The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

April 29, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Smith, Austin set to make the big bucks

MORGANTOWN — This is the week Geno Smith’s and Tavon Austin’s lives changed.

They became NFL players, millionaires.

It wasn’t always this way, stepping off a college campus and being handed a lifetime’s worth of earnings, and we’re going to tell you today about what it was like once upon a time for an amateur athlete turning professional.

It’s a story of how times change, not only in terms of dollars and cents but in terms of dollars and sense.

Sometimes, even people were different.

There was a time, you see, when people actually were different.

Let’s go back almost 60 years, to 1955, and use a baseball player, not a football player, coming out of college with as much potential as both Geno Smith and Tavon Austin, maybe even more, as an example.

We use baseball because at that time it, not the NFL, was the true American game, and we use this athlete because he was one who would claim greatness.

His name was Sandy Koufax.

This is the story of his signing with the then Brooklyn Dodgers, the story as it was told publicly for the first time in the May 15, 1967, edition of Sports Illustrated in a first-person article by the great general manager, Buzzie Bavasi, who signed Koufax.

It is a tale that is hard to believe today.

Al Campanis, who would grow to have his own problems in the waning days of his career, discovered Koufax when he was pitching at the University of Cincinnati and asked him to come to the Brooklyn front office with his father to talk about signing.

The New York Giants, Boston Braves and, yes, the Pittsburgh Pirates had also scouted him and liked him, but he still had no offer on the table from anyone. This was in the pre-draft days, when clubs bid against each other to sign prospects.

This was how Bavasi wrote about it in an article ghosted by Jack Olsen:

“We met in my office: Sandy, a big, handsome kid right off the campus of the University of Cincinnati; his father, Irving, a lawyer and a straight shooter; Campanis and me. There was no horsing around. I asked Mr. Koufax how much money they wanted. He said $14,000 plus the usual minimum salary of $6,000.”

Shall we stop there for a moment?

Koufax wanted a $14,000 bonus and $6,000 a year.

That’s pocket change today for Tavon Austin.

Last year, Andrew Luck received $22 million for four years from the Indianapolis Colts as the NFL’s first-round draft pick and Robert Griffin III was given $21,119,098 for four years with the Washington Redskins.

Neither had any more experience behind them than Koufax.

Anyway, Bavasi magnanimously agreed to those terms.

“I said fine, and we all made a handshake deal,” Bavasi wrote. “And that’s about all there was to it, except that I told them that I had no room on the roster and asked them to wait for a contract until I could unload somebody to make room.”

Irving and Sandy Koufax agreed to that.

What no one knew was that as they were walking down the stairs in the Dodgers’ front office they would run into Pirates scout Ed McCarrick, a former Dodger employee who often stopped by to “shoot the breeze,” as Bavasi put it.

“Ed sees the father and son going down our stairs and he panics,” Bavasi wrote. “He figures that Sandy Koufax is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a scout, and after some fast action on the long-distance phone, Ed gets in touch with the Koufax family and tells them that Branch Rickey of the Pirates has authorized him to offer $5,000 more than Brooklyn’s top bid, whatever it is.”

Bavasi figures he’s lost Sandy Koufax.

“Well, I don’t have to tell you what most people would have done, especially since Sandy would have preferred pitching for Rickey and the Pirates because he had a much better chance of breaking into their rotation,” Bavasi wrote.

But it didn’t happen.

“Mr. Koufax and his son never hesitated for a second; they told Ed that they had a deal with the Dodgers. I found out later that John Quinn, who was then general manager of the Braves, had offered Sandy $30,000 to sign, and the Koufaxes turned down that one, too.”

The Koufaxes turned down more than double the money because they had agreed to a handshake deal.

Of course, Koufax went on to become a Hall of Fame pitcher, but more importantly by then had proven himself a Hall of Fame person.

Geno Smith and Tavon Austin will get far better offers than Koufax and they won’t be put in the moral dilemma he was, but as life goes on you expect such situations will face both, be it when Nike and Reebok come their way or in any other business opportunities with which they are presented.

You hope they will be able to handle them as well as Koufax.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

1
Text Only
Bob Herzel
  • HERTZEL COLUMN- WVU faithful again have a reason to root against Vick

    It would be one final indignation, that’s what it would be if Michael Vick were to beat out Geno Smith and win the starting quarterback job with the New York Jets.

    April 23, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Luck open to WVU fans’ suggestions

    West Virginia’s fans have spoken, perhaps not verbally but nonetheless have had their voices heard, over the past few years as attendance has fallen at the Mountaineers’ football and basketball games.

    April 22, 2014

  • Mountaineers ready for slate of rivalry games

    Looking to put together a late-season run to get into the NCAA championships, West Virginia faces a pair of midweek rivalry games in a crucial five-game week coming off winning two of three games at Oklahoma.

    April 22, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Summer, Alabama will be used to get WVU’s mind right

    The ink had barely dried on the final reports out of West Virginia’s spring practice when thoughts turned forward toward the lazy, hazy days of late summer, days that will bring us into football season with a game that can either change the entire image of WVU football or sour it even further.

    April 21, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Watson tees off a new century at The Greenbrier

    You knew this was going to be one of those unpredictable, memorable days when you drove into the Greenbrier Resort and headed to the Old White Golf Course and found the best parking place in the joint.
    As Bob Uecker would say, right there in the front rooooow.

    April 20, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Under pressure, NCAA decides to change rules

    At first glance, it appears that they do not go hand-in-hand, a pair of rules changes the NCAA’s Legislative Council approved this week, sending them off for what seems to be smooth sailing toward becoming rules.

    April 18, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU gymnast hopes to stick her final landing

    The reaction, one suspects, was the same as most people who see either a picture of West Virginia University gymnast Hope Sloanhoffer or meet her for the first time in person — a quick double take, maybe even stumbling over the first few words of an introduction.

    April 17, 2014

  • Bussie looks forward to WNBA

    On Tuesday, the weather turned cold, the wind blew and amongst the raindrops that fell a few snowflakes fluttered quietly to Earth.
    It was as if it was a celebration of Asya Bussie being drafted on Monday night by the Minnesota Lynx, champions of the WNBA, with the third selection of the second round, the 15th overall pick of the draft.

    April 16, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Jackie Robinson’s impact extends beyond baseball

    It is Jackie Robinson Day as I sit here writing this today, and I feel as though I am doing it in a world gone mad.
    Every player in Major League Baseball wore No. 42 on Tuesday in honor of Jackie Robinson, the man who took racism’s best shot and integrated the game that was known then as the National Pastime even though it was as white a Ku Klux Klan robe.

    April 16, 2014

  • Gyorko, Padres agree to extension

    Jedd Gyorko, who hasn’t hit much of anything with a .178 start on this season, hit the jackpot on Monday, signing a six-year contract extension with the San Diego Padres for $35 million with a one-year club option at $13 million.

    April 15, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads