Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tobacco and Baseball

Dip in a lip.

That’s the image that greeted me when I recently turned into a postseason thriller.

And spit.

A single close-up from the camera revealed the unmistakable tobacco bulge. A multitude of others also witnessed the brown stain on the lip. I think its time to curb these images, as MLB needs to ban the on-field usage of tobacco.

According to one study, around a third of MLB players use smokeless tobacco, and a fourth of minor leaguers use the substance. In my estimation, the true numbers are probably higher. Tobacco is legal and athletes are grown men, but a ban has nothing to do with them, even though tobacco cessation would obviously be beneficial to individuals. Instead a ban focuses on young eyes.

Research shows that teens increased their smokeless tobacco usage in recent years. Like it or not, athletes are role models (sorry, Charles Barkley), as kids emulate them. Athletes today enjoy greater exposure than ever. Consequently, their tobacco usage gains more exposure. The World Series averaged 19.4 million viewers in 2009. Though World Series ratings were lower this year, overall playoff ratings were strong. And the Internet offers seemingly endless possibilities for exposure.

Some experts think this exposure has contributed to the increase in smokeless tobacco usage by teens. Despite smoking percentages decreasing, it seems “dip in a lip” is making a strong comeback.

This is worrisome. Though less likely to cause death than cigarettes, smokeless tobacco contains 28 different carcinogens linked to numerous varieties of cancer. If you’ve ever seen a picture of a guy without a jawbone, you’ve seen its nasty capabilities.

I must admit that I am not without fault. Though never a frequent user, I tried the distasteful substance during my playing days. As a minor leaguer, my behavior broke the rules, as minor league baseball banned the usage of tobacco products in 1993.

Currently, the minor leagues impose a $500 fine for a player caught with tobacco and a $500 fine for the team’s manager. These fines, in comparison to minor league salaries, are exorbitant. One would think that they would sufficiently deter players from using. Yet they don’t.

Research shows that the likelihood of being caught is more important than the severity of punishment in deterring undesirable actions. Since very few players are ever actually caught using tobacco despite overt usage, the severe fines for minor leaguers have little deterrent effect. A system of lower fines with actual enforcement would more effectively reduce on-field tobacco usage.

Major League Baseball, as opposed to the minors, doesn’t even have a ban on tobacco usage. Players can pack an entire can of dip in their mouth and walk up to the plate with spit spilling down their chin if they so desire. No one will stop them, and millions of kids—future possible tobacco users—will witness it.

This use should be prohibited during games. MLB and the player’s union should work together on this issue and take a sensible approach: ban on-field usage of tobacco, implement a system of reasonable punishments, and actually enforce the ban with regularity.

Players will no doubt balk at such a move as an infringement upon their liberties, but if such a ban spares lives and jaws, then the policy would be worthwhile.

A couple of links for further reading:



Friday, November 5, 2010

New "Suitcase Chronicles" entry: When Old Friends Get a Ring

Yes, this is a rarity these days, but I took a few minutes away from summary judgment lectures to put some thoughts on paper (so to speak). It's about my former Giants' teammates winning it all.

So, without further introduction, here's an excerpt from my latest "Suitcase Chronicles" entry:

Some people told me recently I contributed to this championship moment simply by playing in the minors with these guys. Perhaps, in some distant, metaphysical way. But I downplay this. Nothing I did ever prepared Posey for catching Lincecum. Nothing I ever did helped Romo throw his signature slider. They learned these things on their own. I taught them nothing.

Yet we were friends, and we trekked a common journey together. Though my journey ended sooner than theirs, I still enjoyed the moments with them.

We seldom talk anymore. Life's present and future plans all too often stifle old friendships. Memories, however, continue to smolder. It is through these memories that I build my own World Series ring, and I'll carry this invisible ring with me until the day I die.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Latinos and those things called steroids

I'm a little slow to comment on this, but there were a couple of articles that I wanted to pass along to you from the past week. The first comes from Baseball America, and it's about top Latino prospects testing positive for steroids just before the international signing period began. It's a story that should've gotten a LOT more attention but didn't.

Here's an excerpt:

MLB required 40 of the top Dominican prospects from this year's international signing class to register with the league last month, a process that included consenting to a drug test and to investigations into their ages and identities.

Baez said he recently met with the parents of about 20 players who reportedly tested positive for anabolic steroids, which is consistent with the word going around Dominican baseball circles: that nearly half of the 40 players who registered tested positive.

(Read the rest here.)

I almost did a double take when I read this. HALF of the tests came back positive. Wow.

This is very significant. The signing bonuses that top Dominican prospects are being paid has grown considerably in the past ten years, with Michael Ynoa signing with Oakland $4.25 million in 2008. Several other top prospects now receive bonuses in the millions each year.

This places them on par with first round draft picks in MLB's Rule 4 draft. They're certainly talented individuals, but they're very young, and very raw. And as this year's testing results show, some might be using steroids.

Usage of PEDs of course would inflate their natural tools. It would mean that scouts evaluations of them would be tainted. A 16-year-old throwing 97 on steroids is very different from a 16-year-old throwing 97 without steroids.

With teams paying the equivalent of first round money to these players, they need to make every assurance that their age is correct and that they are steroid free. Otherwise they're likely to see less return on their investment.

And according to one minor leaguer (who was incensed), it's not fair to other players either. Having been given huge signing bonuses, these players automatically move above other players on teams' prospect list. They're given far more chances than players who receive less money. Perhaps these chances are not duly earned.

One Latino friend told me that he doesn't suspect widespread usage of steroids by young prospects, but one has to wonder given this report. (See my previous post on buscones and drugs here.)

It's certainly alarming.

Minor Leaguers Testing Positive

On a related note, five minor leaguers recently tested positive for steroid use. All were suspended 50 games. All were Latino.

This is very disappointing. The rate of steroid use has declined sharply in baseball--especially in the minor leagues where testing has been in place since 2001. In my six years of playing, I in fact knew of very few players using PEDs. (See my previous Sporting News post on HGH here.) Not a large percentage of minor leaguers are testing positive, but it seems too high of a percentage are Latino. (Read this excellent article on steroids and Latino peloteros.)

In talking to Latinos, it seems sometimes they're just getting bad information. An uncle or friend they trust will tell them they can take such and such product and not test positive. And it seems steroids are very easy to get in most of their home countries.

I'm not sure there's an easy solution to this problem. Testing involves numerous countries, and it involves kids of a very young age. But it is a problem, and steps need to be taken. Perhaps increased testing combined with greater education would help. Maybe a more informed body of players--combined with a fear of testing positive--would reduce the usage.

Hopefully rates will go down, but in the near future expect more positive tests from Latino ballplayers.

Note: I'm not just picking on Latino ballplayers. There are obviously still Americans using as well, though perhaps not in as high of a percentage. In certain levels of baseball in the U.S., such as at the junior college level, more testing is still needed. We need to keep cleaning this game up.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Trading Advisory: Time to make the draft more interesting

Things that can be traded/swapped:

Baseball Cards
Rare Coins
Candy (think Halloween when you got all that candy corn that you hated and had to trade it to the weird kid that loved it)
Spit (sorry, I had to)
Animal Furs
Carbon Allotments
Sea Shells
Wives (see "Wife Swap")
Almost anything else in this world

Things that can't be traded:

MLB Rule 4 Draft Picks

The reason usually given for this is that the draft is built to enable the weakest teams to rebuild. Give weak teams top picks, and they'll reload with top talent.

Yet in past drafts signability issues inhibited some teams from acquiring the best available talent at their slotted pick (see Ricky Porcello, J.D. Drew, Buster Posey, etc, etc. etc.). Cash-strapped teams instead picked slightly less talented kids deemed more signable.

