The economic downturn truly has hit us all.
Just this week I saw a classified ad for a young man who cannot seem to find employment. It read: “Veteran worker, willing to be a team player, former character issues a thing of the past, .480 on base percentage last year, all-time home run king. Will work for low six figures.”
Barry Bonds just can’t find a job because some bully named George Mitchell attempted to blacklist him.
And check out this resume: “Future Hall-of-Famer shunned by team. Excellent knowledge of pitching. Experience in both postseason play and governmental affairs.”
Roger Clemens can’t catch a break, either. Is there really no country for old men (which deserved to win an Oscar as much as Paris Hilton does)? The league is currently in a state in which young superstars like Dustin Pedroia and Joba Chamberlain are mentored by a plethora of quality vets who are not quite over the hill but are slowly starting to roll downhill, like Manny Ramirez and Mike Mussina. The true fogies no longer have places as the role player/leader of each team.
Fellow vets like Tony Batista(farian), Armando Benitez, Jeff Cirillo, Juliolder-than-your-dad-Franco, Freddy Garcia, Ryan Klesko and Kenny Lofton, among others, remain members of their ranks. Other players like Brian Roberts are unwanted by their teams, and the Nationals are preparing to replace Paul Lo Duca at the end of his one-year contract with Johnny Estrada and Jesus “Christ” Flores.
What can we take from this information, that proven veterans now cannot find jobs where they once found spots as role players on championship contenders? Two clear patterns emerge.
The first clear trend is that if you were in the Mitchell Report, teams don’t want you. They do not want to see your numbers drop suddenly, they do not want the distraction and negative media coverage and they certainly do not want former alleged steroid users hanging around their innocent prospects. Cincinnati will sign Barry Bonds to be super-prospect Jay Bruce’s mentor when I become cleanup hitter for the Yankees.
The second trend is that baseball’s polarization has divided teams into contenders and non-contenders; there are few teams that appear poised to make a run at the playoffs despite their low payroll and traditional non-contender status. The Red Sox and Yankees have no need for over-the-hill vets because they can pay top dollar for bona fide superstars instead. So can teams hoping to contend despite last year’s failures, like the Tigers and Cubs. Nobody who can buy the 2008 Lamborghini opts for the ’69 Chevy Nova … or a bike. Francisco Cordero was the Benz, and Armando Benitez’s arm might as well have been run over by one.
Teams that won’t be contending this year, like the Baltimore Orioles, have no need for players who do not fit into the five-year plan. Why spend money to be only slightly worse this season? Teams like the Orioles have tried that strategy for years and consistently finished near the bottom of the AL East, so they have a visionary new strategy: field a roster crappy enough to justify the team’s record at the end of the year.
We’ll have to see how successful this strategy of intentional deterioration proves.
But don’t give up hope yet, Kenny Lofton. And don’t delete those BALCO numbers from your address book yet, Barry. You guys may need to stay in shape. Some players do not live up to expectations, teams get hit by injuries, and teams make surprising runs into or out of playoff contention. Teams always need a reliable bat like Jeff Conine right before the trading deadline. Or a veteran reliever.
Someone will dish out a contract to a proven performer with character and age issues who only commands several months’ salary of a prorated contract in hopes of achieving short-term glory. Don’t be surprised when Jose Mesa’s stomach fills up your TV screen this playoff season despite the fact that he’s watching spring training from home. Or when Slammin’ Sammy returns to Wrigley.
But until then, these legends are just like the rest of us, trying to find a job in turbulent times.
Collin Gutman is a sophomore in Pierson College.