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The day is no different from all the other days. Bobby Grich has options. This is no blue Monday. This is no hump-day Wednesday, not even a Thank-God-It's Friday. For Grich, this is a Saturday. The calendar does not exist. No matter that the rest of the world is at work. No matter that the rush-hour report on traffic from the Action Eye says that all freeways are clogged, everywhere. Saturday. Every day is Saturday.
"People are going to just hate me when they read this," the 41-year-old former second baseman says in his house in Long Beach, Calif., "but there are days when my biggest decision is about which coffee shop I'm going to visit for breakfast. There are a lot of days like that."
Golf today? Perhaps. His handicap is down to a three. He is going to play in the State Amateur. Skiing? He has become quite good at skiing. He travels every year to the Canadian Rockies to take a helicopter to those hard-to-reach virgin slopes. He also skis the celebrity circuit, head-to-head with those sitcom actors and Vegas voices. Fishing? He could catch another marlin, but where would he put it? On the rec-room wall? It would have to be a big one to replace the marlin that's already there. Travel is always a possibility, but—let's see—he has already been to Europe five times, Hawaii seven times, the Caribbean four times, Australia and New Zealand.... What to do?
"You know what's good?" he asks. "I have a houseboat in Lake Powell, in Utah," he answers. "You hitch up a little water-ski boat, maybe bring along a couple of jet skis. Throw in some food, some beer and a bikini. Just pull up the anchor, go to a cove somewhere and disappear for a week."
He is free. Isn't that the proper descriptive word? He is a free man, and every day is an ultimate 24-hour stretch of free time. He does not work. He does not think he ever will work another day in his life. Free. He does have an office, a little home office with a desk. The most prominent object on the desk is a book entitled The Short Way to Lower Scoring, by golfer Paul Runyan and Dick Aultman. Free.
For 17 years, Grich played major league baseball. When he began, in 1970, he had only the fuzziest ideas about lives of luxury, lives of leisure. After all, who made that kind of money from baseball? Maybe a Joe DiMaggio or a Ted Williams moved along to a comfortable retirement, but the rest of the players on the field eventually went back into their communities and found the time clock along with everyone else. In 1970, nobody had an agent. Oh, maybe a few big stars did, mostly to handle endorsements, but the ordinary players did their own simple haggling with management over their five-figure contracts—mostly low-five-figure contracts.
In 1976, the sky opened and money started to fall in a rain that has become heavier and heavier with each passing season. In the fall of that year, the first 24 free agents hit the market, freed by the 1976 court decision in the case of pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally. Each free agent could be drafted by as many as 12 teams. Bidding began. Grich was there with a bucket.
"The timing was perfect," he says. "It couldn't have been better. I'd played five years [at second base and shortstop with the Baltimore Orioles], so I was just hitting my prime. I was coming off my best season. I hadn't signed. I couldn't have planned it better."
He eventually agreed to a five-year contract with the California Angels for a total of $1.5 million. In the previous season with the Orioles, he had earned $68,000. Signing with the Angels allowed him to return home to Long Beach and become a commuter from the neighborhood where he was raised. The new contract gave him more money for playing baseball than he had ever dreamed existed. It was almost a joke. When the Angels played at Baltimore, he was booed, and he understood why people were mad. Injured while lifting an air conditioner before the 1977 season even began, he started slowly and ultimately missed the final two thirds of the schedule after undergoing back surgery. He was booed at Anaheim Stadium. Again, he understood why people were mad. All that money.
Weren't the people right? There were nights in the following years when he would pound his glove and look at the field and the stands and the sky and think his secret thought: Didn't anyone know? He would pay the owners to play this game, to be where he was. Maybe he wouldn't pay to play every day, seven days a week, but he would pay for, say, four out of seven. Yes, he would.