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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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He nods his head at the idea. Japan would be nice.

Some of the tales from the class of '76 resemble scripts from the old television series "The Millionaire." What did the players do with the money? Fourteen years. Which guys got richer? Which guys went bust? Those early contracts now seem like a bunch of winning lottery tickets. Here's the money, kid. Let's see what you can do with it. Aren't these stories a lot like the ones you read about the local janitor who picked a succession of birth dates and then, in a dizzy moment, saw them flashed across the television screen? What happened to baseball's first lottery winners? A lot has happened.

The retired couple hovers near the table where Steve Stone sits in the sports bar he owns in Scottsdale, Ariz. Stone is engaged in a conversation, but for this couple, age has overcome any lifelong battles with shyness. They stare at Stone from a distance of two feet. His other conversation does not matter to them.

"Steve," the man interrupts, "we're all the way from Kankakee."

"Glad to have you here," Stone says.

"Came all the way down here to see some baseball."

"I'll be over in a minute. We'll talk."

"No baseball. What are these guys doing, Steve? This is terrible."

"In a minute."

"Terrible, Steve."

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