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After Reggie stood and watched us for a while, he lay down, with a football as a pillow, over on the sidelines. Bud nodded at me, and I swallowed and went over. "Hey, Reggie, listen," I said, "it's Bud's rule. Nobody lies down. Nobody even sits down." He kind of squinted at me through his smoked glasses, like I must be putting him on. "No, I'm serious," I said. "There was an owner out here the other day, and Bud made him stand up."
Reggie said, "That's O.K. I make more money than any owner."
I looked down carefully at him. You never quite know when he's being serious and when he's playing with you. But he smiled now, and struggled to his feet.
I'll be the first to admit that Reggie can be difficult, but he's also a good friend and a good guy. Basically, he's a God-fearing, red-blooded all-American boy who feels strongly about a lot of things and isn't afraid to speak up. After practice the two of us went to Jake's bar with several other Vikings—Sammy White, Doug Martin, Eddie Payton and Duck White—and as soon as talk of the NFL players' strike came up, Reggie said, "You guys ought to be ashamed. The football union is an embarrassment to other sports."
Some of the guys at the table are a lot more sensitive about the union than I am, so I tried to take the edge off his statement. "Listen, Reggie, you've got to understand that it's not exactly the union's fault," I said. "A lot of the problem is [Players Association Executive Director Ed] Garvey, who's protected by a bunch of hand-picked players around him."
"So, get rid of Garvey," he said.
"Not so easy," I said. "One of the major complaints Garvey has with the owners is that there's such high turnover in the NFL. Look at me, I'm 32, I'm the oldest guy on a team. You're older than I am, and several guys on the Angels are older than you. That turnover protects Garvey. If we had more guys who've been around, more of us would be familiar with what a bad job he's done and he'd be out on his ass by now."
Reggie listened. He wanted to know why we weren't pushing harder for free-agent concessions. Nobody knows better than he does that owners have huge egos. Dammit, you just don't buy a major league franchise unless you have a large ego, unless you want to win and beat the other big egos. Most of the football owners want to win badly, and I'm sure they would pay to get free agents if we could work out a system, like baseball's, where the compensation wasn't so high. But instead, here Garvey goes on, tilting with the free-enterprise system, taking all the players off on this wild-goose chase for 55% of something that most of us know we can't possibly get.
Oh well. Reggie let us have it pretty hard, baseball vs. football, and by now the whole camp was buzzing because somebody had figured out that he made $5,500 a day during his season. I kept trying to stand up for football, so when we came into the dining room, and there was all that food piled up, and the linemen were dishing it onto their plates, I stuck out my chest and said, "Look at that, Reggie, look at that food. You sure don't get anything like that in baseball."
And very softly, he turned to me and he said, "Ahmad, in baseball, we can afford to pay for our own food."