Instead of harming low budget teams, the ability to trade picks might actually benefit them. They could trade down slightly, still get the caliber of player they would've otherwise have drafted, and also receive some sort of compensation in return.

For example, let's say Pittsburgh has the first pick in the 2011 draft, and suddenly Superman decides to play baseball. Yet Superman is demanding a $30 million signing bonus--otherwise he'll just continue to wear his ugly, too-snug blue suit, and continue to hit criminals instead of homeruns. Well, Pittsburgh can't afford this bonus. In the current system, they might simply skip Superman and instead take Johnny HS Shortstop, who will sign for 1/10th of Superman's asking price. Superman will fall in the draft to a team that can afford his asking price.

With the ability to trade picks, Superman will still fall to a team that has more money. But in order to obtain him, they will have to trade up in the draft. Pittsburgh will be able to negotiate with other teams and take the best offer. They might still end up with Johnny HS Shortstop, but they'll also be compensated one or more already established prospects.

This is a more free-market system, and so some will fear its usage. It allows for less control, but I believe it would work very well.

The trading of picks would also make the draft much more interesting, and the draft needs a serious shot of RedBull right now (as does Bud Selig). More options and more possibilities equates with more speculation. The draft becomes a chess match, and drama ensues.

There's been some talk of doing this very thing. (Darren Heitner's piece, and comments from Michael Weiner of the MLBPA.) In fact it will probably be discussed in the negotiations for the next CBA, along with another suggestion: a strict slotting system.

I understand the merits of a slotting system, and in the past I have brought up the idea of using it, but only if the savings were then distributed to minor league players. Any money taken away from draftees should be shifted to the pockets of starving minor leaguers.

The likelihood of this re-distribution is low though. Instead, the savings would not be passed on to minor leaguers, but would instead go to the overall budget of teams. Minor leaguers would remain poor (see my Baseball America piece on minor league salaries here.)

Lost in all of this is the fact that the MLBPA will be negotiating with owners on this and a host of other issues. Many decisions will have a direct influence on minor league players, and these players will have not a single sole representing their interests. Instead they'll just get swept to the side like Friday night garbage, gladly accepting the shillings that they're given, worrying not about collective bargaining agreements, but instead about curveballs and lifelong quests.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New Suitcase Chronicles entry

Excerpt from my latest "Suitcase Chronicles" article, in which I reflect on the differences between college ball and pro ball: Hope you enjoy!

Emotion is often conditioned out of players in pro ball. Early in my career, I sprinted back to the dugout after my initial spring training pitching appearance. An older teammate started laughing.

"Oh, you run back to the dugout. That's cool," he said with sarcasm, the official language of minor league baseball.

"Yeah, it's called hustling," I replied.

"Save the hustling for when it actually matters. That right there is just eye-wash."

He then told me to watch some of the big leaguers pitch.

"They're all business," he said. "The only place they run is to the bar after the game."

Hope you enjoy!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Baseball, Rainbows, and Pearl Jam

I usually don't like big arena concerts. Well, that's not completely true.

I'm not a big arena snob. I don't dislike them just because it's cool to dislike them. It's just that I usually prefer smaller venues. I'd rather see Blind Pilot with 20 other people than see an Eagles reunion with 20,000 other people. Maybe it's just that I'm socially claustrophobic. Or maybe I just like cheaper beer--not to mention cheaper admission tickets. Either way, I usually find the smaller concerts to resonate on a more personal level.

As is the case with most generalizations, there are always exceptions. Recently in fact I went to a large venue concert that was not only outstanding, but also resonated as clear as a perfect fifth.

The concert was Pearl Jam. The venue: Scottrade Center in St. Louis. It ranks among the best shows I've ever seen.

One of my favorite teenage bands, the gods of flannel and grunge packed the house. They played almost all their greatest hits, but this was not the reason for their excellence that night. Eddie Vedder, their irreplaceable frontman, was the reason for my captivation.

Vedder controlled an entire arena of souls that night. With each movement of his hand and each note of his voice, every limb of every body reacted. He was a true master of puppetry.

One moment in particular stood out. He neared the edge of the stage as the night neared its inevitable end. With a bottle of wine in one hand, he took a seat upon a speaker. He placed the wine on the floor beside him and lit a cigarette. The guitars and drums continued to play behind him as he took a long draw from the cig. He exhaled slowly. With the smoke swirling around him, he took a look around the entire stadium. His long hair became curtains as he glanced onward. He smiled. And continued to smile as the music played on. Another drag on the cigarette. Another look around, now with his legs crossed. Another smile.

He was a man on top of the world. In that moment, he was free of everything. Completely satisfied, the worries of the world disappeared for a fleeting instant. All the killings in Darfur, all the oil in the gulf, all the dirt on the walls of one's personal existence. For a moment they all ceased.

I don't know if Vedder is a happy man. He might wake up every morning angry, with an insatiable desire to torture baby bunnies. But I know in that moment I was looking at a man in a state of contentment. It was a beautiful thing.

I once dreamt of gaining that feeling from baseball. For six years I rode the rainbow it offered. I fiercely clung to its slickness, yearning for the ultimate gratification that it might one day deliver. Yet I never reached the end of this rainbow. The ride was as brief as a ride at an amusement park.

But there are other rainbows to be found. I'll spot one soon, and when I do, I'll start climbing again.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Review of "A Player to Be Named Later"

I guess I miss the locker room a little bit. Perhaps that's the reason I recently decided to view "A Player to Be Named Later." It's a documentary which profiles four minor league players over the 2001 season of the Indianapolis Indians, an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Honestly, I found it only mildly entertaining.

Some might think I dislike the very genre of documentaries. In this world of 10 second soundbites, video games, and attention spans shorter than a subway stop, a lot of people have dismissed documentaries as dead as the AM radio.

Others might simply think that since I've seen the sausage being made, I don't find the making of it interesting.

But this is not the case. I tend to like documentaries--usually the rougher the better. If I'm watching a documentary on open heart surgery, for instance, I want to see some blood flying around. I don't want to just see someone talking about severing and sewing an aorta, I want to see it. I want the rawness that documentaries sometimes provide, and which Hollywood never provides.

So despite its tendency to lead to open heart surgery, the making of sausage is usually interesting.

"A Player to Be Named Later" does show some of baseball's inner workings (sausage making), but in focusing on Triple-A, the viewer finds mostly older guys whose careers are nearing an end. The youthful optimism--not to mention youthful energy--is gone for them. The result is a film starved action. It also has less drama than it should.

The movie does have its moments. My favorite character is Brad Tyler. He's an aging veteran of 32 years who has spent 11 seasons in the minors. He knows his career is nearing an end. Yet he still wishes to play. He's no longer a starry-eyed 22 year old bouncing around in the Midwest League, but in his mind and heart he believes he can still play, despite hitting only .248 the previous season. Baseball has been all he has known for his adult life. How can he turn his back on it now?

Tyler has a family though. They follow him around wherever he goes. He's quickly released by Indianapolis early in the season. He goes to Mexico for a couple of months. The family follows and together they live in a little shack. He is picked up by Cincinnati and is sent to Louisville. His family follows. At the end of the season he's even shipped to Double-A Chattanooga. This time it seems his family stays behind in Louisville.

It sounds like all this moving around and familial stress would make for a great story, and I believe it could've been. It's just that once Tyler is released by Indianapolis he's almost treated as a supporting character. We don't see enough of him. We're instead given snapshots of his year, such as when he misses his daughter's birthday because he was sent to Louisville. The storyline is never completely developed.

