So I was reading an article in the NY Times today discussing the recent comments Dwayne Wade and Ray Allen made about the possibility of being compensated for playing in the Olympics. I found the topic surprisingly thought-provoking. There are issues of amateur vs. pro athletics, patriotism, and injury risk to discuss. But those don't relate to A's baseball. One aspect that resonated with my strongly as an A's fan was the reminder of just how rich and famous pro athletes are in modern sports.
It's so commonplace to talk about salaries that sometimes I find myself forgetting just how much a $5 million dollar paycheck is. It's just the norm in sports these days. But when I juxtaposed these NBA millionaires against their fellow Olympians it brought a fresh perspective. Most Olympians train as hard or harder than pros, putting in 20-40 hours a week into their chosen sport ON TOP OF having to work a day job to eke out a living. They don't get paid for their training (maybe a meager endorsement here or there) and often work a second job. For most of them, the Olympics aren’t about chasing down wealth and fame.
The heroes of baseball’s past had much more in common with the modern Olympic athlete than the modern MLB player. Most players worked other jobs in the offseason. It was easy to cheer for the hometown heroes because they really could have been your next-door neighbor, out there fighting for your city's pride.
Those times are long gone. Nowadays, young talent gets paid millions. The NY Times author, William Rhoden, points out that athletes are now career professionals. It’s as much a job as a passion.
I bring all this up because I am so proud of how the Athletics franchise seems to avoid this rampant professionalism. It’s a tradition going back the early 70’s – the hairs vs. squares matchup of the moustache, crazy nicknames A’s and the Cincinnati team so ordered they were called the Big Red Machine. The late 90’s team continued this tradition, perhaps summed up best with the iconic long-haired, tattooed image of a spartan Jason Giambi.
The A’s have always had a loose, fun-loving culture where it seems players show up just for the love of the game. As a small-market team far from the national spotlight, the clubhouse is a freer place, where athletes don’t have to be as much on guard, leery of reporters searching for scandalous headlines. We don’t sign many high paid veterans, so there’s always a young atmosphere, full of guys not yet jaded by the realities of MLB economics. It’s a major reason I follow the A’s.
I am so happy that this atmosphere seems to be stronger than ever in 2012. So often in sports your hometown team has crybaby, overpaid, irresponsible divas. Oakland seems to avoid that better than most sports teams. Yes, this obviously can turn into a rant about MannyBManny. I’m hoping for the positive. We have a fun team, let’s hope Ramirez can relax the crazy and play hard while enjoying himself, even if we wind up on the wrong side of the .500 mark.
And beyond Ramirez, let’s take a minute to thank all the players who have donned green and gold that don’t make statements like Wade and Allen, demanding compensation for what should be a privilege. So many franchises have lost or changed their identity in this new(ish) millennium. I believe the A’s aren’t one of those teams.