Writer Jim Collins’ 2004 book The Last Best League is a look at low minor league baseball that opened my eyes to what I believe to be feeding false hopes among amateur baseball players, often teenagers.
Just last week, major league baseball teams drafted more than 1,000 amateur baseball players to fill the rosters of all their levels, from Rookie Leagues to AAA. Some players–a very few–get huge bonuses in the multi-million dollar range. Most of those players will sign for very little money, will earn less than enough to live on as their summer jobs and will see their dreams of big money and fame wither as they age beyond their teen or early 20s years.
There are 30 big league teams and they carry 25 players each until Sept. 1 of each year. That’s 750 players. After Sept. 1, as the playoffs approach, rosters expend to 40 players, 1,200 total. Some of those additional players are brought up from the minor leagues, mostly players who have been there for a while and are having good seasons.
There are 6,500 minor league players spread among 244 clubs (including teams in Salem, Lynchburg and Pulaski in this area). That’s a lot of hope and most of it will be dashed eventually. (The Pulaski rookie league team plays in a 1930s-era atmospheric stadium, Calfee Park, which is a delight to visit, by the way.)
Collins’ book is about a quasi-amateur collegiate rookie league on Cape Cod and he looks closely at the recent college players banking on getting a break. The league features teams from small towns in a remote location.
Time was when baseball teams from small towns–playing in leagues that went all the way from A to D–were popular representatives of the towns, playing in rivalry games against neighbors. Playing in the low minors was something kids happily did. Now it’s all about stepping stones in a sport where a 25-year-old in the low minors is done.
It is the very definition of false hope, given to youngsters in their formative when they could be concentrating on their educations and their careers afterward. Just how many of these kids are dispatched to lives of unrealized potential is not known. But I’d bet it’s a bunch.