This is one of the weaknesses of the film as a whole. It focuses on four players, but I'm rarely drawn to any of them. Marco Scutaro makes for an interesting story, but I don't see enough of him either. We're just given bits and pieces of each player, and the result is a fractious picture.

The chosen men are well-spoken, but they aren't talkative enough. Many ballplayers are somewhat guarded when it comes to the media, and this proves true in this documentary. In order to make these things work, you need some people with personality. From the very beginning, all four of these men seem a little too tame.

As usual, the wives are slightly better. They're more open to discussing their feelings and the inner-working of the family. They even talk of allowing their husbands to "chase a dream," as if its a requirement in their life. Everything else should be put on hold.

The film does give the viewer inside access, which is no doubt a joy to many. Discussions with Brewers' personnel are given, providing the viewer a look at how ballplayers are seen and evaluated by clubs.

Since it has this inside access though, a tremendous amount of editing has no doubt been done. As part of the agreement to provide access, I would assume the Brewers reserved the right to edit (I know I would if I were the GM). The result is that yes, inside access is offered, but there's no conflict. Somehow we only hear one or two F-bombs in the entire movie. And we never see a disagreement between players or the coaching staff.

We're watching men with testosterone for Zeus' sake. Even in Triple-A there should be some conflict.

I've been saying for years that the real drama and action happens in A ball. Here the guys are younger. Far fewer have families, and so they carouse at the bars much more often. They pick up girls and get hammered. They bring girls back to their hotels. They have poker tournaments all night. They yell at each other more often. They have pre-game antics in the clubhouse. They do crazy stuff in the showers. They erupt after bad games. They interact with host families.

They're still growing up.

If someone could somehow capture that, then they would have something.

But that type of access would be hard to get. That's most likely the stuff for a work of fiction (see my review of "Sugar".

"A Player to Be Named Later" is a film to be seen by hardcore baseball fans. These fans will most likely find it somewhat satisfying, but in the end it will simply leave them yearning for more.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Q&A: War, Korea, and Sadowski

Hope everyone's Memorial Day went well. Since a large number of our veterans served in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953, I thought this would be a good time to mix War, Korea, and Ryan Sadowski (Yes, Giants' fans, he's still alive). He's my best bud after all, and he's in Korea. And I've hardly mentioned him in months.

Sadowski's currently playing for the Lotte Giants in South Korea after briefly playing for the San Francisco Giants last season (no escape from the Gigantes). He has a very keen eye for things, and so I wanted to get his perspective not only on Korean baseball, but also on the ongoing crisis between North Korea and South Korea, specifically as it relates to baseball players.

Here goes:

GB: What has been the hardest thing about playing in another country, specifically about playing in S. Korea?

RS: The most difficult part of being a foreign player in the KBO are the expectations that are set before you arrive. I had a sub-par start in my first month and was battling some elbow discomfort and people were ready to send me home. After some rest (I skipped 1 start) and 5 consecutive quality starts, everybody loves me...for now.

GB: Has the level of baseball been what you expected?

RS: I really didn't know what to expect. I have heard people say that this compared to AA baseball and others say that it compares to AAAA baseball (above Triple A/below MLB). Players do things that would be considered Bush League back home on a regular basis. They watch home-runs constantly and fist pump after strikeouts in blowouts. They lean into pitches and draw lines for umpires, but all of that is okay here.

The top level of players are major league players. It explains their success in the olympics and WBC. Other younger players would be considered top prospects in the minor leauges. LHP Ryu Hyun Jin stands out, and would probably be a major league superstar. He won the gold medal game against Cuba as a 22 year old. He's 24 now and is impressive to watch. He struck out 17 in a game earlier this year.

I guess the only way we will know is if the Milb creates a AAAA league and sends them to Korea.

GB: Moving to the ongoing event between the two Koreas. Do players discuss these sorts of things in the clubhouse? In the States, political events aren't really discussed by players too much. Try turning from MTV to CNN and you'll get food thrown at you. But this isn't just a political event. This involves, as you once told me, people of the same blood living across an arbitrary line. I'm sure there are some mixed emotions?

RS: I guess I have the mentality of a Korean. I really don't like to think about it. Americans are much more confrontational than Koreans are. Before Japan attacked Korea in the early 1900's, Korea had been a peaceful nation for over 500 years. It's tough to find a time in American history where there were 50 years without war. Actually, it may not exist. Nobody here wants to see war. I think everybody on the team is well aware of the situation, but they don't want to think about it. Today, there was an unexpected fireworks show after the game. My pants are going to need some extra bleach.

GB: In Korea I've read that all males are subject to conscription laws. Have many of your teammates served in the military? Are some of them approaching the time constraints before which they must serve?

RS: Most of the older players have served in the military. I have talked to a few of them about their service. Most went through basic training and had standard military jobs. My Korean is limited, but I have talked to one player about his time in the military and he was a driver of large trucks.

There are 2 standout players that still need to serve in the military. Our starting shortstop who has the defensive ability to be a starting shortstop on any major league team will have to serve after this season. One of out starting LHP's is 23. He throws 87-91 with a devestating slider. He would be a AAA prospect in a good organization or may be in the big leagues with a team that is developing talent at the ML level.

Nobody in Korea is exempt from serving in the military. If a player wins a gold medal at the Asian games or any medal at the Olympics, he can avoid full time military service. That person must go through basic training in the off-season and serves in something similar to the reserves in the US.

After somebody has done their 2 full years of military service, they are a member of the group that is similar to the reserves for the next 7 years. If war were to start, I think many of my teamates would be called into action.

GB: Has anything changed on the streets as this has unfolded? I assume people are still living their lives as usual? Has attendance suffered?

RS: The threat of fighting has existed in Korea for the past 57 years. I think people have learned to live with it. Nothing has changed since I have been here. I'm sure people are a bit more aware of the situation at hand, but they still show up to our games ready to go nuts. The fans in Korea think a baseball game is an event similar to American Football or Soccer in South America or Europe.

Thanks to Ryan for that. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail, and one of my best friends will arrive home safely in a couple of months.

If you'd like to learn more about Sadowski's experiences in the KBO be sure to check out his video blog on YouTube. He post it every single day under the name "Incugator." There's some good stuff there.

Monday, May 24, 2010


A couple things:

First is an excerpt from my latest "Suitcase Chronicles" entry, entitled "Now an Outsider:"

The game halts not for the retirement of greats, and definitely gives no pause to the passing of a minor league blip. Each generation it gobbles new bodies, this spinning black hole. My baseball life is mere debris, cast aside as waste, scattered in the same bin as a thousand others.

But I don't miss spinning within the black hole's grasp.

Read the rest here:

Next is an interview with David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus in his "Minor Issues" column, in which I talk about the language of baseball:

But aside from curse words, other words infiltrate as well. In fact, certain Spanish words become part of everyone's lingo, since Latinos are such a large part of the game. A change-up becomes a "cambio," a line drive a "linea," and a glove a "guante." And then, of course, their are the Spanish curse words, which everyone quickly mixes in--mierda, cono, mama...you get the point.

The rest:

And finally, a random article about genes and sports. It's a really long read from David Epstein in Sports Illustrated, but it was perhaps the best thing I read all week:

I'll write more soon!!

I might even write about baseball and Pearl Jam next. Not sure how those two topics will mix. Hmm...

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Pragmatic Posey Post (Hopefully)

I don't like evaluating my former teammates. Being friends, my evaluations are usually short of objective, and I feel they have enough people judging them. Is my short-sighted opinion really needed?

Today I'm going to make an exception. With all the hoopla surrounding Buster Posey, and after Brian Sabean's ridiculous comments, I thought I'd follow my last post with a couple of statements. So I'll try to brush away my knowledge of Posey as an affable, well-liked guy, and strictly look at his baseball skills.

