Professional athletes make a lot of money. Transformational money. Enough money to house, feed and educate many future generations of their family. Think Rich Uncle Pennybags in Monopoly. That’s right, flush with cash.
How they choose to spend it isn’t quite as uniform. Like in all facets of society, there are generous people and stingy people. But when an athlete is in the generous mood, it can be quite the sight because they’re capable of making things happen the common working man can only think about.
There was a fascinating column in USA Today earlier this week about Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel, the former Cy Young award winner.
He is beginning his first season with the White Sox after signing with them as a free agent. And apparently, Keuchel was looking for a way to get to know people at all levels of the organization, not just the guys sitting next to him in the clubhouse.
So, Kuechel decided to throw a party. He invited every White Sox Major Leaguer, plus clubhouse attendants, trainers, equipment managers, secretaries, bat boys, the entire coaching staff and front office to dinner.
“Well, contrary to popular belief, numbers don’t tell the whole story,” White Sox vice president Ken Williams told USA Today. “There is a human element to this game. There is a very real leadership and motivational component. And presence will always remain something that is very hard to quantify. You know it when you see it. And this guy has got it.’’
When the head count was complete, once you threw the plus-ones and children into the equation, there were 125 mouths to feed. And Keuchel took them to a pricey steakhouse near the team’s spring training site in Scottsdale, Ariz.
And it cost Keuchel $25,000. You might ask, how could he afford that? Here’s your answer: He signed a three-year, $55 million deal with the team in the off season. So that’s just over $18 million annually or $346,000 a week. But that’s really not the point.
“Man, that was unbelievable,’’ White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson told USA Today. “That definitely helps team chemistry, letting you know the bond we have, and that we’re cool with each other. It says a lot about the man for doing that.’’
“I just think it was a good opportunity to get to know some of the guys away from the field,” Keuchel told MLB.com. “You go on throughout your day, sometimes it’s hard to put a face to a name or a name to a face. And it was just nice to kind of get everybody out together.”
His original thought was to just invite pitchers and catchers. But then he was caught up in the wave.
“But then I was like, well, I don’t really know a whole lot of people, so let’s get to know some of these Minor League guys and just kind of give them a taste of what a big league dinner is all about,” Keuchel said.
The night began with a toast delivered by Keuchel’s mother. And she got right to the point.
“Playoffs or die, (expletive)!’’
The restaurant had almost a week’s notice to prepare. They offered a smaller menu to better handle the crowd and Keuchel provided an open bar and all the wine anyone wanted to drink.
Other pro athletes have been known for their generosity. Aaron Rodgers bought his offensive linemen 55-inch LED television. Soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo gifted $10,000 watches. And in 2007, Tom Brady bought his linemen Audi SUVs that cost around $43,000 each.
When the time and the mood are right, there’s no telling how generous an athlete can be with their teammates. But what set Keuchel’s gift apart was that he extended it to many others in the organization.
“That was super cool,’’ starter Lucas Giolito told USA Today. “I mean, this wasn’t a team dinner, it was an organizational dinner. I’ve never seen anything like that in my experience in professional baseball. He sent a message that guys being close off the field, as well as on it, can go a long way.’’
This is an important season for the White Sox. They’ve been to the playoffs only once since winning the 2005 World Series. And management seemingly is all in this season, the signing of Keuchel, Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Abreu the centerpieces in a winter of investment nearing $270 million.
“I tell guys that reaching the postseason is the most seducing feeling you’ll ever get,’’ Keuchel said. “Once you get one playoff experience in, it’s addicting. I’ve made the playoffs four of the last five years. I told (GM) Rick Hahn I personally don’t plan on breaking that percentage.’’
And in the process of trying to build rapport for the long season, Keuchel decided to devote one really special night to show everyone in the White Sox organization just how happy he is to be there.
“It was a great evening,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria told the Chicago Tribune. “Everybody shared their thankfulness that he … and his family would take the time to be part of the whole organization, getting us together and embracing the White Sox family. He’s been around, he’s done some really good things. I have never seen that before, but it worked very well with everyone and I think everybody appreciated it.”