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Us vs. Them

I fear that there is one thing that will eventually make me stop following major league baseball.

It won't be interleague play or shaving cream shaming rituals or robot umps. It will be the amount of money that baseball players are making.

I've never been one to begrudge the money that major leaguers make. While my father openly mocks the cash players receive, I understand that they're entertainers and entertainers in successful businesses are paid handsomely. We can holler about the injustice of teachers, doctors, scientists (or, god forbid, journalists) not receiving what they're worth in comparison, but we live in an entertainment, consumer-driven society.

So although the amount of money a long-innings relief pitcher makes in one year repeatedly blows my mind as I bounce checks over a simple monthly bill, I get it. Big leaguers are paid what the market will bear. I understand.

But I don't like what it's doing to everyone else. They obviously can't handle it.

This is not a new phenomenon and not news to anyone, but the otherwordly amount of cash that major leaguers make has turned baseball players' relationship with the general public into an "Us vs. Them" schism.

I've mentioned this before on the blog. It concerns me quite a bit. I grew up during the first stirrings of free agency. The cartoons on some of the first baseball cards I ever collected mentioned the second jobs that players held down in the offseason. I actually remember a time when players were like you and I in terms of trying to make ends meet. Sure, they made a little more than the average Joe and Judy, but they were "regular guys." The money they took home certainly wasn't enough to create any drama on the scale of what just happened with Matt Kemp.

Kemp, as you know by now, generously offered $1,000 per every home run he hits to the victims of the Moore, Okla., tornado. Kemp is an Oklahoman and he also later donated $250,000 separate from the HR donation.

But because people are now completely incapable of preventing every thought in their head from spilling out and practically trampling each other to prove who can be more cynical than the next person, Kemp's spur-of-the-moment gesture -- in the wake of processing a horrific tragedy hitting close to his HOMETOWN -- was termed by some people as "not generous enough."

I was so floored and disgusted by this that I almost had to lie down to ponder what we have become.

You do not question any individual's charitable contribution.

I don't care how much money that person makes or how little that person makes, you just don't do it.

To do so is completely exposing whatever issues you have in life. I don't know if these critics have problems with money or their families or their relationships or their jobs or their ability to function in life or whatever it is. But there's obviously something there that could make them sink so low as to get out a calculator and judge some person they've never met.

But this is what huge salaries in baseball has done. We're pencil-pushing troll-auditors forever evaluating and assessing and judging.

The gulf between Us and Them is greater than ever.

We wonder why players don't take the time to sign autographs (Kemp, by the way, takes the time to sign lots of them).

This is where we are. Fan and player. We don't think of them as "us," and they don't think of us as "them." They're barely people to us and we're barely people to them.

It's class warfare and I don't want baseball to be like that. I try my very hardest to think of players -- no matter how much money that they make -- as regular people, who grew up playing baseball in a league somewhere, just like you and me, who played high school ball, just like you and me, who got nervous, dreamed big, failed classes, stared at the pretty girl -- just like you and me.

I try to keep it to "you and me," because I don't want to think of "us and them."

It's not easy when I see what some high-paid players do, but I try to think of those incidents as a bad apple in society, not "one of them" with a lot of money.

I honestly was proud when Kemp made the home run donation. I admit, for the slightest flicker of a moment I did think, "hey, wait he has only two home runs." But there is no way I was going to openly criticize someone in the fucking month of May because of that one brief thought that stayed in my head -- like it should have -- until now.

It doesn't matter that he hasn't donated as much as Kevin Durant or anyone else. He's doing something.  This isn't a contest. Stop adding numbers and go donate something.

By the way, that fancy green-bordered Kemp card was generously donated to me by Crackin' Wax, who busted out some Panini Prizm a little while ago. He also recently encountered a situation where someone was taking advantage of him giving out free cards.

Again, no good deed goes unpunished.

But anyway, I got another Panini card from Crackin' Wax.

Clayton Kershaw, as you may know, is into some very worthy causes.

In fact, he donates money for every strikeout to several nonprofit agencies.

Every time I think about it, I am amazed at his dedication to all this, while trying to compete at the highest level of baseball.

But for those of you who just want to troll, go ahead: evaluate whether he's building enough homes in Africa or helping enough disadvantaged kids in L.A.

I'm sure you'll find something you can criticize.

It's sad that this is the only way you have to feel better.


Spiegel83 said…
Posts like this is just a reminder of how great your writing skills are. This is one of the better posts I have read in a long time.

Kemp and Kershaw do a lot for charity and that makes me proud that they are the faces of our beloved franchise.

Thanks for writing this post.
I think people who were quick to judge the $1000 for each homerun didn't even stop to consider that he would almost certainly donate a bigger chunk of cash separate from that money. You are right that it's a sign of what society has become as a whole. Great post and I agree with Spiegel about it being one of the best.
Anonymous said…
Great post. I would go a step further, though... While it's clear that there's a perceived divide between "us" and "them", for a depressingly large number of people, it goes as far as "me vs. everybody else".

...and it's all very sad.
flywheels said…
Panthers WR Steve Smith (native of Los Angeles) is very active in the Charlotte, NC community and does a lot of charity work, yet the "fans" around these parts love to consistently tell him how he sucks, or how he doesn't do enough to help out. Makes me so mad to hear the so called fans criticize someone like this.

John 8:7 "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stoneat her."
Joshua Miller said…
"You do not question any individual's charitable contribution." Could not agree more.

Was it not enough when he gave a young fan battling cancer his autograph, hat, jersey and cleats?
Nick said…
Great post, I agree 100% with your sentiments. The fact that we've gotten to the point where people are starting to question donations is really quite sad to me.
mr haverkamp said…
Thoughtful post, N.O. Have had similar thoughts myself, and sometimes ponder the 'good ol days' when the statement near the end of every new contract story was something to the effect of, "terms of the deal were not released." What if they never were and the general public had no idea how athletes were compensated? There would be a lot less sports talk radio programming, that's for sure!
petethan said…
Amen, brother.
opoohwan said…
Great post. So many aspects to think about. The main thing I was thinking about was the "real people" aspect of it. On one hand, the TTM aspect of collecting is a way to bring that connection back to the game for me. Take the Dodgers for instance. For me, they are one of my biggest evil empires in baseball. But looking at Kemp respond to the fan in San Fran, it takes you away from the baseball view and to the person view. It is hard not to like the guy. The Dodgers are some of the best TTM responses I have gotten. I am rambling, but I think of it as switching gears. Professional and Personal, hating a guy at work but having a BBQ with him on the weekend. The ugliness comes when people can't break the professional view and get back to the personal point of view.
Unknown said…
Firstly, glad you got your cards in good order.

Secondly, thanks for the shout-out!

Lastly, in regards to US vs THEM, I try to do what I can to donate what I can. In fact, the situation you spoke of regarding someone taking advantage of my card giveaway program prompted me to take $1 donations to charity for my cards. As you know, I also try to incorporate charity drives with my breaks. I don't make nearly as much as THEM nor am I left with as much extra disposable income as THEM. I'm simply not capable of doing as much as them. Strip away the money and what US and THEM have in common is our effort. Like they say, every little bit helps... no matter who the helper is.
Anonymous said…
I believe the majority of people who heard about what Kemp is doing thought "that's great". I think the folks who question it are a pretty small (but not de minimis) minority. Unfortunately, these folks will also tend to be more vocal.

It does make me sad that anyone looks at another's charity and questions it. I'm raising money for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society this summer and I firmly believe every little bit helps. I wonder if those who criticize have spent any of their money to help Oklahoma.

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