Statement #1

Buster Posey can play in the big leagues--right now.

Now, before you go too crazy, read on.

Buster Posey should not be playing in the big leagues--at least not right now.

On the surface, they're two completely contradictory statements, but they're more compatible than they seem. Let's take a look at the first.

We all know Posey's bat is glowing like Frodo's Sting Sword down in Triple-A. But since numbers such as .346 BA and .549 slugging don't matter (according to Sabean), we have to throw those numbers out.

As I look at Posey's swing, I'm confident it will play in the big leagues. I don't think fans should expect Fresno-type of numbers there, as yes, the pitching is better in the big leagues and the two parks are DRAMATICALLY different. But you can expect a lot of doubles in the gaps and a more than respectable batting average from him during the first couple of years.

As for his defense, his blocking is fine and his arm is very good. The release is quick, the strength is there, and the accuracy is solid. (Hopefully he avoids the Saltalamacchia yips.) He will do fine in the running game.

His glove and the "ability to call the game" are the two traditional knocks on him. Having thrown to him, I can say that his hands are great. He's only been catching a couple of years, and so the experience with catching pitches with movement still needs to come, but the hands are there. They will continue to develop.

I thought he called the game adequately. He's a smart guy, and there is a solid thought process to his game-calling. Of course, this improves with experience as well. Just don't expect him to be Bengie Molina upon arrival.

So, all in all, I have no problem saying Posey can play in the big leagues right now. He may not be an All-Star catcher yet, but he could more than hold his own.

Now, statement #2.

Just because he could hold his own doesn't mean that he should be in the big leagues right now. The main reason is because he's not really needed. Molina is hitting .330. Whiteside is hitting .324 as a backup. Both are very, very good defensive catchers.

"So he could play first base," some people say.

I don't like this idea at all. The production out of Posey's bat won't be as impressive as a first baseman. It will play much, much, much better as a catcher.

His catching skills need to continue to develop. Yes, I thought his hands were wonderful and his game-calling was adequate, but I'm not Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain. Far from it. It's a lot easier to catch my crappy fastball than some of the best fastballs in the game.

Some might say there's no better learning experience than actually doing it. You might as well just throw him in the big leagues and let him catch those guys. But again, there's no need for catching right now. The pragmatic move is to allow his glove to continue to develop in Triple-A, where, believe it or not, he's still catching some pretty darn good pitchers.

So, yes, he can do it. But no, he shouldn't be doing it.

Hopefully that makes sense. Go ahead and scream at me if you'd like.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Triple-A and Sabean

I'm going to begin this by saying that I don't really know Brian Sabean very well. For this reason, I can't tell you whether or not he has an IQ above 75, or whether or not he has a thing for 80s rock and margaritas. I'd just be making that stuff up.

Sure I played in the minor leagues for 6 years in the Giants' organization, but I never had any contact with the general manager. Why would I? I was in the minor leagues. I was useless.

Well, apparently all of the pitchers in the minor leagues are useless, as Sabean recently commented that pitching in Triple A isn't very good, and neither is baseball in general in Triple A. He did this while answering questions about the performance of Buster Posey.

"Triple-A baseball isn't very good," Sabean told Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News recently.

"I'm going to tell you that right now," he continued. "Especially from a pitching standpoint. Anybody who can pitch is in the big leagues."

Hmm. I guess Tim Lincecum was never in Triple-A. I guess if he was ever there, he must have been awful. He clearly didn't know how to pitch, because he wasn't in the big leagues.

And what about this Strasburg character that everybody keeps talking about? He obviously is no good. He's not in the big leagues, he must not be able to pitch.

If Sabean had said that Triple A pitching, as a whole, on average, is not as good as big league pitching, I would have no problem with that. That's why it's Triple-A baseball and not the big leagues. If he'd said that offensive numbers are inflated in the PCL since it is a hitter-friendly league--especially in the division that Fresno plays--I would have no problem with that. That's clearly true.

But instead Sabean decided to say that Triple-A baseball is just not good period, and especially the pitchers. He managed to not only belittle the performance of Posey, but to belittle the performance of all his minor league pitchers and catchers. He did this all in a couple of sentences. It's not easy to make that many people feel like crap in so short of a time span, but Sabean managed to do it. That takes real talent.

I sort of remember not long ago having a conversation with a couple of my buddies. Some of us had been in the big leagues; some of us hadn't (I clearly was in the ranks of those who hadn't). We were talking about the difference between Triple-A and the big leagues. It was the opinion of those who had played in the majors that the difference is magnified. Sure, there's a difference, but it's not a huge difference.

Here's the thing. If you're pitching in the big leagues, you're probably among the top 400 pitchers in the world. That's pretty frickin' good. If you're pitching in Triple-A, you're probably among the top 1000 pitchers in the world. There are probably some better guys in Japan, and maybe in Korea. A few more might exist in Cuba. And then there are almost all of the MLB pitchers above you.

I'd say being one of the top 1000 in the world is still pretty good. In fact, if you took any of those top 1000 and put them in the big leagues, they might even hold their own for awhile.

Sabean could've said a number of things in defending his decision to keep Buster Posey in the minor leagues. He could've said Posey needed more time to hone his glove work. He could've said that he was happy with how both of his big league catchers were playing, as both are hitting well. Both of these things would've been believable, and they would've been benign statements.

Instead he decided to trash every minor league player in the system. And I take exception to that. Many are friends and former teammates. Some are darn good pitchers. Some might have big league careers ahead of them.

With so much of the Giants' pitching staff being self-grown--Cain, Sanchez, Lincecum, Wilson, and Romo among them--you'd think Sabean would know that sometimes there's some pretty good pitching down there. But I guess not.

Again, I don't know the guy at all, so I can't vouch for his mental stability, and I can't tell you whether or not he has a proclivity for listening to Michael Buble. But I can tell you that this was not a smart statement.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Friday Quickie: Receta de Pollo

So I shared this on Twitter a few days ago, but I thought I'd share it again on here.

Some of my favorite moments from minor league baseball are the result of going over to one of my teammate's apartments after a day game and hanging out. Sometimes I'd hang out with my Dominican buddies. Often they'd cook for me. I hoped it would make me throw harder, as they said arroz con pollo was the key to velo. Obviously it never worked, and here I am today preparing for law school.

Anyways, here's an easy recipe for grilled chicken from Osiris Matos:

Easy Grilled Chicken the Dominican Way (Or Coño Chicken, as one of my teammates liked to call it):


Chicken Breasts
Red Wine Vinegar
Adobo Seasoning with Pepper

Place Chicken Breasts in any container known to contain things. Pour a thin layer of red wine vinegar on them (not too much). Sprinkle both sides with Adobo and Oregano (both usually used generously). Cover and marinate for a couple of hours. Grill and enjoy!

If you really want to feel like you're in Santo Domingo, try Matos' Platanos Fritos as well. They're as easy as catching a box turtle without a box.

If using green Platanos, just peel them while some oil is heating in a pan on medium-high heat. Cut the plantains in quarter inch slices. Place in oil. Fry on each side for 1.37 minutes (exactly). Remove from heat and use any blunt object to smash them (hopefully clean). Once flattened, place them back in the oil for another minute or two on each side, or until slightly golden brown. Remove and sprinkle with a little salt (or a lot if you feel like having a heart attack and don't like the actual taste of food).

I was told with yellow Platanos it's not necessary to use blunt objects, as they're soft enough you don't need to flatten them. They're also sweeter. I think smashing things is fun though. Very cathartic.

