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The Greene Line

In God We Trust

By Jamal K. Greene

If God were a baseball player, how much would He be paid?

If He quit his day job entirely and devoted all of His energies towards taking fungos in the outfield, spitting sunflower-seed projectiles on the bench, playing spades on the team bus and occasionally playing the field and taking his cuts in the batter's box, what would George Steinbrenner pay Him?

Or alternatively, what is the value of a baseball player to a baseball owner?

God would bat 1.000, field 1.000, pitch and win every game. With God on your team, you wouldn't need Jesus to be your point man. Heck, you wouldn't even need any other players, except maybe a catcher. And I guess if His first step is quick enough, He could work out the whole catcher thing Bugs Bunny style.

You wouldn't really need any other batters because you could just take eight outs each time through the lineup and win 4-0. You could win every game and every World Series.

But alas it is not that simple. If one team won all the games, baseball just wouldn't be fun anymore and the whole sport would collapse. The poor ratings of the Yankees Padres series bear witness to that.

God strategically would have to lose the appropriate number of games to maximize fan interest. Of course that would get him in trouble with Steinbrenner, since maximizing overall fan interest and maximizing the individual revenue of a big-market owner could not be more dissimilar goals.

God, as an immortal, would be supremely interested in perpetuating the game of baseball. He would see the big market-small market dichotomy as unsustainable. Maybe He would support revenue sharing and, God forbid, a salary cap.

Maybe He would decide that baseball history lies in its soul and would support de-expansion for the sake of statistical continuity. Maybe He would support Costas for commissioner, and people would have to listen because, well, He's God.

If Major League Baseball worked the way Major League Soccer and the Women's National Basketball Association worked, and player contracts were determined by the league's office, God would be the league's highest-paid player, by far.

But since the revenue He provided for His individual team would not be commensurate with His playing abilities, there is no easy answer to how much He would be paid in a competitive market. Under a salary cap, as the only necessary player on a team, He would be paid whatever the cap is, and be available to all teams equally, regardless of market size.

But would you really want Him to be your team? Sure, people would come from all over the world to see him go toe-to-toe with Ken Griffey Jr. and Mark McGwire, and the television contract would be fat, but would not the novelty wear off after a couple of years?

Don't fans, real fans, fall in love not with wins and losses but with an assortment of characters? We cry for the days of lovable losers, guys who couldn't hit your grand-mother but were your eight-year old son's hero nonetheless.

Let's face it, God would get boring.

Mike Piazza, on the other hand, would get J.P. Morgan to buy a luxury box in your stadium. You think the folks on Wall Street would want anything to do with God?

Piazza would still fill the stands, but you would have the added bonus of a having a human on your team, who could interact with other humans in interesting ways. The New York Post would still have something to write about.

You could still have your Rey Ordoez and your John Franco, and with the Promise of continued imparity in the league, your chances of winning the Series may be better than with God.

The Brewers and Pirates stay out of the money, everybody's happy.

Piazza, concerned with the wealth of his team more that the health of the league, should be paid his marginal revenue product, perhaps more so if there's a potential bidding war.

With the Mets' recent signing of Piazza to the most lucrative contract in baseball history, everyone seems to have an opinion about whether the signing is justified.

Some say cancer researchers and Peace Corps workers and inner city schoolteachers should be getting the money, not some guy in a spacesuit trying to hit a round ball with a round bat.

Enough romanticizing, I say.

If Mike Piazza leads the Mets to the play-offs and gets them lots of green and the sport of baseball folds shortly after Mets owner Nelson Doubleday's death, Double-day will have played out the real American dream.

Babe Ruth once justified the fact that he made more money than Herbert Hoover by saying that he had a better year.

By the same rationale, Mike Piazza deserves more money than the Creator. But is that really the issue?

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