You can't change a cheapskate

KEVIN COWHERD

March 02, 1992|By KEVIN COWHERD

I see where the average salary of a baseball player is now $1 million, which should have every mom and dad in the country throwing batting practice to their kids from dawn to dusk.

Still, it's depressing to think that a .250-hitting shortstop can make that much money while you and I bust our . . . well, you bust your hump, anyway . . . for a heck of a lot less.

Of course, baseball players aren't the only ones making big bucks these days. I read somewhere that Sam Donaldson makes a million dollars a year and (this is the part I like) is hacked off that he's not getting a raise.

Now, I happen to think Sam Donaldson is very good at what he does, which is badgering politicians and world leaders and asking unsettling questions of airhead celebrities.

Sam Donaldson is the kind of person who, in the middle of an interview with Roseanne Arnold and that goofy husband of hers, will suddenly narrow his eyes and say: "Look, what the hell is wrong with you two?!"

So Sam is OK in my book. But, still. A million bucks a year?! I wonder if he ever starts laughing himself silly at 3 in the morning and calls his business manager and cackles: "They're paying me how much?!"

(Look, I don't even want to think about what a Michael Jordan makes between his salary and endorsements. That would be way too depressing. Especially with me on my way to catch that sale on Cheez Whiz at the Giant.)

You know a funny thing about people who make a lot of money? Some of them are the cheapest people you'll ever meet, the kind who'll order a dozen bagels at the bakery and then bark to the woman behind the counter: "WHAT?! THREE BUCKS?! NO WAY!" and storm out.

True story: In a former life, I was a sportswriter who spent many years covering Major League Baseball and spring training in Florida.

One day the manager of this one team invited me to dinner, along with a couple of other writers.

He took us to this real fancy place on the waterfront, which was way out of our league price-wise, as we were all making about the same salary as an eighth-grader with a paper route.

But we were embarrassed to say anything because we were all young and relentlessly determined to appear cool.

Plus we were all silently praying that this big-shot manager, who had just signed a new contract for around $500,000 a year, would pick up the check.

Anyway, we had a nice meal, complete with cocktails and a couple of bottles of wine -- which, by the way, were ordered by the manager.

Now the waitress brings the check (which is a killer) and she leaves it in the middle of the table.

And this big-shot manager, he doesn't move a muscle to pick it up.

In fact, for a moment I was tempted to stand and ask if there was a doctor in the house, as it appeared the manager was suffering from total paralysis of the upper body.

So now it's slowly dawning on the three writers that we are in deep doo-doo, as we are going to have to pay for this very pricey meal ourselves and justify the whole thing on our expense accounts.

Filling out an expense account is, by and large, an exercise in fiction. Armed with a few receipts, even the most dull-witted reporter can author an intricate (but believable) account of how he or she spent company money.

But even the most dull-witted editor tends to flag a $70 meal, receipt or no receipt.

Nevertheless, we apparently had no choice in the matter. Here I was sticking those little ketchup packets in my pocket for lunch the next day, and this big-shot manager was staring at the check and saying: "Let's see . . . who had the scampi?"

Anyway, since all the exits were covered and there was no way to make a run for it, we all chipped in with Mr. Big Spender and paid the check.

As we were walking out, the waitress took me aside and told me this manager was notorious for being cheap.

"He throws nickels around like they're manhole covers," she whispered. "All the waitresses hate him."

It was at this point that I introduced myself as a reporter.

"Can I ask you a personal question?" I said.

"Sure," she said.

"You got any more of those little ketchup packets?"

Yeah, I bet this waitress wasn't exactly dabbing her eyes with a tissue when I walked out.

Poor guys can make your life hell, too.

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