Anyways, wash it down with a little cocktail made with Brugal, and you'll be speaking Spanish in no time, even if your velocity doesn't improve.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Non-profit for Minor Leaguers

Most readers of this blog know by now that minor leaguers earn about as much as a 19th century seaman. In fact, as I noted in a previous entry on fictional character Mickey Cobb, the majority of players earn a wage that places them below the established poverty guidelines.

The situation is particularly cumbersome for families, on whom the minor league lifestyle grinds like a bone saw on a femur. Seeing this, and living this herself, one wife of a minor leaguer has formed a non-profit to assist struggling ballplayers.

I first learned of Financial Aid Serving Families in Minors a few months ago through a link someone sent me. The original article is informative--and well worth a read--but I also wanted to contact the founder of the organization, Laurel Sharpe for a little Q&A. Her responses are below.

1) FASFIM is a tax exempt non-profit. How hard is it to gain 501(c)(3) status, and what exactly does that mean?

I can only speak for FASFIM when you ask about the difficulty of gaining 501(c)(3) status. It was extremely challenging. The IRS did not understand why a professional athlete would need financial assistance and the verbage when applying for non-profit is very specific. I had found a lawyer from STL, who had a vested interest in sports, and was familiar with the IRS, to help evolve my language into what they are looking for. The reason for establishing the federal poverty line as a guide (in-season), was because those are numbers are governmentally and a relative guideline to how they operate. It was actually kind of shocking, after doing some research, that MOST minor league players make under that guideline.

501(c)(3) status means we are tax exempt, both in making purchases, paying taxes and those who choose to donate, do not pay taxes on the amount they choose to give. I could not have achieved this success for FASFIM without the help of NOLO business books; they guided me each step of the way.

2) I think people have difficulties empathizing with minor leaguers. Even though salaries may be low, they still see players as being in the privileged position of playing baseball for a living. Or they see the minors as the place where a person has to pay their dues. How do you overcome this challenge?

The mission of FASFIM is not to promote the difficulties of the minors, but rather to supplement and strengthen the family unit for a man pursuing his dream. As with any aspiration and career goal, we all start in the 'trenches', with hopes, by the grace of God, that our hard work pays off. Yes, it is more evidently challenging for a player who is somewhat romanticized by media and movies to bring to light the real truths of the challenges of playing minor league baseball, but it is a common theme in most 1st jobs. As stated before, FASFIM was not established to make it seem that playing MiLB is any harder than a 9-5 working mans job. FASFIM was established by a wife who lived and saw the need for more support for the FAMILY, and a man who is also trying to support a wife and child(ren). It is to promote family wholeness in a society that is losing sight of these values, in a sense, it is keeping an ancient dream alive!

3) I have a number of teammates in difficult positions, how do they apply for help? I didn't see a form on the website.

FASFIM began in a recession and is surviving the recession; funds and donations are low. I must admit it to a fault, I have tried to implement small little fundraisers here and there, but the money that has been raised, in the boards opinion, should be used as seed money to grow the organization and build our capacity, in order to better raise funds successfully and provide for families in the future. That being said, we have not officially awarded any money. FASFIM was established as a long term goal, something that 20 years down the road, we can be proud to have established and amazed by those it has helped. It is hard in today's world to not get hung up on the immediate gratification (quick money). We trust, with time and the grace of God, that FASFIM will reach it's full potential. So for those wanting to apply, I would encourage them to stay abreast of our newest developments and fundraising efforts, via the website and Facebook, until we have reached capacity to financially aid their family.

4) What are the federal poverty guidelines, and are most people surprised that ballplayers fall below the levels set?

The federal poverty guidelines are listed annually on http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/09poverty.shtml (the government will release 2010 guidelines in May. FYI, in addition to the FPG for in-season play, the players must also qualify by meeting their off season's State's median income level. It is a consideration that takes all 12 months earnings into account.

Thanks to Laurel not only for answering my questions, but, more importantly, for trying to make a difference. Whereas inaction sometimes becomes the norm in this world, she has taken steps to help others. I applaud her for this.

If you'd like more information on FASFIM, including ways to donate, please go to their website at
http://www.fasfim.org/Site/Home_.html And feel free to pass the link around!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Review of "Sugar" (Finally)

I had a teacher in high school that used to always respond to the cut-ups in class by asking them what the first rule of comedy was. They knew his ploy well, as he did it daily, but yet he forced them to play his game. When they attempted to say "timing," he cut them off mid-reply. He interrupted them every time. He loved it.

The first rule of comedy may indeed be timing, but it's also the first rule of movie reviews. Therefore, I know this review of "Sugar" is about as well-timed as Israel's announcement of new settlements in East Jerusalem a month ago. So why write about it?

The movie, recommended to me by dozens over the past year, is a wonderful glimpse into the world of the Dominican baseball immigrant. This is a large part of the minor league saga, and its intricacies have too often been ignored. I should've watched the movie--and written about it--long ago. Better late then never.

Sugar, the name of the main character, is a teenager from the Dominican who gains the opportunity to play in the States for the first time. Not only his family but his entire neighborhood brims with pride for him.

This is one of the interesting aspects of the movie. For many Latino peloteros, simply making it to the U.S. is a huge achievement. This country is seen as a type of dream world to them. New cars, fancy malls, huge houses, and gigantic stadiums pervade their thoughts.

Many ballplayers have never travelled outside of the Dominican before their arrival here. Some have hardly removed themselves from their own neighborhoods. The States might as well be on another planet for them. Being given a lump sum of money and told that you are getting on a plane and arriving to this fancy dream world, with your whole neighborhood bursting with pride, must be an amazing feeling.

Sugar leaves the Dominican and arrives to the U.S. early in the movie (probably a little too quickly to be realistic). We see him and his other fellow new-to-the-States friends in a hotel room. They open up the little hotel refrigerator and find beer in it. They all agree that they have indeed reached the big time, and immediately start drinking the beer and watching hotel porn on the TV. A minor league veteran comes in and has to educate them, telling them they have to pay for all of this.

The minor league veteran is a crucial piece of this story. He's played in the States presumably for a couple of years and knows the long road ahead for these young men. He also knows their innocent excitement.

One of my best Latino friends, Osiris Matos, told me a story about his first day in Arizona. (An important part of this story involves Matos' first name, which is phonetically pronounced O-Serious.) The Giants' minor league hotel is a crappy old Days Inn, but it lies directly beside the Fashion Square Mall in Scottsdale, which is one of the nicest malls I've ever been in. One of the favorite pastimes of minor leaguers is to go to the mall, grab a bite to eat, and then sit for hours beside the main escalators in the building. It offers a great view of all the beautiful women shopping.

As soon as Osiris arrived, he and his newfound friends went to the mall to do just this. They got some Chinese food from Panda Express, and then began yelling at girls as they came off the escalator. Most ignored them. Being good hunting dogs though, they persevered. Finally--Success!--girls came their way.

One of the players knew just a bit more English than the others. He tried talking to the girls, and cut straight to the most important information:

"We baseball players."

Apparently somehow this little incomplete, grammatically atrocious sentence impressed our young ladies. They reacted as so:

"Are you serious!!!"

At this time, young Osiris Matos, stood up:

"Yes! You know me!!!"

Matos, thinking they said his name when they asked "are you serious" because it sounded like his name, thought that he was a big enough prospect that these random girls already knew who he was. Indeed, he thought he had arrived.

Every Dominican no doubt has a similar feeling upon arrival to the States. They feel on top of the world. It is usually short-lived. In our movie, Sugar quickly finds out how far he has to go. There are more talented players than he's ever seen in spring training camp.

