Proving Your Worth
Of all stories about PEDs and baseball, I don’t think I’ve ever come across an article that put forth the explanation Jonathan Tjarks asks us to consider: in some cases PED usage is used to justify of a massive contract and not a tactic to sign a massive contract. With Seattle’s Robinson Canó, the $240MM man, returning this week from an 80-game PED suspension (tested positive for a diuretic used to mask PED) Tjarks walks us through a interesting argument:
The conventional cynical wisdom is that players use PEDs to boost their stats and secure massive contracts, but what if we sometimes have it backward? In an interview for ESPN with Peter Gammons in 2009, Alex Rodriguez said he first began taking steroids in 2001 after signing a 10-year, $252 million deal with the Rangers. A-Rod put a huge spotlight on himself by signing that deal, which was worth more than what Rangers owner Tom Hicks paid for the franchise. His performance had to be almost superhuman; otherwise, it would be judged a failure.
Baseball’s free agency rules (once players get to the majors, their salaries are controlled for six seasons). No open market until after that sixth year with the big league club. Considering a lot of players spend two, three, or even four years in the minors, we’re talking about team control for eight, nine, or even ten years! This rule makes it very rare for players to hit the open market while still in their prime (which is somewhere between 26 and 28).
Unless a player is a prodigy like A-Rod, who reached the majors at 18, he won’t hit the market until he’s past his prime. Under the current system, Aaron Judge won’t be a free agent until he’s 31. Jacob deGrom won’t be a free agent until he’s 32.
In other words, the Yankees paid Canó 58MM for nine hall-of-fame seasons (a complete bargain), and the Mariners will pay $240MM for not that (a rip-off). These 10-year contracts never work out because the players are simply too old when they are eligible to sign such a deal.
Tjarks went back a generation for another comparison:
Just look at two of the greatest players from the previous generation: Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. Bonds spent his first seven seasons with the Pirates before signing with the Giants at the age of 28. Griffey spent his first 11 seasons with the Mariners before signing with the Reds at the age of 30. Both were sure-fire Hall of Famers before they signed with their second teams. Both were paid $95 million between the ages of 30 and 38. The difference is that Griffey produced 13.3 WAR over that stretch, while Bonds produced 77.8 WAR.
PED use is why Bonds is not in the Hall of Fame and Griffey is. But would San Francisco fans be willing to trade the second half of his career for Griffey’s? Bonds won back-to-back-to-back-to-back MVP awards and turned the Giants into an elite franchise. The Reds never even made the playoffs with Griffey.
Of course, there is another possible explanation. Players take PEDs for all the reasons: to get into the bigs, to stay in the bigs; to sign a contract for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and to sign a contract for hundreds of millions of dollars. I choose D – all of the above. – PAL
Source: “Canó and the Impossible Contract”, Jonathan Tjarks, The Ringer (8/14/18)
TOB: (My response inspired by of one of my favorite memes):
Phil I want to address this issue. You KNOW I don’t care if athletes use PEDs. BUT!
I think this argument is b.s.! I won’t dispute that Robinson Canó, who has a massive contract guaranteeing him huge amounts of money until he’s 41 was not taking PEDs to play for his next contract. It was not “about” making money. HOWEVER! I do not buy that athletes like Canó, A-Rod and (ALLEGEDLY!) Bonds took PEDs out of some selfless need to live up to the expectations created by their massive contracts. It’s ego, bruh. Plain and simple. When Bonds (ALLEGEDLY!) took PEDs, it was (ALLEGEDLY!) in response to the fame garnered by juiceheads McGwire and Sosa during the 1998 home run chase. Bonds, suddenly, wasn’t the biggest name in baseball and he couldn’t take it.
Sidebar: I’d also like to take this opportunity to say that I am surprised everyone so blindly accepts that Griffey was clean, when there is some evidence to suggest he was not. First, he got a lot bigger right after 1998, just like Bonds. Natural aging? Maybe. But no one gives the benefit of that doubt to Bonds. Second, right after he goes to the Reds in 2000, his body starts breaking down. He was only 30, and he suffered repeated and severe soft tissue injuries: pulled and torn hamstrings especially plagued him. As you may know, anabolic steroid use can lead to muscle tears. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.
So, yeah. I don’t care if Canó took PEDs. But I’m also not going to allow Tjarks to let him off the hook for his actions to say it was out of some altruistic need to live up to his paycheck.
