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Baseball: The Silent Spring

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Ah, it’s that time of year again when the most of us are locked in the frozen tundra of winter, dark and gloomy skies, all hope for joy long gone. This year on February 14, thoughts turn to Valentines Day with flowers, candy and a night out for a nice dinner.

But not me: February 14th is the day pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training. The official start of spring may be a month or more away but I could care less. Hope has arrived, to hell with the ice and snow.

Say what you will about baseball, it is slow, often boring, tradition bound or all of the above. There is just so much excitement about the start of spring training that all of these shortcomings are overlooked. There will be plenty of time for complaining around mid August when your favorite team is hopelessly locked in last place 22 games back of the second wild card spot.

Of all sports, baseball is unique. Players are paid what the open market determines they are worth. Yes there is this thing called a luxury tax that punishes any team owner who spends more than $187 million on player salaries. But even this threshold that still works out to an average of $7.19 million per player. So what if 5% goes for agent fees and another 25% for taxes, that still leaves a bundle for the players to take home. Hooray for free enterprise.

Keep in mind $7.9 million is just the taxable income. What about the other benefits like first class travel on private jets, the best hotels, rock star status and all those plump after game buffets? Just as part time baseball star and full time gourmand Pablo Sandoval for details.

There is a lot of complaining about baseball salaries being so inflated they don’t relate to the value received. There is even a baseball statistic to measure this; it is called Wins Above Replacement or WAR. I don’t have a clue how exactly it is calculated. I think it is something like the NFL Quarterback rating system that I don’t understand either.

Critics are all so short sighted never taking into account raw talent and the years of work and dedication it takes to make the major leagues. In addition to hitting, fielding and throwing, a top-level player also must learn how to spit incessantly, chew bags of sunflower seeds and adjust his protective cup only when in frame of a television camera. When a player is being interviewed and refers to his dedication to working hard everyday, this is what he is referring to: spitting, chewing and adjusting.

Baseball’s business model is changing dramatically thanks to Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs. Over the past few years, Theo amassed a pool of highly talented and cheap (a little over $510,000 per year) players winning a World Series in the process.

The Cubs success has not been ignored. Every team is now chasing young talent. It is no surprise that the high priced free agent market took a dive this last off-season. The people to feel sorry for are the players between 30-35 who are becoming free agent eligible for the first time seeking the big Robinson Cano 10 year $247 million contract. Sorry, it isn’t happening any longer. Even Bryce Harper may be in for a surprise come 2018.

This holds huge implications for talented young high school and college players. The doors to major league baseball are about to open wider than ever before. Imagine any team fully staffed with players making the league minimum. Their payroll could be under $30 million. So kids, time is short, start working on your spitting, crewing and adjusting today. The future is yours if you are willing to work hard.

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