However, for every person who owes his house or his education to the World Series, there is another loudly declaiming the withered hearts of his teammates. No club has suffered as much damnation for its tightfistedness as the 1932 Cubs. In August of that season, with Chicago trailing St. Louis by six games, the Cubs bought former Yankee shortstop Mark Koenig from the Mission Reds of the Pacific Coast League. Chicago's regular shortstop, Billy Jurges, had been shot in July in what
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termed "an episode of unrequited love." Koenig batted .353 in 33 games and was instrumental in the Cubs overhauling the Cardinals. Chicago voted Koenig a half share.
The Cubs' Series opponent was the Yankees, who were outraged when they heard of Chicago's shabby treatment of their former teammate. Maddest of all was Babe Ruth. "Hey, Mark," Ruth called over to Koenig before Game 1, "who are those cheapskates you're with?"
Ruth's remark set off the most heated Word Series ever, with insults flying back and forth. When the Babe came to bat in the fifth inning of the third game with the score tied 4-4, the Cubs lined the top step of the dugout to taunt him. With Charlie Root pitching, the count went to 2 and 2, and the bench jockeys were riding Ruth unmercifully. Ruth held up two fingers, signifying that he had another strike coming. This gesture, coupled with others he made during the at bat, was interpreted by a few at the time, and by many since, to be a brazen prediction by Ruth that he was going to hit the ball over the centerfield fence, which he did. So in part, the carving up of World Series shares contributed to one of baseball's greatest legends.
In retrospect, the Cubs' apparent stinginess is understandable. Koenig was with the team less than a third of the season. The Cubs, unlike the Yankees, were not perennial contenders, and the nation, baseball included, was suffering through the Depression. Other players—and nonplayers—have been stiffed for reasons far less substantial. Even Koenig's treatment at the hands of the Cubs doesn't look all that bad in light of the fact that the same team gave nothing to Rogers Hornsby, Chicago's manager for the first two thirds of the season.
"In Kansas City, they were always fighting," says Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog, who managed the Royals in the late 1970s. "One year the Angels got Tony Solaita from us at the All-Star break, and the players didn't want to give him a share. I said, 'Why not?' And they said, 'Because he beat us a game.' "
In 1985 the Dodgers toyed with the possibility of not giving any money to Steve Howe, the excellent lefthanded reliever who left the team in midseason with a substance abuse problem. Finally, they decided to give him a one-eighth share, but only after asking if they could send the check directly to Howe's wife. They couldn't.
Many players believe that because they are the ones who bust their butts, who hit and pitch and win games, that the money is not only theirs to divvy up but also theirs to keep. The Red Sox practiced some New England frugality in 1986 by scaling back on rewards to part-time players and nonplaying personnel. The grounds crew got nothing at all, and the clubhouse attendants were voted only half shares. "The way I saw it," says Boston catcher Rich Gedman, the player rep in 1986, "and the way most of us saw it, was the ball club was making a hell of a lot of money off us. We saw the money as two weeks' salary for us, and the club should take care of its own people out of its own share." But some Red Sox players objected to their teammates' parsimony. Jim Rice, Steve Crawford and Bob Stanley reached into their own pockets to reward some of the overlooked club employees.
A lot of people assume that as salaries have escalated, players have become more generous. "What's five thousand dollars mean to a team with as many millionaires as the Dodgers?" says Los Angeles catcher Rick Dempsey. Says Hall of Fame righthander Don Drysdale, "When we played, World Series checks meant something. Now all they do is screw up your taxes."
Others think that the inflated playoff payoff has made the players stingier. "It's different now," says Oriole manager Frank Robinson. "We're talking about big, big bucks now. I've seen it get bitter. I've seen long arguments."
Says one member of the 1983 Phillies, who won the pennant that year, "We had guys arguing about every nickel and dime. Guys who were making a half-million dollars were trying to freeze clubhouse guys out of a grand. It was a disgrace."