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Dave Distel

Little Money for the First Mile, Less for Each Additional Mile

June 28, 1989|Dave Distel

Baseball's statistical nuts, and I confess that I may be one of them, are constantly coming up with new numerical twists on the grand old game.

The latest, which popped into the computer system one afternoon this week, was a study by a University of Dayton economics professor. This one has to do with dollar signs rather than decimal points.

Lawrence Hadley analyzed statistics as they relate to salaries and concluded that home runs are worth $4,283 per swat, hits $1,322 for even the softest broken bat bloop single and stolen bases $713 each, indicating maybe crime really doesn't pay.

I thought of these numbers later that same afternoon when I was sitting on top of a picnic table on the shores of Mission Bay with a sweating fellow named Steve McCormack. I thought also that I would not mention that baseball players earn $4,283 for trotting 360 feet or $713 for dashing 90 feet.

McCormack, you see, is a runner.

What's more, he's a darn good one.

A friend of mine, Ron Heifner, had brought him to my attention over the weekend. Heifner is also a runner, though he has dedicated his running career thus far to finding a field small enough or old enough for him to beat.

McCormack impressed him in the YMCA Breakers 10-Mile Run Saturday at Mission Bay.

"This guy," Heifner said, "has a wife and two kids and works full time and still runs 100 miles a week. Then he goes out and runs 10 miles in 51:04 on the sand . He's got to be a good story."

McCormack, who first attracted attention hereabouts while at Grossmont College, would be a good story. Thousands of San Diegans run and jog, but he has been one of the most prominent for quite some time. I figured he has probably parlayed this success to a comfortable home, maybe in Rancho Santa Fe, and a jet-setting life style going from one race or another in places such as Hawaii and Switzerland. No way this guy would need a full-time job.

I expected McCormack to show up for the interview looking like one of those Indy racers, wearing so many sponsors' patches you wonder how they can move. I expected him to have an agent and maybe a publicist.

He showed up wearing a nondescript T-shirt and plain sweat pants. Obviously, his sponsors would not be pleased.

Your sponsors, Mac, what about your sponsors?

"Big zip," he said.

What?

"If you're not running at an Olympic level, such as guys like Steve Scott, you're not making any money," he said. "The shoe companies, the mainstays of distance running, are cutting everybody out. It's not just me. I could give you name after name after name."

And so McCormack really is working a 40-hour week?

Indeed, he is liquor manager for a Clairemont drug store. He is a working stiff, a running fool and a husband and father. His wife, Theresa, a senior claims adjuster for an insurance company, jogs along--not at her husband's pace, obviously--with the two toddlers in a stroller. This family is on the move.

However, paydays are hard to come by these days, at least pay offs for winning races are hard to come by.

"Mac has to look all over the place trying to find races that'll pay 100, 200 or 300 bucks," said Jon Haberkern, a running partner who was suddenly sounding like the agent I expected McCormack to have. "The sponsors take care of the milers and the marathoners, but nothing in between."

That's where McCormack lives and runs, in between the traditional glamour of the mile and the growing clamor for the marathon. He specializes in the 10K (6.2 miles) up to the half-marathon (13.1 miles). The big money does not rain on his parades.

He knows he does not have the speed for the mile, and the marathon presents problems in terms of preparation and after-effects. He would have to work less and run more and sacrifice the $100 to $300 races that help put bread and margarine on the table. That is risky business, because it involves a six-month investment that can go crashing into that proverbial wall at the 20-mile mark.

"I've had a history of blowing up after 18 to 20 miles," McCormack said. "I know I've got a good marathon in me, but I don't know if I can bring it out."

And so he keeps on going, running's version of a guy who does what he does with the very best at a time when the big bucks are being spent on something (or someone) else.

Why keep running?

"It's kind of like being addicted to drugs," he said. "I can't stop. I do it regardless of the money. If I was in this for the money, I'd be in it for the wrong reasons."

But it seems that 10 fast miles on the sand from a guy doing all that work and running all that fast should be worth at least a single. Right professor?

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