Out of camp, Sugar is assigned to a small Midwestern town. This assignment is one of the real inaccuracies of the movie. The movie accelerates Sugar's career WAY too quickly. I can't think of a single Dominican I ever knew who went from being signed, then to spring training, then to an assignment to a full-season team within a month. Almost always, the newly signed players spend some time in the Dominican Summer League. If they do come to the U.S. immediately, the will spend at least a summer, maybe two or even three, at the spring training complex for extended spring training. It allows them time to assimilate to the culture, learn a little English, and learn a little more baseball. All of this comes in a friendlier environment devoid of many fans. It's also full of more Latinos. For the purposes of the film though, all of this was skipped.

Sugar arrives to the small town and shacks up with a host family. Their old country house is surrounded by corn fields, which contrast greatly with earlier scenes from the Dominican. He looks out his window with heartache. He's never comfortable in this house.

If awards were given out to the nicest people in the world, most host families would be nominated. But indeed, some players never really feel comfortable there. They don't like opening the refrigerator whenever they like. They don't always like sitting down at the dinner table with them. They don't like talking with them after every game.

This is not a general rule for all players, but it is true for some. Some people keep to themselves more and don't easily adjust to living in new situations. In living with a host family, they feel they have invaded another's life. They feel they must conform to this life, and therefore can't live their own normalcy. This is true even of some American players, and it must be even more true of Latinos.

This plays out in the movie beautifully with Sugar. The scenes at the dinner table are priceless. His host family attempts to speak Spanish to him, and it sounds ridiculous. It makes Sugar feel stupid, as it seems they are talking down to him. He'd no doubt rather they speak slowly in English.

Sugar's interactions with his teammates are also wonderful. He sort of forms a bond with one of his American infielders, understanding some of what he says, but not all of it. He doesn't quite feel right throughout, as is evidenced by his attempt to hang out with the guys at a bowling alley. (I've actually done this with a couple of Latinos. Matos, Kelvin Pichardo, and others used to occasionally join a group of American players for Sunday night bowling. They didn't feel comfortable in the place--surrounded by whites and playing a strange game--but with a little encouragement from myself and a few other guys (and after a few drinks), they began throwing gutterballs with the best of us.) Sugar enters the bowling alley and sees his teammates laughing and carousing from a distance. Yet he can't bring himself to join them. He leaves before even talking to them.

In showing human interactions such as these, the movie excells. The downfall comes from the path of his career. Sugar has a seemingly minor injury and his team has little patience with him. Within a short time he leaves baseball altogether. His entire career last for a couple of months.

Yes, the window of opportunity is short in this game, but this is ridiculous. The kid gave it a mere couple of months. He was earning a paycheck and sending money back to his impoverished family in the Dominican. Despite his troubles, I can't fathom him leaving the game in such a manner.

Sugar then goes to New York and attempts to find work. His mother doesn't understand his actions. Eventually he finds other Latinos and gains a sense of home. He even finds other former baseball players and joins a pickup game.

In all, the movie is an important addition to the baseball genre. Both an immigrant's tale and a baseball tale, the beautifully done human interactions more than make up for the gross inaccuracies in the timeline of his career. If you haven't seen it, it's a must-see movie for all baseball fans.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Primavera and some links

A few lyrics from one of my favorite Santana songs, "Primavera" (Spring), which I've been listening to a lot lately:

Como la semilla
Lleva nueva vida
Hay en esta primavera una nueva era

En el aire de este universo
Hoy se respira libertad
En primavera ya

La tierra negra se vuelve verde
Y las montanas y el desierto
Un bello jardin

Como la semilla
Lleva nueva vida
Hay en esta primavera una nueva era

Beautiful in Spanish. It's worth the translation.

And here are a few links:

David Laurila with Baseball Prospectus has a great ongoing series called "Minor Issues." I had the wonderful opportunity to answer a couple of questions for him:

And here's a recent fun one about from Laurila about Derrick Loop entering his team's circle of trust:

From recent to old, here's something from Lisa Winston, written years back, that was passed along to me:

Lastly, not sure what to think about USA Today reporting a significant decrease in MLB opening day salaries and MLBPA responding with their own calculations showing a slight increase. Don't really think that accomplished anything. What's more interesting is that MLBPA seems to be gearing up for a collusion case. In my opinion, the owners definitely colluded this offseason, using the economy as an excuse to collectively make less attractive offers to free agents. But proving it is another thing. Here are some links:

Enjoy the spring! It's beautiful in St. Louis!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Food Stamps and Baseball: the tale of imaginary friend Mickey Cobb

As I stated in my previous post, the Baseball America article on minor league salaries was finally published. Yes, I know, it had become some mythical balloon floating around in the troposphere by now. Unlike the balloon boy fiasco, hopefully it contained more than just hot air.

I bored you with some stats in my previous post. Basically salaries have been grounded like a dead hawk the past 35 years, while inflation has been building faster than 1990s suburbia. Meanwhile, baseball profits are at an all time high, and MLB salaries have risen by 7000%.

But enough of that. Today we're going to tell a little bedtime story. It's a little fictional account about food stamps and poverty, enlisting the help of an imaginary friend. (Because it's better to embarrass an imaginary friend than a real friend.)

My imaginary friend is a minor league baseball player (shocker). Since my friend needs a name, we'll call him Mickey Cobb. Mickey hails from a land as open and free as a Galilean moon: Oklahoma. The name of his town? Cottonmouth. Always a natural athlete, Mickey was popular in high school but never won any contests such as Prom King. In fact, he elected to not even go to prom--he hates the choking confines of a tux. (Not to mention the terrible feeling of posing for pictures.) Instead, he sat around a bonfire with a couple of his baseball buddies, watching Bill E. Bobb crush empty cans of Keystone off his forehead. Later, others joined the circle of post-prom reminiscing, including the Prom Queen, who quickly huddled next to Mickey close to the fire (as far away from Bill E. as possible).

Mickey attended a local junior college where he developed as a player and continued to date Prom Queen. He then attended Some Southern University in Western Oklahoma--a well-known baseball powerhouse. His junior year, Mick had high hopes of getting drafted, but the scrimmage prior to the start of the season a hamstring was strained, which hampered (couldn't help myself) him the entire season. Both his power numbers and his ability to play the outfield diminished. Draft day passed without his name being called.

With the coming of his senior year, Mickey worked harder than ever. He knew it was his last chance to make his dream a reality. The hard work paid off. Mickey became an All-Conference player, and in early June the moment finally came. He heard his name called in the 12th round of the draft.

As a senior signee, Mickey had no leverage. He quickly took the first offer given him by the BlueBuzzards, and signed a uniform contract with a $5,000 signing bonus. He immediately took the bulk of the bonus to the local Cottonmouth jewelry store, where he bought a diamond solitaire engagement ring for Prom Queen. All of Cottonmouth, Oklahoma rejoiced.
Mickey has now played a year and a half in professional baseball. He enters his second spring training after making the Sally League All-Star team the previous year, posting a .297 average with 16 homeruns. Though he's not considered a top prospect yet, the eyes and spitcups of the organization are upon him. He hopes with another All-Star caliber season he will move into the upper ranks of the system.

Last season Mickey made just over $6000 for the year. He went to instructional leagues for all of October and also attended a two week workout camp in December. Additionally, he was invited to a mini-camp beginning two weeks prior to spring training in the middle of February. He earned no money for his time spent at instructional leagues or at spring training. All of these things--combined with a tough local economy--made it impossible for him to find work during the couple of months spent in Cottonmouth. His baseball salary was his only source of income.

Prom Queen worked odd jobs--20 hours a week at a golf course during one summer month, part-time at a restaurant 2 winter months--but she too found it hard to find work while living as a gypsy. In all, she earned $3,000 herself. Combined they earned $9000 last season.

