It's about one billion feet to the moon sometimes. That's 200,000 miles multiplied by 5,280 feet in a mile. My calculator is still wheezing from its go-round with the IRS, but if you punch in those numbers you come out with 1.056 billion. I bring this up because Mike Schmidt, the Phillies' marvel, showed up on my television last winter talking about how much a billion dollars is.

At the time, he had the Phillies in a sweat about signing him. He's the best baseball player alive, a Gold Glove third baseman who hits 40 home runs and pledges allegiance to 7-Up. Kidding around, he told the television he was conservative in his demands. He wasn't looking for, ho-ho, a billion-dollar contract.

"You know how much a billion is?" Schmidt asked, and I thought, sure, it is Pete Rose's hat size.

"If you piled a billion Whoppers on top of each other, they would reach from here to the moon," Schmidt said.

Foot-long hot dogs, maybe, but not cheeseburgers, even with pickles and onions. Schmidt settled with the Phillies for something like $1 million a year (at three inches a Whopper, that comes to 50 miles worth). The Phillies threw in incentive clauses, among them one that pays Schmidt $200,000 if he is the league's most valuable player (enough Whoppers to reach to the top of Mount Everest and down again).

For reasons lost in antiquity, but having to do with the owners' allegations that incentive clauses promote selfish behavior, baseball once had a rule against such bonuses. One suspects the rule mainly had a lot to do with cheapness and slave labor. The maverick owner, Charlie Finley, made a big deal once out of tearing up a pitcher's contract after a no-hitter and giving him a new one for more money as a way around the no-bonus rule.

Whether officially rescinded or what, the rule no longer applies in these days when players hold the hammer. Everybody is getting incentive clauses, just the way the president of Mobil Oil does. Tim Raines of Montreal can get $50,000 extra, based on a formula involving all-star and MVP voting. The Yankees' Dave Righetti will get $65,000 more if he's an all-star and wins the Cy Young award.

Only a few are so blessed as to have spent time in Louisville, so I'll tell you about Harry Hoopster (clever pseudonym), who once played pro basketball for the Kentucky Colonels of the dear, departed ABA.

The Colonels' owner was an heiress in a family that had owned the Hope Diamond. She saved a front-row seat for her champion show dog, Ziggy, and they often shared an ice cream cone, Ziggy alternating slurps with his mistress. Some people say Ziggy had nothing to do with working up Hoopster's incentive clauses, but I'm not sure.

Because Hoopster had the disconcerting habit of not attending games out of town, the Colonels paid him $50 every time he caught the plane. Harry said he just hated to fly. For $50, he wasn't so afraid. Much of the loot went to numbing his mind against the fear, however, and sometimes Harry couldn't walk straight upon landing, let alone jump very high.

So the Colonels paid him $12 for every rebound he got in road games.

Hoopster's career took a bad turn one Christmas when he bought his wife a can opener and she tried to shave him with it. Shows the perils of all that loose spending money.

Wayne Gretzky says he doesn't want incentive clauses. They pay me to do a job, he said, and I'll do it as well as I can because I owe them that. A noble sentiment. It also goes against the grain of human nature. Yards would never get mowed if there wasn't a beer waiting at the end. For every Gretzky, there are a hundred fellows like Blaine Stoughton of the Hartford Whalers, a winger who gets $40,000 extra if he scores 40 goals.

"I might be able to produce more goals on a team that wins more consistently," Stoughton has said, "but I like being the shooter on this Heavenly Incentives: Sky's No Limit as Stars Aspire to the Moon By Dave Kindred Washington Post Staff Writer

It's about one billion feet to the moon sometimes. That's 200,000 miles multiplied by 5,280 feet in a mile. My calculator is still wheezing from its go-round with the IRS, but if you punch in those numbers you come out with 1.056 billion. I bring this up because Mike Schmidt, the Phillies' marvel, showed up on my television last winter talking about how much a billion dollars is.

At the time, he had the Phillies in a sweat about signing him. He's the best baseball player alive, a Gold Glove third baseman who hits 40 home runs and pledges allegiance to 7-Up. Kidding around, he told the television he was conservative in his demands. He wasn't looking for, ho-ho, a billion-dollar contract.

"You know how much a billion is?" Schmidt asked, and I thought, sure, it is Pete Rose's hat size.

"If you piled a billion Whoppers on top of each other, they would reach from here to the moon," Schmidt said.

Foot-long hot dogs, maybe, but not cheeseburgers, even with pickles and onions. Schmidt settled with the Phillies for something like $1 million a year (at three inches a Whopper, that comes to 50 miles worth). The Phillies threw in incentive clauses, among them one that pays Schmidt $200,000 if he is the league's most valuable player (enough Whoppers to reach to the top of Mount Everest and down again).

