The agent said that after the Yankees whipped the Pirates in four straight, the Babe was afraid of being mobbed by the happy fans. A stranger grabbed him by the hand and promised safety. The Babe followed to an odd-looking automobile. He thought he was being taken to a nice chophouse on Broadway for dinner and a few frosties. He somehow wound up in the future.
"You should have seen his face when I told him how much Kent Hrbek and Rickey Henderson and all of these guys are making," the agent said. "He said he wished Lou Gehrig were with him to hear this. Gehrig would have been astounded."
" Lou Gehrig?" the general manager asked.
The agent said he knew that a billion sounded a bit steep, but the Babe was ready to work for the money. In fact, he had promised to work twice as hard. Did the general manager remember that the Babe had started out as a pitcher? Well, his best season was 1916, when he finished 23-12, with a 1.75 ERA. What kind of money would those numbers earn today? What was Mark Langston, a 16-game winner, getting from the Angels? Sixteen million for five years? The Babe promised he would pitch every fifth day and play rightfield the rest of the time. So, his new team would be receiving the value of two players instead of one. Two players with far better stats than anyone on the entire free-agent board.
"You think Bo Jackson is creating a stir with his football-baseball thing?" the agent said. "Wait'll you see how the people react to this. I'm going to have the Babe endorsing every product with a bar code on it. There'll be Babe Ruth athletic shoes and Babe Ruth actionwear and Babe Ruth home videos. How much bigger do you think he will be than, say, Robin Yount? A billion is a bargain."
The agent said the Babe did not want to get into "an unseemly bidding war." Everything would be handled in a hurry. The Babe wanted to do some fishing and play some golf before the start of spring training.
"Let's get it done," the agent said. "No newspapers. No nonsense."
"Is this a joke?" the general manager asked.
The agent was upset. A joke? He put the Babe on the phone. The Babe repeated everything the agent had said and more. The Babe promised to try harder for his new team than he ever tried in his life. He said he had heard about a thing called "expansion" and a lack of lefthanded pitchers. He said he was ready to "tear some horsehide off some baseballs." He sounded great.
"So?" the agent asked.