Their bank account is as empty as an Easter tomb. Even though they're now married, they again lived with their parents in the offseason. This season, they're living with three other players, all crammed into a two-bedroom apartment, yet they still pay almost $400 per month for rent.

More and more, Mick and Prom Queen are finding it difficult to pay for groceries. Finally they make a tough decision. They inquire to see if they are eligible for food stamps.

They open up Mick's old laptop--a Christmas present from his freshman year in college that is as slow as a sailboat on a windless day. After a few minutes, the power of Google directs them to a website that gives an instant estimate. Prom Queen types some information into the calculator. FNS SNAP eligibility screening proclaims they are eligible for between $357 and $367 per month in food stamps.

They also look into other benefits. They find that they are well below the established poverty guidelines which qualify them for a myriad of things. In fact, they are more than $5000 below the threshold of $14,700 set by the government for a family of two.

Mick and Prom Queen quietly go about the process of applying for these benefits. They are embarrassed about their situation, but they don't know what else to do. Their parents have no money to help them. Prom Queen can't find work. And Mick's meager salary is set by his original contract. They've done their best to avoid credit card use. They're pinching pennies as much as possible--Prom Queen hasn't bought a new shirt in months--yet they need help. Not even Bill E. Bobb's awesome powers can rescue them.

Mickey tries to put these things out of his mind. He goes to the park each day, hoping beyond hope that he will soon be promoted. He knows he has talent, but so do many others. The chances of reaching the big leagues are slim, but he must continue to believe.

Each day he signs a few autographs before entering the clubhouse. Playing for his new team in the Midwest League, seven or eight thousand people watch him play each night. These people cheer him, and many already know his name. Being an All-Star the previous year, he's one of the centerpieces of his new team's marketing strategy. He's on the cover of the program and will routinely make visits to schools. He talks to the local press and makes radio appearances. And Mick never turns down the opportunity to say hi to a kid.

The minor league team will directly benefit from these things, but they will pay no part of his salary. They won't even help with housing. Instead, the major league team will pay his salary, and they have no incentive to increase it. After all, with only a small percentage of minor leaguers contributing at the big league level, it's in their best interest to pay minor leaguers as little as possible. Constantly in a battle with the MLBPA--which does not represent minor leaguers--they try to use almost all their resources on the big league budget.

While Mickey's at the field each day, Prom Queen goes to the grocery store. As she approaches the register, she takes the food stamps out of her purse, hoping that nobody will recognize her as a ballplayer's wife. Having paid for the food, she grabs her bags and quickly walks out with her head cast slightly towards the ground. More than ever, she misses the simplicity of her Cottonmouth youth with every step that she takes.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More on "Playing for Peanuts"

Okay, so after months of waiting, Baseball America finally printed my article on minor league salaries. I was beginning to wonder if it fell through some fiberoptic blackhole between St. Louis and Charlotte. Alas, it was finally found (probably buried under a stack of Ryan Sadowski rookie cards).

I wanted to give everyone a brief synopsis of the article. More importantly, I also want to provide a few numbers that were sent to the trashbin (with the Garrett Broshuis rookie cards). Here goes:

While salaries within Major League Baseball have escalated exponentially since the 1975 Seitz Decision established the modern free agency system, salaries of minor leaguers have barely budged. Though data on past minor league salaries is hard to obtain, estimates were made by talking to former players. In 1975, salaries for minor leaguers were the following:

· Short season A: $500
· Class A: $750
· Class AA: $1000
· Class AAA: $1250

Salaries today stand at $1100 in Short-Season A, $1150 in Class A, $1500 in Class AA, and $2150 in Class AAA; a total average increase of 74%. This pales in comparison to the almost 7000% increase in average MLB salaries over the same time period ($44,676 in 1975 to over $3.2 million today) and 2400% increase in MLB minimum salaries ($16,000 to $400,000). Meanwhile inflation has increased by almost 400%.

This results in many ballplayers living an impoverished lifestyle despite playing in front of record minor league crowds. The fact that salaries are only paid during the five month season and not during spring training and instructional leagues exacerbates the problem. Most players make less than $7500 per year and in a tough economy have been unable to supplement their income through offseason work.

One former roommate elected not to eat breakfast or lunch in order to save money. He instead waited until he arrived to the field each day around 2 pm, where he then devoured two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Other quotes within the story provide further revelations:

“We had twelve players, two wives and a baby staying with us all at once,” said Barbara Rothstein, a former host mother for the Norwich Navigators, the then Double A affiliate of the New York Yankees. “We didn’t charge them a dime. One month we had a $5800 food bill and we tried collecting $20 from each, but some of them couldn’t even afford that.”

“My parents pay my phone bill, my car payment, and help us out with rent in the off-season,” said one Giants' minor leaguer. “I’m 25 years old, married, and am living off of them. I wouldn’t be able to play if they didn’t help me.”

There are many reasons for this situation. Minor leaguers are not represented by the MLBPA and have no union of their own. Additionally, the large pool of players willing to do anything just for a chance to play creates little pressure to increase salaries. This is evidenced by the supply of cheap labor playing in the independent leagues. Lastly, actual minor league affiliates pay no part of minor league salaries even though they profit directly from their play. Many minor league franchises are now worth in excess of $20 million. Though the idea is unpopular, it may be time to shift some of the cost of minor league salaries to the actual minor league affiliates.

Players often cram into a two-bedroom apartment during the season to save money. Almost all of them sleep on air mattresses. Some skip meals to save money. Baseball is taking advantage of young men with dreams, and this should change.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Fallen

To the average fan, spring training offers a simple glimpse of the future. A young prospect pitching in his first Cactus League game, striking out the side. A newly signed veteran hitting a homerun, meshing with his new teammates. There's unfulfilled promise in the spring. Everyone is full of hope at what the season might entail.

From the outside looking in, the atmosphere seems light. After all, these games are meaningless. Spring is simply a preparation phase. For many minor leaguers--especially the vets--this couldn't be farther from the truth. It's as stressful as it gets.

The end of spring is the time rosters are set. Each day players wander into the clubhouse with their heads down, looking towards a single sheet of paper to learn their fate. The paper consumes them until the very end. Sometimes, names disappear entirely from the paper.

A couple of my best friends saw their names erased today. With the stroke of a pen, Paul Oseguera and David Maroul were released. Oseguera was once rated the top 16 year old in the country. He was even in Sports Illustrated. Almost ten years and several surgeries later, he's looking for a new team.

Oseguera is a great friend and great person. He's one of the guys that I truly miss hanging out with. He'll continue to attempt to play. He knows the talent is still in there somewhere, even if the surgeries have taken much of it away. He has a newborn to provide for and a beautiful wife. Hopefully he soon finds a job within baseball that will earn him at least a little bit of a salary.

Maroul has a similar story. He was once the College World Series' Most Outstanding Player while playing for Texas. A golden glove and a plus arm, combined with power potential, made for an intriguing combination. And he's as nice a guy as you will find.

Clubbies, coaches, and teammates alike will vouch for these guys. Now they're in baseball limbo, wondering if they should continue pursuing a dream or look for another line of work. In their minds, they have more to offer. It's not an easy decision to make.

I wish them and everyone else released all the best of luck. Hopefully they will find happier days, whether they be on or off the diamond.

And for the sake of the players, let the cauldron that is spring soon come to an end.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Thank You Blanket

I've spent a few weeks thinking of a clever way of announcing my retirement. With tweeting, facebooking, and Stephen Colbert surrounding me, the pressure of cleverness is as suffocating as heat in the Mojave.

