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Columnist Bruce Keidan: Penny-wise Spadafora looking for big pay day

Sunday, December 17, 2000

Selected short subjects:
Paul Spadafora took home $100,000, after expenses, for giving Billy Irwin a boxing lesson in yesterday's made-for-cable lightweight-title bout -- by far the largest paycheck of his career. He could gross half a million for a May match with Floyd Mayweather Jr., provided Mayweather gets past Diego Corrales next month.


Spadafora throws nickels around like manhole covers. At the urging of his lawyer, Mark Haak, he turned his earnings over to a brokerage firm last year. The arrangement lasted roughly a week. After which, Haak got a phone call from the champ.

"You've got to get my money out of there," said Spadafora, panic-sticken.

"What's the matter?" the lawyer asked.

"I took a drive out there," Spadafora said. "It's a little building ..."

"It's one of the largest investment firms in the country," Haak told him.

"There's no security guard," Spadafora complained.

Haak surrendered. Spadafora's money is now in a passbook account in a Downtown bank. With a security guard.

Let's clear this up once and for all: You don't lose your starting job due to an injury. You do lose it, though, if the guy who gets the chance to play in your absence happens to turn out to play better than you. Which is why Dan Kreider may be the Steelers' starting fullback even if Jon Witman comes back better than ever next year.

Speaking of lost jobs, Terry Robiskie probably lost any chance he had to remain as the Redskins' head coach when he lost to the Steelers yesterday, 24-3. But Robiskie won my heart when he kissed Stephen Alexander after the Redskins' tight end committed the fourth quarter fumble that sealed Washington's fate.

Alas, it's true: PNC Park has yet to open, but the Pirates already have spent the bulk of the windfall it will generate on player salaries and are no closer to fielding a championship team than they were ago.

And, yes, the $252 million the Texas Rangers are paying to lease the services of Alex Rodriguez for 10 years puts the Pirates even more squarely behind the 8-ball than they were before PNC was built.

But let's not be too quick to give the franchise the last rites and sell the new ballpark for scrap.

OK, the Pirates and their $50 million ballclub cannot hope to compete successfully with the Rangers, the Yankees and the rest of baseball's elite teams. The comparatively minuscule value of their local-broadcast package makes that impossible in the current environment. But remember, they're not alone. Montreal, Milwaukee, Minnesota and Kansas City are in the same canoe. Cincinnati, which only a year ago agreed to a $116 million deal to land Ken Griffey Jr., is slashing its payroll now.

At the conclusion of the 2001 season, the basic agreement between Major League Baseball and its players is scheduled to expire. There are more franchises losing more money than ever before in the history of the game. Even big-spending newcomers like Arizona are bleeding red ink. It is entirely possible that the Have Nots, voting as a bloc, will force a lockout and shut down Major League Baseball until the players agree to meaningful economic reform.

Admittedly, the club owners' track record in these matters is woeful. But because of PNC Park, we can hope. Without it, Pittsburgh would have lost the Pirates. And our chances of getting another franchise would be very slim indeed. For the moment, "winning" translates to surviving. But in a year or two, that could change. Without PNC Park, though, our fate was sealed.

My heart goes out to Jaromir Jagr, who confirmed this week he repeatedly asked the Penguins to trade him -- partly because the local news media have made his life miserable by asking him why he's not scoring more.

"That's a problem," the Sensitive One complained.

Far be it from me to suggest that a certain amount of public scrutiny goes along with a $40 million contract, but I would say this: Had Jagr been granted his wish and traded to, say, Montreal or the New York Rangers, he would have learned what it's like to be an underachieving superstar on the media griddle.

He has been treated with kid gloves here.

Life is tough, kid. And then you die.

Penguins owner Mario Lemieux will pay Penguins center Mario Lemieux $1.41 million per season, the average NHL salary, but remember: The season will be almost half finished before Mario plays.

Mario the Center won't be paid for the games he missed, so he will earn less than $1 million for the season. Making him maybe the greatest bargain in the history of professional sports.

Granted, the money is going from one pocket to the other. And granted, hockey stars don't yet earn $25.2 million per year.

But wasn't it just a week ago that one of my colleagues suggested handing Jason Kendall the keys to the city for agreeing to stick around Pittsburgh for $10 million per year.

Nice player, Jason. Good guy to have in the clubhouse. But he is not Mickey Mantle. Or Mario Lemieux.

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