April 24, 2014

The Baseball Historian’s Notes for July 22, 2013: Teams Must Be Careful to Not Over-Extend Themselves

July 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

In these heady days of nine-figure contract extensions, it is becoming increasingly less likely to see a player spend their entire career with the same team. Those who do, like the New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera, can achieve icon status. However, teams seeking to retain their signature players have to be careful not to make bad business decisions in the name of sentiment.

The Boston Red Sox are reportedly discussing the framework of a five or six-year contract extension with star second baseman Dustin Pedroia that would pay him in the neighborhood of $20 million per year. The 29-year-old has won a Rookie of the Year award and an MVP in his eight seasons in Boston, while hitting .304 and accumulating many other recognitions. His diminutive size and swing-out-of-his-socks style of play have made him a fan favorite. Despite his resume, entertaining an extension at this point is a foolhardy move for the Red Sox, and could backfire on them down the road.

Pedroia is currently under team control through the 2015 season on a deal that will pay him a combined $21 million over the two full seasons (assuming the team picks up a 2015 team option). Laying out a rich extension now makes little sense with so much time left until he is eligible for free agency.

Star players like Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols have inked huge deals in recent years and then seen their production fall off a cliff. While it would be great to keep Pedroia in a Boston uniform for the entirety of his career, it would be prudent to wait and extend him a little later down the road based on what they think he can do for the team in the future, not what he did for them in the past.

***Speaking of the Red Sox, they have enjoyed one of the most dedicated fan bases in the game going back to their earliest days. This picture of Opening Day in 1912 at Fenway Park shows that even before the days of mass transportation, the faithful poured into the stadium like enchanted lemmings to root for the Beantown Nine. The neighborhood and park have changed in the 101 years since that photo was taken but the allure of the team has persevered through the passage of time; a testament to their power over the region.

***Likely history was made last week by a Cleveland Indians season ticket holder who was attending a home game against the Kansas City Royals. Greg Van Niel became the envy of 10-year-old boys everywhere by catching four foul balls during that epic game. He had never snagged a ball before but more than made up for it with his recent onset of sticky fingers. In case you were wondering, replicating Van Niel’s feat is a far reach at a very unlikely one in a trillion odds.

***Major League Baseball has had numerous players interrupt their playing careers to serve in the armed forces. The Korean War was one conflict that saw many players step away from the game to serve their country. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale profiled a handful of these players who exposed themselves to great risk and uncertainty, but have no regrets about the choices they made and the experiences they had.

Hall of Famers like Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and Whitey Ford missed significant time because of their military obligations. With the incredible numbers they put up during their careers, it is even more impressive to think of how those stats might have been padded with that additional time.

***SB Nation’s David Davis wrote an incredibly poignant article about Kirk Gibson’s famous 1988 World Series home run for the Los Angeles Dodgers against Oakland A’s closer Dennis Eckersley, and how the moment related to a personal tragedy for the author. He also wonders about whatever happened to the ball, which has never been officially identified as being recovered from that historic moment. Along the way, Davis explains the importance of baseball to a fan, the importance of honoring family, and how the two intersect and sometimes need to be kept separate. It’s a great read and only adds to the legend of the Gibson story.

***Players now-a-days get bent out of shape if an opponent goes into them with a hard slide or puts a good lick on a catcher at home plate. With that mentality, they would have hated to face Ty Cobb. In addition to a snarling and frequently hateful personality, he played the game with a ferocious intensity rarely seen before or since. He also earned a reputation for his violently aggressive base running, which included playing in spikes he allegedly honed to razor sharp points to intimidate and maim the opposing team. This picture shows the kind of play Cobb was capable of when he was challenged on taking a base. You just don’t see things like that on the bases any more…

***And now, your moment of Zen. For whatever reason, it seems like a small miracle when people throwing out ceremonial first pitches are able to get the ball within ten feet of home plate. There are others who make it seem like they are seeing a ball for the first time in their lives. A compilation has popped up showing some of the worst of the worst in first pitches. The flurry of balls spiked into the ground and thrown high and wide are good reminders that some things should simply be left to the professionals.

Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. He can be reached at historianandrew@gmail.com. You can also reach him on Twitter at @historianandrew.

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