January 29, 2004

Of books, dreams and writing

Last week, I found myself on Amazon.com, searching for and then purchasing The Associated Press Stylebook that I will need for my News Reporting and Writing class this semester (and hopefully for many other things in many other years down the road).

I frequent Amazon.com quite often. I buy books - lots of books - and sometimes even CDs and DVDs. It is, for someone like me, who enjoys writing and reading and watching and listening, a place to get lost for hours. It is also a place where someone like me can quickly part with a lot of money, which is perhaps why I don't always visit as much as I'd like to.

My short list of great passions in life, on which baseball has gradually advanced to the top, has always included reading. I become easily distracted when trying to absorb text books and I often find myself bored by the "classics," but if I can get my hands on something with a subject matter that interests me, the book simply doesn't stand a chance. I devour them.

Like most, I have several goals in life. Actually, they're more like dreams. One in particular that I have had for quite a while now is the thought of me, in my old age, sitting in a large but intimate home-office, surrounded by pictures of the things I have enjoyed watching in life, and immersed in stacks and shelves of books.

In fact, to get specific about my old age/home-office dream, the books that are stacked and shelved all around me are almost all about baseball. I envision a dog-eared copy of Ball Four always within reach, for instance.

As far as I can tell, there is no real deep meaning to this dream scenario of mine. It seems fairly simple and something that almost anyone would love to do, which is to surround themselves with the things they have loved, the things they have been passionate about in life.

Of late, I have added to my little baseball library/sanctuary. It always included me, in a cozy room, flanked by books and comfortable seating, outside light seeping in through a big window. There's a nice sized TV, a radio, perhaps some stacks of newspapers if such things still exist when I'm of the right age for this to take place.

Lately though, when I think of this dream room of mine, it has a big wooden desk near the window and I'm sitting at it, typing on a laptop computer. Somewhere along the line I have gone from wanting to be surrounded by the books I've read, to wanting to do that and also write my own additions to my vast collection.

I bring this up today for two reasons. Well, three actually, if you want to count the lack of interesting baseball news as a reason. The first is that what you're reading right now is being written on Thursday afternoon. I just recently returned from my morning class: News Reporting and Writing. Like nearly every class I have taken here at the University of Minnesota that involves learning to write, talking about writing, or anything along those lines, I find myself in a sort of writing frenzy when I return to my room and my laptop after class.

In the past I have experienced this same feeling after Literary Non-Fiction classes, in part because of the stimulating discussions about writing, in part because of the writing exercises, and in part because I've been able read the works of great writers during class. In the case of News Reporting and Writing, there is no wonderful group discussion of the process of writing and no in-depth talks about other writers' work. Instead, I am spurred on to write immediately after returning from class because of the passion of the instructor.

A long-time professional journalist, he talks about the magic of filling that blank screen with a story or getting that perfect quote, and he does so with as much passion as I've ever seen someone do anything. I look at him and listen to him, and it not only makes me want to write immediately, it also makes me want to share that same passion.

Each day thus far in this class and in past non-fiction classes have been like little shots of assurance, little shots of confidence that this thing I have been chasing, this writing thing, is what I am good at, what I am passionate about.

The class is less than two weeks old, but if I don't learn a single thing and even come to dislike it immensely (both highly unlikely), it will still have given me an incredible amount of value. Listening to the teacher talk about writing and reporting in the manner he has thus far makes me want to run home and just start typing, furiously, and if that's not what a college course on writing should do, I'm not sure what the purpose is.

The other reason I bring this whole topic up is that last week, while I was on Amazon.com ordering the book I needed for class, I surrendered to my urges and bought a "non-school" book. It came in the mail yesterday, via UPS, and I brought it to my room and placed it, unopened, on my desk. My plan was to save it for a point when I actually had some time to read a book, perhaps during the weekend, perhaps during the summer. Certainly not a Thursday afternoon during the second week of a semester.

