Baseball's second reentry draft is causing all kinds of shock waves. The money is not flowing as it did last year, it is gushing. Last year, three free agents collected more than $2 million each; this year, six players already have signed for that. The Rangers signed slugger Richie Zisk to a $3 million, 10-year contract and Pitcher Doc Medich to a $1 million, four-year contract; the Yankees gave Reliever Rich Gossage $2.75 million for six years; the Red Sox gave Pitcher Mike Torrez $2.5 million for seven years; the Angels signed Outfielder Lyman Bostock to a $2.2 million, five-year contract; the Brewers gave slugger Larry Hisle $3 million for six years: and the Padres signed Oscar Gamble, a part-time outfielder, to a six-year contract worth $2.8 million.
"It's unbelievable," says Dick Williams, the Montreal manager. "I don't think the talent is there the way it was a year ago." Joe Burke, general manager of the Royals, agrees. "I didn't think they would go for as much as two-thirds of what they went for last year," he says. "There were better players then."
Some clubs that stayed out of the bidding blame Brad Corbett, owner of the Rangers, for the escalating prices. "He's the reason the bidding got out of hand," says Burke. "Right away after the draft he was throwing around figures of $3 million for five years. I don't think a guy like Gene Autry will go broke, but a guy like Corbett might." Bud Selig of the Brewers, who signed Hisle, says, "We felt that circumstances forced us to. To have to take a plunge like this every year would be economic suicide."
Bill Veeck, whose White Sox lost both Zisk and Gamble to the draft because he could not afford to keep them, says bravely, "It will make us hustle. The Angels spent more money than we did last year, and we competed with them all right on the field." But Veeck worries about how long the White Sox can remain competitive. "For a year or two maybe, we can think of some way to equalize the situation," he says, "but there will come a time, just as in table-stakes poker, when the preponderance of capital will ultimately win."
If Veeck is right—and he probably is—the main problem that faces baseball, as it attempts to shake the bugs out of the free-agent system over the next several years, will not be curtailing the players' appetite for money but restraining the seemingly insatiable desire of owners like Corbett to spend it.
You can't be too careful when you're flying just a few feet above the water off the north shore of Oahu, where most of Hawaii's big-wave surfing is done. William H. Connelly was doing just that recently when along came a surfboard and hit his home-built biplane in the lower right wing.
That's Connelly's side of the story. Surfer Robert Fram's side is that he was trying to catch a wave when along came an airplane. As it approached, Fram says, he dived backward off his board, which flipped out of the water and hit the plane, which was flying five feet above the surface.
Connelly claims he was about 20 feet up and that the surfer "threw" the board at him. But whatever the surfer did, FAA regulations prohibit flying lower than 500 feet over persons or property, and inasmuch as surfers are considered persons, Connelly stands to lose his license.