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FREE AGENTS BECOMING MORE CONCERNED WITH WHERE THEY PLAY THAN HOW MUCH THEY MAKE

SHARE FREE AGENTS BECOMING MORE CONCERNED WITH WHERE THEY PLAY THAN HOW MUCH THEY MAKE

A year ago the Detroit Tigers would not have dreamed of trying to give their money away.

After 103 losses, however, their priorities have changed.Now they want to shower it on players they hope can make them contenders again. Unfortunately, they haven't found very many willing to take it.

Detroit was the high bidder on the free agent sweepstakes for Kent Hrbek, Rickey Henderson and Mark Davis. None chose to call Detroit home.

The Tigers did manage to snare infielder Tony Phillips and outfielder Lloyd Moseby, but they are not the marquee names the club was hoping to sign.

The money being thrown around by baseball clubs in the last month - approaching $200 million by UPI's count - is so enormous it no longer gets a player's attention.

A club's location and contending status are now the keys in determining where athletes want to play.

It's easy to understand. What's the differece between $14 million and $15.5 million? After taxes, not much.

Look at Hrbek. He passed on Detroit's $15.5 offer to accept $14 million from Minnesota.

Why? Because he and his wife are from Minnesota. It's home. It would cost him nearly $1.5 million in taxes and moving expenses just to relocate in a wealthy suburban Detroit neighborhood.

Henderson passed on the Tigers because he's from Oakland. Pete O'Brien chose Seattle because he has family there.

Nearly all the players would prefer to live and work in California, especially since the majority of the athletes are from that state.

Unfortunately, there are only five teams from that state.

Most top free agents this winter expressed a desire to play for a team that's going to be a contender. This is generally more important to older players.

"I can't blame them," one top baseball executive said. "If you're bringing up a family, who wants to do it in some of the midwestern cities?

"With the money being paid these days, they can afford to choose where they want to live and bring up their families."

"Until this year," Detroit general manager Bill Lajoie said, "players would go wherever they could make the most money."

Money was more important in the early free agent days. An offer of $1.5 million over three years was, in percentage terms, significantly larger than $900,000 for the same period. It was 67 percent more per year - and players would move for that.

But today, the difference isn't as significant. If you grew up in poverty or even what is called `middle class,' there just isn't a great difference between $6 million and $6.6 million for three years. The total money difference is the same but the difference per year is just 10 percent.