PAL: To be clear, I am not suggesting Tjarks is right; I’m just saying he makes a compelling point on Canó’s behalf. The delayed free agency leads to players being at or past their prime when they sign their big contracts, which can lead to the PED use. I have’t heard that one before.
The Birth of College Football
As TOB mentioned to me, it’s frustrating how many great articles and stories are on The Athletic, which doesn’t allow readers any free views in order to sample the goods. I’ll do my best to share big chunks of this story, because it’s a doozy.
Did you know the popularization of college football ban be traced back to WWI, and that it was military bases and academies that brought the game to the masses? I didn’t.
As top college athletes enlisted in the war efforts and universities struggled to find enough bodies to field teams, more players who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play at the college level were given a chance to participate. The sport became less of an elitist pastime and more of an everyman’s game.
College football became seen as more “American” as military training camps put together teams to face off against themselves and universities. And when the flu ultimately passed and congregating was again allowed around the country, the communal feel of a football game proved valuable.
Back in 1916, the game was used as a way to keep soldiers healthy…and by healthy I mean STD-free:
The view of football being valuable to World War I military training can be traced to a breakout of venereal disease.
In 1916, national guardsmen who were stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Texas — patrolling territory near the U.S.-Mexico border — suffered from an outbreak of sexually transmitted disease at their camp.
“These young Guardsmen, with nothing to occupy their free time, swarmed into the nearby camp towns to look for fun, but found venereal disease and cheap alcohol instead,” James Mennell wrote in The Service Football Program of World War I: Its Impact on the Popularity of the Game.
With the U.S. creeping closer to involvement in World War I in 1916, the need for healthy, young, STD-free American males became greater. So on the recommendation of War Department Secretary Newton D. Baker, the Commission on Training Camp Activities (CTCA) was created.
With U.S. involvement in WWI seeming more likely by the day, the war efforts became widespread. Many former college athletes were enlisting, and more and more college men were joining the ROTC. However, there was a general concern that the 2-year and 4-year ROTC programs weren’t churning out prepare soldiers fast enough. This lead to the Student Army Training Corps, a university-driven military training curriculum. At that point, nearly every male student was a part of the SATC; they were eligible for the draft if they weren’t a member. The SATC allowed them to continue their education without a draft hanging over their heads.
And just like that, you have 400 colleges across the country training soldiers with the military leadership – right up to President Wilson – seeing football as a key component of the soldiers’ training.
And right as the game, made popular on bases and college campuses alike, was gaining national attention, the flu hit. It’s hard to fathom the scale of it all, but this stat rattled me:
More children under 9 died in the United States in 1918 than during the next 25 years combined. In the span of those 12 months, the average U.S. life expectancy dropped almost 12 years.
The result was very few games played in September and October of that year. People missed the game, and in November charity games were set up to raise funds for the United War Work Fund. People came out by the thousands, eager to cheer. The ceasefire and Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, and the second wave of the flu was dissipating.
For a nation that had suffered deaths abroad and at home, November football came as a respite. For the American military, it proved to be one of the most useful tools in helping to win the war. And for the future of the sport, the 1918 season proved to be one in which the game was taken up as American and democratized for many.
When you think about the origin of college football, which pre-dates professional football, the modern-day alignment with the military makes a bit more sense. In fact, I’m shocked that I’ve never heard the story of how football spread across the country by way of a war effort. I’m shocked I haven’t read the words of Penn’s Sol Metzger on a bumper-sticker somewhere:
Now our American game of football teaches us nothing if it does not build up our spirit. College spirit, bred of football, is close kin to patriotism. And this spirit of the American forces is nothing more than college spirit of a high and nobler order.
All of this football because some soldiers got VD. Actually, that sounds about right. – PALSource: “A season of influenza and influence: How World War I and a pandemic in 1918 changed college football forever”, Chantel Jennings, The Athletic (8/14/18)
TOB: Interesting article. Phil did a good job tying it together, but I had to call attention to this section, where a doctor laments all the deaths due to the 1918 influenza pandemic:
“One can stand it to see one, two or twenty men die, but to see these poor devils dropping like flies sort of gets on your nerves. We have been averaging about 100 deaths per day, and still keeping it up. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a new mixed infection here, but what I don’t know.”
I can’t stop laughing at his nonchalance. Sure, who doesn’t mind seeing twenty people die. But yeah, 100 per day? That sure does get on my nerves, too.
Video of the Week
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PAL Song of the Week: Aretha Franklin – “Chain of Fools”
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