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Monday, November 3, 2003
Making ends meet

By Ira Fritz
Special to Page 2

Carl Erskine, star pitcher for the old Brooklyn Dodgers, is 72 years old and hasn't faced a batter since 1959. But hearing him talk about his days as one of Da Bums, you'd think you were talking about last season, not one from over 40 years ago.

After five seasons in the majors, Erskine was still making just $18,000 a year -- about what Alex Rodriguez makes for every pitch he sees. With a salary like that, Erskine did what most major leaguers did back then: get an offseason job.

"I worked in a lumberyard for four months as a carpenter's helper when I was able to get it," Oisk, as he affectionately came to be known by the Brooklyn faithful, said. "Otherwise, I did retail sales during Christmas at Sears-Roebuck. Some guys were able to get 25 bucks to do a speaking engagement, but usually those were free."

While you won't see a high-profile athlete trying to sell you a washing machine these days, Erskine pointed out that no one was surprised to see pro athletes working in the offseason. "There was nothing for us to be embarrassed about," he said. "We all did it, we had to, that's just the way it was, no big deal."

Yeah, different time, different world. Which gets one thinking ... could today's athlete handle a job with nothing but a small paycheck and 10-minute coffee break? Let's imagine a few of today's athletes spending their offseason trying to make ends meet ...

Mike Piazza
"Yeah, I'm working at the supermarket again this winter. You got anything lined up?"

Mike Piazza
In-season job: Catcher for the New York Mets
Offseason job: Poultry Dept. at the local supermarket

Mike, wearing the tools of his trade, a white hat and white apron, stands behind the counter. A male customer is looking over the chickens on display. The store manager comes out.

Manager: Hey, Mike, listen, I need you to work tomorrow afternoon.

Mike: Tomorrow afternoon? But I'm working tonight. That'll be a day shift after a night shift. I can't do that.

Manager: Sorry, Mike, that's the way it goes. Oh, and by the way, you won't be in poultry anymore, you're in produce from now on.

Mike: Produce? But I've only worked in poultry since my first day here. I can't just suddenly switch to produce. I won't be comfortable there.

Manager: Look, Mike, let's face it, your best poultry days are behind you. It's time to move on for the good of the store.

Mike: But ... but what if I drop a honeydew or squeeze a nectarine too hard? Everyone will laugh and point at me. I'll be embarrassed.

We hear some garble come out of the manager's walkie-talkie.

Manager: Gotta go, Mike. Customers are throwing canned goods at Roger Cedeno again.

Manny Ramirez
In-season job: Outfielder for the Boston Red Sox
Offseason: Delivery man for Rocco's Pizzeria

Manny, delivering a large pie -- sausage, mushrooms and pepperoni -- stands outside the door of a home in Boston.

Manny: (through the door) Pizza man!

The door opens and Sam, an older man of about 70, is standing there.

Manny: That'll be $12.50 please.

Sam: Are you kidding me? I'm not paying for this. Your ad says if you don't deliver within 30 minutes, it's free.

Manny: How long was it?

Sam: Two days.

Manny: Oh ... well, I had a very bad sore throat so I took it home with me and went to sleep.

Sam: Why, you ...

Manny: Don't rush me. I've got my driver-in-training with me ... Pedro! Pedro?!! Come on out of the car!

Pedro: No, thanks ... I think I'll just stay in.

Jeremy Shockey
In-season job: Tight end for the New York Giants
Offseason job: Sub maker for Pepe's Deli

Jeremy is standing over a much smaller man, who lies on the floor groaning in pain. The owner, Pepe, is standing next to Jeremy.

Pepe: Jeremy, why did you just tackle Parvez?

Jeremy: Sorry, I had a flashback ... that roast beef sub he was holding looked like a football. I thought he intercepted one of Kerry Collins' passes. Guy throws so many damn picks ...

Pepe: And why is there a broken jar of mayo on the floor?

Jeremy: Oh, yeah, my bad. I dropped it. Don't know what happened. It was right in my hands ...

Pepe: You dropped two of 'em last week.

Jeremy: Well, they're shaped funny. And they're slippery. And my hands hurt. And it's cold in here. And my Uncle Phil died.

Pepe: Yeah, of a heart attack during last year's playoffs when he saw you drop that easy touchdown pass.

Jeremy: The sun was in my eyes.

Armando Benitez
In-season job: Relief pitcher for Seattle Mariners
Offseason mob: Firefighter

A small fire burns in a downtown warehouse. A routine situation, everything is under control. A fireman walks over to Armando, who is dressed in full firefighter gear.

Fireman: Armando. You warm?

Armando: Yes.

Fireman: OK, we're gonna let you finish this one off. Should be real quick and routine, get us out of here and back at the station house in no time.

Armando: No problem.

The fireman hands the hose to Armando, pats him on the arm, and walks away. Armando lifts the hose, then points it towards the warehouse. He misses the fire, hitting and wiping out a bunch of firemen standing nearby.

Fireman: Whoa, whoa! Armando! Armando! Settle down and aim for the fire!

Armando continues spraying everything in sight but the building.

Fireman: What the hell are you doing out there, Benitez?

The force of the water suddenly hits an exposed gas line nearby, causing the pipe to crack, allowing gas to reach the fire.

Fireman: My God, Benitez, what are you doing?!

Flames now burn out of control as several other firefighters run over and grab the hose out of Armando's hands. They desperately try to put out the raging inferno to save the warehouse, but it's too late, all is lost.

Latrell Sprewell
In-season job: Guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves
Offseason job: Happy Rainbow Dry Cleaners

Latrell is in the middle of a job interview with a store manager.

Manager: OK, Latrell, just looking over your resume here. Now according to your application, it says you're only willing to work 36 to 40 minutes a day?

Latrell: I'll go 42, 43 if you need me to once in a while. I'm a team player.

Manager: Are you generally on time reporting to work?

Latrell: Usually within a few days or so.

Manager: So if your shift is on a Tuesday &

Latrell: Be here Wednesday, Thursday the latest.

Manager: I see. Now, we contacted a former employer of yours, a Mr. P.J. Carlesimo. He claims you tried to strangle him once.

Latrell: He yelled at me too much.

Manager: So if I yelled at you, you might try to strangle me?

Latrell: That's correct.

Manager: Latrell, what would you say is your biggest weakness?

Latrell: (pauses) I'd have to say resisting the urge to strangle people who yell at me.

Boss: Mm-hmm. OK, well, compared to Allen Iverson, who worked here last offseason, you sound like a walk in the park. Congratulations. You start on Friday.

Latrell: Great. See you Monday.

Ira Fritz is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Page 2. He can be reached at irarfritz@yahoo.com.