · · ·
Volume 91, Issue 14
Friday, September 19, 1997
Mark McGwire deserves respect. Not just for what he's done on the baseball field, but the class act that he's been off of it.
When McGwire held a press conference Sept. 9 to announce he had just signed a three-year, $28.5 million contract, he demonstrated a side of professional athletes that is rarely seen if it even exists.
Unlike most of today's greedy and selfish athletes (Kevin Garnett and Albert Belle come to mind), McGwire did not have a beaming smile from one corner of his mouth to the other. He wasn't thinking about the new Ferrari or the luxury state-of-the-art mansion he was going to buy, nor about how he had just duped the St. Louis Cardinal franchise out of some major dough.
How do we know this? First, if McGwire's eyes were dollar-struck, he wouldn't have bothered resigning with the Cards since he could have agreed to a much more lucrative contract on the free-agent market.
Secondly, a large portion of his contract (about 25 per cent) will be deferred until McGwire's retirement, so the Cards' management can resign key players like pitchers Andy Benes and Todd Stottlemyre. It's a clear demonstration of McGwire's self-sacrificing desire to be a team player.
But most important was the emotional display McGwire exhibited when he announced his plan to create a foundation in his name. A foundation in which he will donate $1 million a season out of his own pocket, to aid victims of sexual and physical child abuse.
It truly was a sight to see a 6'5", 200-pound man fighting back his tears Ð for crying out loud, the guy should have been laughing all the way to the bank, but instead he's talking about giving $1 million to charity. Sure he can afford it, but $1 million is a lot of money regardless of who you are and it's clear McGwire's intentions and heart were both in the right place.
"Let's just say children have a special place in my heart," McGwire told the press. "I will do everything in my power to help."
Hours later, in storybook fashion, the St. Louis crowd gave him a standing ovation and McGwire proceeded to smash a monstrous 517-foot home run to reward their applause. It was his 52nd of the season and with number 53 coming Wednesday, he is only eight short of tying Roger Maris' 61 homers, the most ever hit in a season.
While the power-hitter has a legitimate shot at eclipsing the Yankee legend's 36-year-old record, he still attempts to deflect the spotlight away from his individual play to that of his team.
"Is it good for the game? Yes. But why cheer for one guy when there are other people on the team," McGwire said. "I'm not a guy who likes all the attention. It's a team sport. One player doesn't control a baseball game. It's not like in a basketball game."
Maybe the slugger is on to something. Calling all those Michael Jordans out there who have a $27 million-a-year contract, plus a custom line of cologne, shoes and now a fashion wardrobe. Do you think you can kick back just a few pennies to the needy?
Then there's the Bruce Smiths of the world who never show up to training camp, because they're so preoccupied with squeezing management to satisfy their greed. They should quit their pouting and think about what they can do with the heap of cash they already have.
McGwire seems to understand that records and money are not the be all and end all. In a sense, life is like a baseball game. Everyone's on one big team and McGwire is one of the few individuals willing to use his position to help the other less-fortunate members out. That's something that is truly worthy of respect.
To Contact The Sports Department: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © The Gazette 1997