Why I Could Never Be a Baseball Fan

It’s dull. Also, this: Know what the Nats receive as compensation for losing Alfonso Soriano — their 40-home-run, 40-stolen-bases guy — to the Cubs this past weekend? Two unidentified high school baseball players.
I swear.
What kind of credibility can any professional sport have when its teams are allowed, with impunity, to operate in parasitic fashion upon one another’s assets? What sense does it make to have the ripened, luscious fruit of your scouting department — players around whom entire sales offices depend and marketing campaigns are conceived — ripped out of your community without any awareness or notice before the ink is dry on the new deal? The fact that Soriano was originally acquired by the Nats in a trade as opposed to being drafted is irrelevant — baseball is set up precisely for this injustice.
Imagine yourself a young man or woman working in the Nats’ ticket sales office this week. I think I’d rather try and move used Pacers on River Rd. on New Years Eve.

Since Sunday’s Soriano news I researched baseball’s free agency terms a bit, and my suspicions — that the inmates (players and their agents) were running the asylum — were confirmed. Basically, baseball affords all of its players unlimited free agency after what it deems six years of service to an organization. This is nothing like the seven years of big league service generally required of NHLers under its new CBA. Three of baseball’s six years of service can be, and most often are, spent in the minors. Meaning: fans can get to enjoy a prime talent as few as three years before watching him Lear jet off to pinstripes or Fenway.
Do you know what manner of compensation the Capitals would be entitled to if say in two (or five) years’ time Rangers’ GM Glen Sather wanted to replace Jaromir Jagr with restricted free agent Alexander Ovechkin? Sather’s wife, one of his children, one of his grandchildren, and approximately 75 acres of real estate in lower Manhattan. As it should be.
A long time ago hockey seemed to realize what baseball never has, or at least what it perhaps negotiated away to its players union: that identifying difference-making talent requires a fleet of scouts spanning the globe, and once lightning strikes, most often years more costly resources allocated to nurture the proper development of the talent. And that success in this high stakes endeavor is the surest sign of organizational health.
Hockey, like baseball, drafts its players at age 18, and the sports are similar too in that virtually all drafted talent requires years of patient instruction and physical development before plausible matriculation into the big leagues. The difference between the two sports is that hockey’s system of player movement acknowledges the significance of its player development infrastructure — honors it, really. A team like the Caps, or Pittsburgh, has paid a heavy price (sucky play) to positon itself to secure the likes of Ovechkin or Crosby. Are not their fans, after years of competitive angst and woe, entitled to the salve of these players’ spectacular play solidly into the prime years of their career?
Why on earth would any self respecting sport erect such a player development architecture and subsequently allow player agents to render it meaningless in about the time of the typical car lease?
Baseball is particularly invidious because of its caste arrangement, in which the Haves cannibalize the Have Nots. Each April baseball fans in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Milwaukee know two things: bring warm jackets to games and don’t dare expect to wear them at the same ballpark come October. The Oakland A’s may well have the best collection of scouting talent in all of professional sports; seemingly each year their roster is raided by the East Coast behemoths and management in turn turns to the scouts and a fresh crop of great kids the next season keeps a decent amount of Ws coming. But how do these Oakland scouts wake up every day and persevere working in such a blatantly feudal landscape?
And didn’t the Nats depart Montreal largely because the Expos were little more than a feeder farm north of the 49th? As things look this morning, in their third summer in D.C., the Nats may be not competitive with the region’s collegiate teams. The location can change but the sad song remains the same.

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4 Responses to Why I Could Never Be a Baseball Fan

  1. Soriano is 31 years old this offseason and he didn’t have a contract. And you expected him to NOT be a free agent?

  2. I came very close to addressing Soriano’s age in this post. And based on your comment, I should have. The question I asked myself but didn’t share with readers was: “Is 31 in baseball just like 31 in hockey?” In my judgement, no. In fact, it’s not even close. The obvious reason is that one is a contact sport and the other isn’t. Whereas Soriano can be thought of as just entering his prime (making his departure all the more painful for Nats’ fans), hockey generally would have its prime age identified a few years younger. Doubt it? Check out the length of the contract the Cubs gave Alfonso.

  3. Yea, I understand that there is a difference, but the guy has been in the league long enough to reach the age of free agency. Had the Cardinals not signed Pujols to a long term contract by now, he would have reached free agency. Obviously, him becoming a free agent sucks for the Nationals, but they knew that risk when they traded for him last winter.

  4. MNGopherGirl says:

    “Is 31 in baseball just like 31 in hockey?” In most cases, no, but in some cases, yes. Example: Imagine being a pitcher in your late 20’s. Your are in the prime of your career, throwing heat that no batter can touch. Suddenly, you hear “snap,” it’s over. (And yes, this happened in my family, so I take it seriously). But I do agree with your assessment that the integrity of the game has declined over the years.

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