For reasons lost in antiquity, but having to do with the owners' allegations that incentive clauses promote selfish behavior, baseball once had a rule against such bonuses. One suspects the rule mainly had a lot to do with cheapness and slave labor. The maverick owner, Charlie Finley, made a big deal once out of tearing up a pitcher's contract after a no-hitter and giving him a new one for more money as a way around the no-bonus rule.

Whether officially rescinded or what, the rule no longer applies in these days when players hold the hammer. Everybody is getting incentive clauses, just the way the president of Mobil Oil does. Tim Raines of Montreal can get $50,000 extra, based on a formula involving all-star and MVP voting. The Yankees' Dave Righetti will get $65,000 more if he's an all-star and wins the Cy Young award.

Only a few are so blessed as to have spent time in Louisville, so I'll tell you about Harry Hoopster (clever pseudonym), who once played pro basketball for the Kentucky Colonels of the dear, departed ABA.

The Colonels' owner was an heiress in a family that had owned the Hope Diamond. She saved a front-row seat for her champion show dog, Ziggy, and they often shared an ice cream cone, Ziggy alternating slurps with his mistress. Some people say Ziggy had nothing to do with working up Hoopster's incentive clauses, but I'm not sure.

Because Hoopster had the disconcerting habit of not attending games out of town, the Colonels paid him $50 every time he caught the plane. Harry said he just hated to fly. For $50, he wasn't so afraid. Much of the loot went to numbing his mind against the fear, however, and sometimes Harry couldn't walk straight upon landing, let alone jump very high.

So the Colonels paid him $12 for every rebound he got in road games.

Hoopster's career took a bad turn one Christmas when he bought his wife a can opener and she tried to shave him with it. Shows the perils of all that loose spending money.

Wayne Gretzky says he doesn't want incentive clauses. They pay me to do a job, he said, and I'll do it as well as I can because I owe them that. A noble sentiment. It also goes against the grain of human nature. Yards would never get mowed if there wasn't a beer waiting at the end. For every Gretzky, there are a hundred fellows like Blaine Stoughton of the Hartford Whalers, a winger who gets $40,000 extra if he scores 40 goals.

"I might be able to produce more goals on a team that wins more consistently," Stoughton has said, "but I like being the shooter on this team. Maybe I should pass more . . .But I'm selfish. I like to shoot."

Hard to score 40 without shooting, eh, guy?

The Sporting News is full of such stories, which leads one to wonder if pro athletes get a bonus for tucking themselves in at night.

In his million-dollar deal, Bill Madlock of the Pirates gets $125,000 if he weighs less than 206.

My favorite bounty hunter is Rafael Ramirez. He's the Atlanta Braves' shortstop who led the league in errors last season.

The Braves will give Ramirez a $5,000 bonus if, this year, he wins the Gold Glove as the league's best fielding shortstop.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that sports columnists, like sports heroes, are getting rich in the free agent market. They are lured to new jobs with six-figure deals. One fellow is said to get $600,000 for five years, with a car and country club membership thrown in.

I haven't read of these columnists demanding incentive clauses, but I have given it some thought.

If I report to work weighing less than 185, I want an extra 40 cents for a mid-morning Tab.

Too long has The Washington Post held tight the purse strings, although the bosses well know my potential. If I win an Oscar next year, I want $1 and a box of pens that don't leak in my shirt pocket.

The days of exploitation are over. For winning a Nobel Prize, in any category, I want $5.37 (three Whoppers with cheese, enough to reach from hand to mouth) along with the right to use an unlimited number of commas in my column and, this is non-negotiable, a new wheel in my desk chair. team. Maybe I should pass more . . .But I'm selfish. I like to shoot."

Hard to score 40 without shooting, eh, guy?

The Sporting News is full of such stories, which leads one to wonder if pro athletes get a bonus for tucking themselves in at night.

In his million-dollar deal, Bill Madlock of the Pirates gets $125,000 if he weighs less than 206.

My favorite bounty hunter is Rafael Ramirez. He's the Atlanta Braves' shortstop who led the league in errors last season.

The Braves will give Ramirez a $5,000 bonus if, this year, he wins the Gold Glove as the league's best fielding shortstop.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that sports columnists, like sports heroes, are getting rich in the free agent market. They are lured to new jobs with six-figure deals. One fellow is said to get $600,000 for five years, with a car and country club membership thrown in.

I haven't read of these columnists demanding incentive clauses, but I have given it some thought.

If I report to work weighing less than 185, I want an extra 40 cents for a mid-morning Tab.

Too long has The Washington Post held tight the purse strings, although the bosses well know my potential. If I win an Oscar next year, I want $1 and a box of pens that don't leak in my shirt pocket.

The days of exploitation are over. For winning a Nobel Prize, in any category, I want $5.37 (three Whoppers with cheese, enough to reach from hand to mouth) along with the right to use an unlimited number of commas in my column and, this is non-negotiable, a new wheel in my desk chair.