Big Bucks

Grace and Zachary — ages almost 9 and 6, respectively — have pretty clear ideas of what they want to do when they grow up.

Grace, for her part, has long expressed a desire to become a teacher. Zach, meanwhile, fancies himself as a policeman, and like most boys has a certain fascination with the police and fire departments, not to mention ambulances.

Both are indeed noble professions. Where would be, of course, without educators in our schools, or the folks who keep our communities safe? But it seems like choosing a career in teaching or law enforcement is a foolish choice after examining a bit of sports news from the past couple of days.

It was announced earlier this week that the Minnesota Twins were going to sign a pitcher named Phil Hughes. Granted, the Twins need starting pitching with a certain degree of desperation, and Hughes could very well represent at least a slight upgrade over some of the arms the club ran out to the mound last season. Hughes, though, is by no means an ace, though his new contract — three years, at a total of $24 million — comes close to paying him as such.

In 2013, while playing for the New York Yankees, Hughes earned an already sizeable salary of $7,150,000. In return, the 27-year-old righthander posted a won-loss record of 4-14 and an earned-run average of 5.19. Opposing batters clearly weren’t fooled by his pitches, hitting a collective .293 against him. And yet, despite this mediocrity, Hughes earned a raise of nearly $900,000 and a multi-year deal.

OK, there’s a little more to the story than merely a bad pitcher getting big money. Hughes’ stats suffered from pitching about 60 percent of his total innings in the extremely hitting-friendly Yankee Stadium — his ERA there in ’13 was 6.32. Also, he showed some flashes of considerable talent earlier in his career. Still, I can’t help but make this perhaps unfair comparison. Let’s say I demonstrated abundant potential as a young news reporter, but never quite flourished professionally and even regressed some. Should I still be rewarded with a substantial increase in compensation, never mind a new environment in which to prove myself (or, quite possibly, mess up in as bad or worse than before)?

Of course, Hughes won’t be the last baseball player to command a far-bigger-than-deserved contract this offseason. Pitching, in particular, is at a premium, making even those of less-than-star quality attractive options to those in need. And then there are top-notch players like Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, who according to some reports is seeking a $300 million contract. I’m sorry, but from what I’ve been reading lately, Pope Francis deserves that kind of cash a heck of lot more than Robby Cano. Another bad example, perhaps, but why should any baseball player or athlete make such profoundly immense amounts of money when all they’re ultimately doing is entertaining us?

Long ago, I read a great piece somewhere about how many of even the best players in the ’40s and ’50s enjoyed different kind of relationships with fans than they do today. A substantial reason for that was because they weren’t making salaries abundantly above and beyond the folks who paid to watch them play. In fact, many held regular, blue-collar-type jobs in the offseason.

I can only hope that Grace and Zachary come to understand, as they grow older, that one doesn’t need to make anywhere close $8 million a year to be seen as a successful and important member of society. For my money, teachers and policemen, though not in the same ballpark financially — do things that are far more valuable.