What I learned working for a “professional” baseball club at Nat Bailey Stadium last year:
How to get run from a game: Apparently there’s more to getting thrown out of a game than merely pulling a Lou Pinella (the tossing of cap) or the Lloyd McLendon (removing first base and taking it to the locker room with you). Umpires are savvy beasts – they know when managers have a serious beef with the officiating, and when they’re merely grandstanding for those in attendance, or going to war for their players.
Of all the lethal profanities you can throw at an official, only one – c*cksucker – is good for a guaranteed ejection. For reasons unbeknownst to me, the standard swear words can be tossed around, and it still remains up to the umpires’ discretion whether you finish the game or head for an early shower. Now I’m not saying you can drop a succession of f-bombs and stay in the game….but for some odd reason, c*cksucker will always get you tossed the second after you either scream it aloud or mutter it under your breath. It’s automatic. Players know it, managers know it.
If you’re a fairly good-natured sportsman who doesn’t like cussing out a game official, you often have to resort to the Earl Weaver-like tactics (kicking dirt all over the ump’s shoes) to get run. One particular instance last year saw the home-team manager object to a dicey runner’s interference call against his team by running onto the field and duplicating his player’s slide into second base. Two times. The umpire stood stone faced after the first slide, but when the coach lined up to give a repeat performance, the ump almost graciously tossed him from the game. The coach then immediately returned to the trainer’s room to patch up the freshly-torn road rash he had on his ass.
How to negotiate a professional contract: Even though the “sports today is a business” cliché is tired, it is so bloody true. I lived with a player who hailed from the southern United States (name and hometown withheld) and was All-State in baseball and track. He was also named his home state’s Mr. Baseball twice during his final two years in High School. He also had the IQ of an eggplant and a rather similar work ethic. He quickly fell in love with Vancouver because of a) the legal drinking age being 19 as opposed to 21, b) high-grade marijuana and c) Kokanee. I’ll get back to him in a minute.
The Major League Baseball draft is different than most other sports because nearly all players – High School, Junior College, University – are eligible to be drafted. This is an interesting situation for many young ballplayers because once you sign a professional contract, you lose all your eligibility to compete at the NCAA level. For most of these guys, a good throwing arm or a fence-clearing swing is their ticket to a full-ride scholarship, not their brains. Most high-school kids who are draft eligible usually have a few schools lined up to enlist their services, but when a MLB team steps into the fray, a few things happen:
- High School kids suddenly have amazing bargaining power. In the case of the aforementioned player, his leverage was something along the lines of this: “School X can offer me a full-ride scholarship for baseball. School Y can also offer me a full-ride scholarship for track.” When you do the math on the approximate value of these two offers, plus some original “compensation” money (say, two weeks after signing with a MLB team, said rookie blows out his shoulder and his career never materializes) you get to enter the wonderful world of signing bonuses.
- Signing bonuses are no joke, either. Another one of the players I lived with had a stellar junior season at his local University (a fairly high-profile program as well) and was offered $40,000 as a signing bonus to leave school early and sign with a pro team. He declined, wanting more money and figuring his stock could only rise with a solid senior campaign. The following season he proceeded to have his forearm broken after being nailed with a pitch, saw his stock plummet and ended up going back to the MLB team who made the initial offer. His signing bonus the second time around? $1,000.
- Back to the aforementioned Mr. Baseball. I nearly gagged when I found out what his signing bonus came to after they hit the negotiation table – nearly $500,000 US. His bargaining power was increased by the fact he’d signed a letter of intent to play baseball for his home state University, which meant the MLB team in question had to at least match what a four-year full-ride scholarship at a major post-secondary institution cost. Which, since we were living in Vancouver at the time, put him within striking distance of being a millionaire in Canadian funds. I would not have believed him at the time had he not flipped me the keys to his 2001 Cadillac Escalade to jet to the store for Kokanee and steaks. All this, of course, before his 20th birthday rolled around. The MLB team cuts the player two cheques for his signing bonus – each equaling half of the complete total – one given to him at the beginning of his first professional season, the second at the conclusion of his first professional season. He often alluded to the fact that it was increasingly hard to get amped to play ball, especially since he’d already made his money. You don’t say.
How to distinguish the age and family name of a Latin ballplayer: Good freaking luck. One of the more engaging stories out of Major League Baseball over the past few years is the incredible number of cases in which Latin baseball players have “aged” after their major league affiliates managed to track down proper birth records. The Baseball Primer (www.baseballprimer.com) has compiled a list of several Latin players whose true ages have been revealed. Some of the notables include Tampa Bay Devil Rays 2B Wilmy Caceres, who turned out to be five years older than originally thought. Same goes for Seattle Mariners P Aquilino Lopez, who is also a half-decade older than the M’s assumed him to be. The Baseball Primer lists over 60 cases of Latin-American baseball players who have “aged” with the birth certificate madness in recent years.
Situations like these occur due to the underdeveloped areas in various Central and South American countries that are unable to provide and maintain accurate birth records for all their citizens. The problem is highlighted in minor league baseball, due to the fact that many positions filled in the lower leagues are with Latin ballplayers. Even though their chances at cracking the bigs may not be good and the pay is minimal, having a multi-season career in the low minor leagues is far more fulfilling, financially, than what they are presented with at home. In this light, presenting a 23-year old as a 20-year old prospect seems like an ideal way to pique the interests of the numerous scouts scouring Central and South America looking for players.
Who wouldn’t be interested in a player showing physical and skillful abilities beyond his years?