When is agent Abdul Jalil going to stop tossing around all those astronomical figures? Who is Buford Allison and why is he smiling? What are all those millionaire hockey players doing riding around in a bus? Where is Marvin Barnes' man? And talk about the ultimate spitball, why is Steve Carlton pitching in a monsoon?
The answer is money. That's right. Directly or indirectly, turned upside down and pockets emptied out, the answer to all of the above questions is money. Money, and all it implies: security, greed, frugality, power, profit and loss. For example:
When Abdul Jalil, a.k.a. Randy Wallace, discusses the contract of his main man, Outfielder Lyman Bostock, he tends to inflate its value, so he can advertise Bostock as the highest-paid player in baseball history, which he isn't. If enough players hear that Bostock signed with the Angels for $3,262,000, as Jalil has said—instead of $2,250,000, which is what Bostock really got—they will want Jalil to represent them. And pretty soon he will be the highest-paid hustler in baseball history.
Buford Allison was the second-round draft choice of the Baltimore Colts in 1966. More significantly, the Missouri offensive guard was also one of the first players to receive a guaranteed long-term professional contract. Alas, Buford never played a game for the Colts, but they remember him well. Every month they send him a check for $1,000, just like the ones they have been sending him since 1966 and will continue to send him until 1980.
For short hops between places like Philadelphia and New York, owners of hockey teams have taken to piling their players into buses to help save on transportation costs, which have risen substantially in the past five years. Busing is not terribly stylish for athletes of such formidable means, but how else can the owners afford to pay for the players' other wheels, the Mercedes and Rolls-Royces?
Marvin Barnes' man is scoring. Not that the Buffalo Braves' forward was negligent on defense last season; if anything, Barnes tried to guard his man too aggressively, because his contract stipulated that he be paid a bonus if he got a prescribed number of blocked shots during the season. And if every so often an opponent's head fake made Marvin go for the block—thus allowing his man to drive around Marvin for a basket—that was just another price his team had to pay.
As for Steve Carlton slinging in the rain during the 1977 National League playoffs with the Dodgers, the first commandment of modern baseball is: Thou shalt not call a game that is supposed to fill in the breaks between TV commercials. Network scheduling holds sway over such minor proceedings as the playoffs, come hell and high water.
The profit motive in professional sports is nothing new, of course. Even the most romantic of fans has been aware all along that his heroes were performing, at least to some extent, for the greater glory of the buck. What is different these days is that the word "professional"—better known as money—is intruding on the word "sports" as never before.
Worse yet, like a kid huddled in a closet during a thunderstorm, no fan can wholly escape the terrible racket that has accompanied this change. Essentially, what is being heard is the sound of all our professional pastimes being dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century. The result has been redistribution of wealth and a lot of noise about money, simply because so many more people are making so much more of it.
Other than earplugs, there is little recourse for the fan. To yearn for the good old days is to deny the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act. Years ago, when a wily old plantation owner like Branch Rickey grabbed a percentage of the take every time he sold one of his Brooklyn Dodger field hands, no one was the wiser in the clubhouse, much less in the bleachers. But today, Ralph Nader preserve us, sports profiteers of every stripe are doing their hustling and haggling in the headlines and on the air. Pick up any sports page, tune in any sports roundup, and the dominant theme comes through with numbing repetitiveness: money, money, money, money.