Volume 74, Number 35 | January 05 - 11, 2005

Talking Point

Simple arithmetic

By Jerry Tallmer

It’s a matter of simple arithmetic.

First, George W. Bush said nothing for three days, from his vacation retreat in Crawford, Texas, while the count of those swallowed by the water rose up toward 100,000 and beyond. But that was not too startling. It had, after all, taken him three days to get to Ground Zero and become a hero (a reelectable hero) three-going-on-four years ago.

On the third day, lo and behold, the president of the United States broke his silence to (a) regret the “loss and grief in the world that is beyond our comprehension” and (b) defend with some heat against the charge that an administrative aide’s commitment of $15 million from this country to assuage that loss and grief had been a bit, well, stingy. Mingy. Cheapskate.

Within 24 further hours, the $15 million had been upped to $35 million (half of what the Republicans will spend on this second Bush enthronement). And by New Year’s Day the ante had been upped by a factor of 10, to $350 million.

Okay. Here’s where the arithmetic comes in.

That same weekend the New York Yankees finally, or almost finally, after six months of maneuvering, clinched the deal that would bring Randy Johnson, a 6-foot-10 left-handed Cy Young Award-winning pitcher known as the Big Unit, from Arizona to the Bronx, in an arrangement that will bring Johnson $16 million a year for two years and the projected total payroll to be met next season by Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner to something like $222 million. (The return of first baseman Tino Martinez, also secured last weekend, is a chip shot $3 million of that total.)

Am I crazy, Messrs. Bush and Steinbrenner, but isn’t $222 million something like two-thirds of the total dollars (so far) dedicated to assuaging the “loss and grief in the world that is beyond our comprehension”?

I mean, like a great many other Americans, I am shamefully more interested in the Big Unit than in what will range from 200,000 to a million or more other, generally shorter, more anonymous units, most of them dead, on the other side of the globe. As a congenital Yankee-hater, I’ll probably be rooting against Mr. Johnson, especially when the Yankees play the Red Sox — or, God bless us, the New York Mets. But it might be interesting, for all that, if the two Georges, Steinbrenner and Bush, took it into their heads to match all the salaries of all of Major League Baseball, players, coaches, managers, umpires, executives — and journalists — and packed it off over the waters to make the arithmetic of this country look a little less leaky.

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