But as so often happens in my life, my mind fails me and cleverness alludes me. Then again, when making a retirement announcement at the ripe age of 28, maybe cleverness isn't really necessary. Maybe instead I should resort to a proven tactic: a thank you.

It seems odd to write a thank you while admitting failure, but that is what I am doing. I failed to reach my goal, and so in essence I am thanking the very people who not only allowed but assisted my failings. Yet I’m of the belief that there is still beauty in coming up just short, even if the beauty is of a different hue than the ultimate gratification of success. The process is the same even if the end result greatly differs. I’ve loved every minute of this process, even the lowest of lows.

For six years, I’ve been fortunate enough to play baseball at the professional level. For much longer, baseball has been a large part of who I am as a person. It has delivered so many amazing moments in my young life, and I've never been alone during these moments. It’s the people that I will remember most.

A person retains a core of stable traits, but their persona is somewhat dynamic. Everyday encounters play no small part in this fluctuation, with a few magical moments serving as punctuation. So many of these moments took place through baseball. Some seemed trivial at the time of occurrence, yet they produced unknown significance in my career and ultimately my life. Whether it was a word of encouragement from a person standing at the rail of the stands before a game or a night with a teammate after a tough loss, I am forever indebted to every person I have ever met.

I'll never be able to thank everyone, but I'll do my best to weave a thank you blanket thick enough to cover many. Hopefully it will warm the people who provided me warmth on so many cool days throughout my young life.

Giant Thank Yous

I must begin with a thank you to the San Francisco Giants organization. You took a chance on a pitchable righty from the Midwest, thereby initiating this great failure. You invested time and money in my development, and both of us wish that I were currently in Scottsdale, preparing for a big-league season with my former teammates. I apologize for my shortcomings, but always know I took my duties as a baseball player seriously. I worked diligently. I prepared both my mind and body. I always competed. I dedicated my heart to the game, even if I fell short of giving it my soul.

So many coaches within the organization helped me. My pitching coaches--Bert Bradley, Trevor Wilson, Bob Stanley, Jerry Cram, Mike Caldwell, Ross Grimsley, Brian Cooper--as well as my managers--Joe Strain, Lenn Sakata, Shane Turner, Dave Machemer, Bien Figueroa, Andy Skeels, and Steve Decker—deserve recognition, as do so many others. The athletic trainers and clubbies, the interns and front office personnel, the maintenance workers and human resources personnel all played a large role in my baseball life.

Also within the Giants organization, I must thank my teammates. You were my family away from my family. Zany moments took place with you (yes, some inappropriate for this blog), and I know I’ll never be able to duplicate the feeling of the teammate relationship.

I had a former athlete tell me that one thing he missed in his post-competition life was not being able to shower with the guys. Well, I don’t know if I’ll completely miss the showers, but I’ll definitely miss everything else. Thanks to all of you.


If anyone assisted me more in my failings than my coaches and teammates, it was my host families. Both before and during professional baseball, these amazing people took me into their homes. They gave me food and a bed but above all encouragement.

A couple of families had young children while I stayed with them years ago. I haven’t seen them since, and I’m sure they are now well on their way to becoming beautiful adults. They probably barely even remember me, but I always hoped that I could make a quick fortune in this game. If I did, I told myself I’d pay for every cent of the college tuition for these children. This is yet one more regret that I have. I simply cannot, and will not, be able to do this.

It’s not an easy thing to invite a random person to live with you, a sort of ballplayer roulette. Yet host families did this very thing, and greatly helped me. On the salaries that ballplayers receive, it would be tough to survive without you. I can never fully return the favor, but if you are ever pass through St. Louis or any other area where I’m living, my home is open.

Fan Appreciation Day

A thank you must also go out to all the fans that I met. Players at times see fans as outsiders, unconsciously viewing them not as equals but as Roman rulers might view the masses. They appease them when necessary, but contain them behind barriers. Encounters are limited.

I never accepted that view. No person should be deemed any better or worse based on their occupation or their status in this world. Just because I played a game that entertained others did not make me important. So I did my best to get to know as many fans as possible on a personal level. Everyone has a story, and I tried to take a few moments to hear it.

Many of you took me to lunches and dinners. Some of you even brought me to your homes. All of you encouraged me during my failings and cheered me during my successes.

A few still email or write to me. Hearing tidbits from your lives—Johnny’s first little league game, Matt in the choir, or Judy in the school play—always brings joy, and I hope you will continue to write. If any of you have ever wanted to write but never found the time to do so, I welcome hearing from you.

From my first game, I was always surprised when someone actually wanted my autograph. I did my best to sign for every kid and for the occasional adult. If I ever appeared less than accommodating, I apologize. I never intended to behave in such a manner, but was instead probably preparing for a start or consumed by the work that leads up to the next start.

Whether you are in Oregon or Arizona, Connecticut or California, or any other state in which our paths might have crossed, I sincerely thank you. I’ll miss our encounters.

The Written and Spoken Word

Journalists also helped me along the way. Stan McNeal of The Sporting News saw something in my crappy early writing that led him to give me some website space. Years later, Baseball America took me in. Other beat journalists, such as Joe Perez, and every radio announcer, deserve my sincere gratitude. Thanks for everything.

Growing Up

Outside of the professional game, I must thank all of my coaches throughout my life. My college coaches at the University of Missouri played an immeasurable role in my development as a player and a person. Without them, I would have never had the opportunity to advance in this game.

I played American Legion ball in two different towns, first in Poplar Bluff, Missouri and finally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. I doubt many readers of this blog have ever heard the names of these towns, but I can assure you they are inhabited by honest and hard-working people. The same can be said for my small hometown of Advance, Missouri.

The town will never have my name upon the water tower. My childhood residence will never be marked but will instead pass from one hand to the next, providing shelter for other families with other dreaming youths. The town will go on without me as it has for more than a hundred years, but please know that it has left an indelible stamp upon me. I never go anywhere without it. The work ethic and compassion that I learned in this town forged the foundation of my life.

My parents still live outside of this town. If one drives ten miles towards the hills, you’ll eventually cross a bridge before a line of bluffs begin. Upon the top of these hills, you’ll find a ranch-style home set behind a line of trees. Here you might find my mother working in the garden or taking the dog for a walk in the woods. My dad might be tinkering in his shop or upon his small tractor, preparing food plots for his beloved deer and turkeys. If it’s a Saturday evening, you might find them on the back porch with a glass of iced tea, watching their grandchildren play. If one is lucky enough to meet these people on such a day, you would be greeted with the biggest of smiles and the warmest of hearts. These amazing people brought me into this world and gave me all the love that a small boy could ever imagine. I am truly blessed to have such parents.

These parents insisted that my three sisters be at every game that I played. No matter the day of the week—in Poplar Bluff, Cape Girardeau, or any other town in Southeast Missouri—they could be found at a baseball field throughout many summers. I hope they know their presence was appreciated, even if I didn’t always express it. I only regret the game caused me to miss so many moments in their own lives. High school and college graduations, last volleyball games and first dates—I missed so many significant moments. I apologize for my shortcomings. Though these moments have now passed and I can never atone for my absence, I hope to do better in the future.

Lastly, this cannot end without a thank you to my wife. I have been absent for so much of the three years of our marriage, but her love was with me always. It’s not easy to be with a failing athlete. At times the game delivered me elation inexpressible, but as my career furthered, frustration bordering on acute depression more often dominated my moods. You supported me through both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. You always knew when to talk and when to say nothing at all. I look forward to spending the rest of our lives together, wherever that might be.

With that I must leave all of you with a memory of a moment, and a sincere thank you for allowing a dream to almost be.

Garrett Broshuis