Friday, March 22, 2019

EXTRA: How baseball has changed

I dug out my copy of “Ball Four,” the diary that one-time major league pitcher Jim Bouton wrote of his 1969 season, and his recollections of the first contract he signed to play ball for the New York Yankees was noteworthy.

Major league minimum, and thankful for it
For the record, he got $6,000 (the then-major league minimum salary) to pitch in 1962. His contract was offered to him on Opening Day, just before the National Anthem was played for that game. He was told to “sign it!” because all rookie ballplayers were given $6,000.

BUT THAT WAS a half-century ago. Times truly have changed with baseball’s economics – and not just because the major league minimum now is $555,000 for a rookie ballplayer.

The Chicago White Sox have got their share of national attention for the contract they gave to outfielder Eloy Jimenez – one of the kid ballplayers whom the White Sox are banking on to become stars who revitalize the ballclub into champions.

Jimenez this week signed his first contract to play major league ball – he’ll likely be with the team when they have their April 4 Opening Day against the Seattle Mariners at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Yet Jimenez didn’t even have to think in terms of the major league “minimum” in terms of pay. He got a six-year deal, with two more seasons if the White Sox want them, with pay being $43 million (or more like $70 million-plus, if the White Sox add on those extra seasons).

Richest White Sox even before 1st game
IT ACTUALLY QUALIFIES for the most expensive, longest-term deal ever paid out by the White Sox to a single ballplayer. And he has yet to play in his first major league ballgame.

Yet this isn’t about spending money. It’s about saving it.

Because the White Sox are convinced that Jimenez will be such a big star that he’ll be capable of demanding even higher payouts in upcoming years. So by tossing out “big bucks” now, they’re hoping they can commit him to less than the “bigger bucks” they’d have to pay in the future.

Of course, Jimenez could wind up injuring himself, or finding some other glitch in his game that keeps him from becoming all he can be. In fact, the more cynical of White Sox fandom are convinced that’s exactly what will happen.

Strategy worked for Indians
BUT THE WHITE Sox are banking that this contract will be similar to many of the significant contracts the Cleveland Indians gave to their youthful talents of the 1990s – thereby enabling them to hold their team together for several years during that decade when they dominated the American League Central division with division titles won five straight seasons.

However, by the time 2001 came around, the contracts turned out to be less-than-market value. All those stars wound up ditching Cleveland for other ball clubs – including eventually Jim Thome doing a stint with the White Sox themselves.

So it will be intriguing to see just what becomes of the youthful talent of the White Sox. Are we bound to see baseball bargains the next few seasons that will make Sox fandom happy? Particularly since Jimenez was the one-time Chicago Cubs minor leaguer whom the Sox will be able to claim a steal!

Or is there going to be continued griping, with fans finding the most exciting aspect of going to the ballpark being the new popcorn laced with bacon to be served at concession stands this season?


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