Hometown loyalty only stretches as far as the nearest bank

John Steadman

December 20, 1991|By John Steadman

Tears are flowing with such rapidity that the beautiful Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul are engulfed with water. Any minute the National Guard will be piling sandbags to lessen the threat of damage in the downtown areas. It's all because Jack Morris, hometown hero, has defected for the number of financial figures that can be placed left of a decimal point.

The good citizens are distraught and crying more than Johnny Ray over what transpired. Our deepest sympathy to those in mourning over the baseball loss of Morris. But before they sob themselves to sleep at night, on sodden pillows, they need some basic lessons in:

(1) The monetary drive of professional athletes; and (2) How little attachment they have for the heartbeat of a community.

Morris' departure is merely a reminder that once again brings reality to what professional sports represent. Forget all that hokum about players being enthralled with a city. The naive public likes to believe athletes are representing cities such as Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and any other place you can name out of deep passion for where they are playing.

This is a philosophy that ownership also likes to perpetuate. Why? Because it enhances the market to sell tickets. Spectators go to games to see if their team can beat the opposition and the promoters, or owners of the various franchises, are elated to translate this feeling to all of their potential customers. It's good for business.

The unsuspecting fans, who will yell themselves hoarse in support of a team or a player, are duped into this artificial state of parochialism by their own self-deception. They beg for a simultaneous shock to the heart and pocketbook. They have only themselves to blame. Sports have become a phony symbol of fight-team-fight for the greater honor and glory of civic pride.

What nonsense. Total garbage. Players don't try any harder for one geographical location as opposed to another. Most of them will admit they don't play for the team that represents a specific city, or the uniform they are issued when they walk in the locker room door.

Money is the foremost consideration, followed by a desire for career enhancement. That's known as being a professional. There will always be remote examples of players wanting to linger in a city for some personal reason. But the $$$ figure is what's important.

In all our years around the sport -- no, this hard-hearted business -- we know of only one player, and he was a kid, who ever gave money back. And the general manager later told him it was his first such experience in 34 years of operating a minor-league baseball club.

If Morris had affection for dear old St. Paul, his hometown, and sister city, Minneapolis, then he should have proven it by signing again with the Minnesota Twins, world champions of baseball, instead of not only going to another team but to a different country.

There are countless examples of how professional athletes put love of the dollar ahead of everything else. Some have ways of making grandstand plays, to assure the citizens of this or that town, how much enjoyment and affection they hold for them. What poppycock. The fans buy all this nonsense and, oft-times, some sophomoric sports writers and broadcasters promulgate this fraudulent pennant waving that goes along with "love of team, love of city."

Professional athletes, in the true concept, are nothing more than migrant workers. Instead of going where they can pick the bean crop or bring in the apple harvest, they venture forth to play baseball, football, ice hockey, basketball, or whatever game it might be.

It would have been too much to expect Morris, in the interest of friends and next door neighbors, to remain in the Twin Cities for a slave-like $8 million for two years when the Toronto Blue Jays would give him $10.85 million. He is only expected to pitch every fourth day. Otherwise, if so inclined, he can take a seat in the dugout, or go out to the bullpen, pull his cap down over his eyes and catch a few winks. That's been done before, too.

But the grieving baseball fans of Minneapolis/St. Paul have only themselves to blame. Instead of keeping the entire concept of professional sports in focus they let themselves become emotionally involved over the heroic homecoming of a native son that proved temporary. And the Twin Cities are no different than anywhere else.

The poor abused fans should start trying to understand the bottom line . . . what professional sports truly represent. If they do, it'll save them the pain of heartbreak.

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