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