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Published: Monday, 7/16/2001

McGriff values family enough to spurn cash

I'm not sure anyone knows what's real about pro sports anymore, what with conspiracy theories spreading like wildfire. We've lost sight of what's real and what's fake.

In search of the truth, I accidentally stumbled across Fred McGriff of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

McGriff, 37, has remained steadfast in his refusal to waive the no-trade clause in his contract so Tampa Bay can deal him to the Chicago Cubs for a couple of minor-league prospects.

On the surface, it doesn't make sense.

The Cubs covet McGriff because he's a great hitter and run producer (he's batting .329 with 18 homers and 59 RBI after yesterday's two-homer, four-RBI outburst against Atlanta).

Adding McGriff's left-handed bat to an already potent lineup would make the Cubs the team to beat in the National League's Central Division.

McGriff is a native of Tampa who has played for the hometown Devil Rays the last 31/2 seasons. He's adamant about not leaving Florida for baseball reasons. He likes it just fine not having to move for spring training, being able to live during the season with his wife and two children.

I automatically become leery when athletes use their families as shields when talking about their careers.

We all believed Michael Jordan three years ago when he said he was retiring from basketball so he could spend more quality time with his family.

Jordan is already back in the NBA as a team owner and he's now contemplating making a comeback as a player next season.

We've been fooled so often, we're surprised when McGriff says he doesn't want to leave his family to play in another city - and really means it.

My first thought was to follow the money. I figured McGriff was trying to leverage the Cubs for a new contract before approving the trade.

But if McGriff was using the Cubs as a wedge for more money, he wouldn't stall the deal. After all, the Cubs are guaranteeing the final year of McGriff's contract next year, $6.75 million, and perhaps another year beyond that.

The Devil Rays want to reduce payroll and play some of their young prospects. They want to start their purge by trading McGriff, the best player on the worst team in baseball.

Let's be real. McGriff (435 career homers) is a proven winner now in the twilight of his career who wants to be in Tampa Bay not because the Devil Rays are a great baseball team, but because he enjoys the quality of life there. That's more than a lot of players can say.

Curiously enough, if McGriff doesn't accept the trade, he could get squeezed in a numbers crunch in Tampa Bay and lose next year's salary if he doesn't reach 550 plate appearances in 2001.

The Cubs are willing to guarantee McGriff's 2002 salary even if he doesn't reach 550 at-bats this year.

Look, I'm not asking you to feel sorry for McGriff. He earns millions of dollars a year. He's not hurting financially.

Besides, if McGriff doesn't accept the trade, he could be playing baseball in another city next season anyway. Or he could just retire.

Just once, it's refreshing to see an athlete stand up for something he believes in.

John Harris is The Blade's sports columnist. Contact him by e-mail at jharris@theblade.com



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