According to a recent survey by Sport magazine, 61 major league baseball players dominate the list of the 100 richest professional athletes. The roster of baseball millionaires includes future Hall of Fame candidates such as Mike Schmidt and Don Mattingly. It also includes 50 or more players who will be able to gain access to the Hall only by paying the admission fee. Compared with salaries of outstanding players of earlier years -- the '40s and '50s and even the '60s and '70s -- the annual earnings of the so-called "superstars" of the '80s represent opulence personified.

To make the point, let's compare the paychecks of some of the millionaires with the peak earnings of one of the legends of the game -- Joe DiMaggio. The average baseball buff pencils in DiMaggio's name as the center fielder for his all-time lineup, choosing the Yankee Clipper over such awesome competition as Tris Speaker, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider. Fans over 45 can recall DiMaggio's graceful, loping pursuit of fly balls and his menacing, widespread stance that produced a .325 career batting average. No one can deny his greatness. Yet, despite these impeccable credentials, the $125,000 that DiMaggio earned in 1951 (his peak salary year), even when adjusted to $578,000 to reflect inflation (1987 vs. 1951), falls far short of $1 million.

By applying this inflationary adjustment to DiMaggio's peak salary, we can make some astonishing comparisons. For example, Jim Rice's salary ($2,412,500) is four times greater than DiMaggio's hypothetical 1987 salary. This suggests the absurd theory that his skills are four times greater. How about Ron Cey? "The Penguin" has performed steadily, but not brilliantly, over a 14-year major league career. To compare him to DiMaggio would be ludicrous. Yet Cey's 1987 salary is $1,187,000, double DiMaggio's inflated earnings. Even Julio Cruz, a .215 hitter in 1986, tops DiMaggio's adjusted peak salary. Cruz was guaranteed $800,000 by the White Sox in 1987, yet he failed to survive spring training.

The salaries of baseball players and other professional athletes have reached irrational levels. We can only hope they have peaked and that there will be a return to sanity. Jack Dale Vienna

What Price Winning?

If I understand John Feinstein's column on the recent defeats of the U.S. Davis Cup teams, throwing rackets, shouting obscenities, insulting umpires, kicking chairs and generally embarrassing the United States in the eyes of the world is okay as long as we win Davis Cup matches. In other words, according to Feinstein, winning is the important thing. The manner in which our players conduct themselves while winning is irrelevant. R.E. Allison Washington

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