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THE FIRST TO BE FREE
Leigh Montville
April 16, 1990
IN 1976, BASEBALL'S FIRST FREE AGENTS LANDED THE BIG, BIG MONEY. LUCKY GUYS. THEY WERE SET FOR LIFE. OR WERE THEY?
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April 16, 1990

The First To Be Free

IN 1976, BASEBALL'S FIRST FREE AGENTS LANDED THE BIG, BIG MONEY. LUCKY GUYS. THEY WERE SET FOR LIFE. OR WERE THEY?

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Grich became a free agent again after the 1981 season. Again, he was coming off a good year. Again, he was there with the bucket. It was raining even harder. Again, the Angels paid—this time $4 million over four years.

"I manage my finances by myself now," he says. "That's the one thing I do. I've been stung a couple of times, but I've made some good deals too. Especially real estate. Here in Long Beach."

Grich has been retired for three years. On this day, he thinks he will play golf. Maybe nine holes. Maybe 18. Maybe just hit some balls. On the weekend he will go skiing at Mammoth Mountain. Which car should he drive? He has three Porsches and two Mercedes parked in his garage. He has one friend who says that Grich should at least get a paper route to give himself a little discipline. He has another friend who owns a food-brokerage business and wants to make him a marsh mallow salesman. Nothing heavier. Only marshmallows. In August 1987, Grich went with a friend on a trip to London to see the Rams play the Broncos in an NFL exhibition game. From there, they were off to play golf in Scotland at Troon, Turnberry and Prestwick. Then they went to Nice to parasail and on to Lake Geneva to water-ski. Then they went to Monte Carlo. Grich won $2,000 at the blackjack tables to help pay for the trip.

Divorced since the early days of his baseball career, he sometimes thinks he would like to marry again and start a family. Then again, he does have other things to do.

"I have a goal," Grich says.

Yes?

"I want to play Golf Digest's 100 Best Courses in America."

Yes?

"I'm at 27."

Isn't this the way we expected it to be, once the floodgates of free agency had opened? Take off that baseball suit. Put on that bathing suit. So much money. The average salary in baseball in 1976 was $52,300; that first class of 24 free agents averaged $200,696, and that included a few guys like Royle Stillman, who signed with the White Sox for $25,000. For those at the head of the class, the money seemed so great that the operative term was Set For Life. "Look at these guys: They're Set For Life." The game, we suspected, would begin to spin out an unending line of still-young retirees with no particular-place to go. Free men. Free time.

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