Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Dempster Perspective

"Even more money" is a powerful magnet that pulls many to misery -- making Ryan Dempster's story worthy of note.

Dempster, a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, just signed a 4-year, $52-million contract to stay in the Windy City, rather than sign an even more lucrative offer elsewhere. He said he enjoyed playing in Chicago, enjoyed his teammates, and wanted to win a championship there. His quote:

"Was there more money on the open market?" said Dempster, who said he recieved interest from Atlanta, Toronto, the Los Angeles Dodgers and both New York teams. "I'm sure there probably was. Maybe there was five years. That's a question that I'll never be able to answer. But truthfully I don't really even care to know because I'm happy with what I have. It's more money than I could ever dream of getting when I was a kid growing up playing baseball."

Compare that to Mike Piazza's reaction back in 1998 when his career-long team (he was their 62nd round pick), offered him more money than any player at his position had earned in the history of baseball (six years, $84-million). He said he found the Dodgers' offer "insulting" and demanded to be the highest paid player in baseball history, not just the highest paid catcher, as anything less than that would be disrepectful.

My older daughter was a thoughtful 9-year-old baseball fan in 1998. She mulled Piazza's reaction and asked me, "Dad, would you have signed the 6-year deal to stay with the Dodgers?"

I remember my answer.

"6-year? Kater, I'd have signed a 100-year deal to stay. $84 million is enough money for anyone for life, especially if you're getting paid to do something you love. It would pay for mom and I to live for rest of our lives, as well as for college for you and your sister, for your kids, for your kids kids, and if invested it right, there'd still be a small fortune to pass on. Yep, if Mr. Hofstetter offered me more money than anyone had ever been paid in the history of the world for doing what I do, if I would agree to stay at NMC for six more years, I'd be eternally grateful -- not insulted. Money's only part of the question, my friend. I like the saying 'money is like oxygen -- you need some to live, but it's not the reason to live'. Piazza's forgotten that."

Piazza's indignation got him traded to the Marlins and then to the Mets, where he ultimately signed a 7-year, $91-million deal. He went on to post impressive individual stats and might make the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, to get that extra money, he damaged his Dodger legacy, ended up bouncing around five different teams, and never knew the joy of helping a team win a world series.

Ten years later, it's heartwarming to hear Dempster's different perspective on his newfound (albeit smaller than possible) incredible wealth. "I'm happy with what I have" are words to live by. They are not an invitation to complacency or mediocrity, but rather a tip of the hat to contentment and recognition that money is just part of the equasion of success. Dempster provides a teachable moment for us all -- and gives us a good reason to hope that 2009 is finally the year for the Cubbies.

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