So it sat there, in the UPS packaging, for a little less than 10 minutes. I kept stealing glances at it, in the same manner I imagine a drug addict trying to quit looking at their remaining stash. I gave in, opened the package, slipped off the dust jacket and hopped into bed, propping the pillows up behind my back. I stretched out my legs and did the first and one of the best things someone has to do while reading any book, which is crack it open for the very first time.

It's like scooping up that first slice from a perfect looking pizza or lacing up that brand new pair of shoes. After I cracked it open, I read. And read. And read. I got around 100 pages in when I realized I was reading a phenomenal book. Lying in bed, alone in my room, I gave a quick look around, like the one little kids give before crossing an empty street, to see if any of the non-existent people in the room also recognized the greatness of what I was reading.

I paused then, and adjusted my pillows. I began to dive back into the book, but stopped. While I wanted to quickly re-immerse myself in the story, I had a more pressing desire to put the book down and start writing myself. It was the same feeling I have when I am leaving a writing class.

My mind just sort of opens up, ideas start flowing freely and easily, and I want to start typing. Typing, not even in an organized way, just typing. Free form, stream of consciousness and...well, whatever what you're reading right now is called.

I may never become a successful writer. I may try and fail, I may not even try at all. I may end up working in an entirely different field for my entire working life, or I may spend all those years barely working, but always writing. Who knows. The one thing I am sure of at this moment, having just returned from a writing class and having just blitzed through 100 pages of a great book, is that writing is always going to be my passion in life.

Well, one of my passions at least. Writing and baseball. If ever those two things should meet in a situation that involves me getting paid enough money to live on, then I've hit my own personal lottery. That's the jackpot, the brass ring, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

It's negative 12 degrees outside right now and it was colder this morning, when the wind burned my skin on the way to class. But it's a good day. A writing day. A reading day. And as the end of January is upon us, another year of baseball is peaking its head around the corner.

I'll see you Monday, when I'll get back to basics with some writing about baseball, okay? Sounds good to me too.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


New England 24, Carolina 14

Oh, and here's the book I was talking about (it's great!)...

cover

Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

January 28, 2004

The Infield of Doom

In the wake of Aaron Boone injuring his knee and likely being out for the entire 2004 season comes this, from yesterday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

NEW YORK -- With the Yankees almost certain to lose Aaron Boone for the 2004 season, they've stumbled upon a surprise, in-house option -- Gary Sheffield.

The recently signed free agent, who's played the outfield exclusively since 1994, told GM Brian Cashman he would re-convert to third base if necessary. Sheffield broke into the major leagues as a shortstop in 1988 with the Brewers, but then played 25 games at third in 1989 before making a full conversion in 1990, playing 125 games there.

Sheffield also was the Padres' everyday third baseman in 1992. Overall, he's played 466 games at third base in his career.

Should Gary Sheffield go back to manning the hot corner, New York's infield would look like this:

1B   Jason Giambi

2B Alfonso Soriano
SS Derek Jeter
3B Gary Sheffield

Somewhere, Kevin Brown is balled up in the fetal position, weeping uncontrollably.

There are a lot of jokes one could make here, but I will avoid them and simply say that you know your infield defense is bad when Alfonso Soriano is the best defender in the entire bunch.

Jason Giambi will be 33 years old in 2004, he had knee problems last season and he was New York's designated hitter for about half the year. Even at his best, Giambi wasn't much more than an average defender at first base, and his best appears to be long gone.

Derek Jeter is, in the minds of many, an extremely good defensive player. I suspect if you asked the average Yankee fan or Tim McCarver, you would hear that they think Jeter, in addition to being "Clutch" and flat-out "dreamy," is also one heck of a defensive shortstop. On the other hand, if you prefer to ignore Tim McCarver and crazy Yankee fans and instead rely on your own eyes and, more importantly, the more advanced defensive statistics around today, you will see that Derek Jeter's defense is fairly horrible.

He has a cannon for an arm and he is extremely athletic, but he simply lacks the range and that quick first-step that are so essential for a shortstop. Personally, having watched Jeter hundreds of times and having seen how he ranks on several very good defensive metrics, I am convinced he is one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball, if not the worst.

Jeter's double-play partner is Alfonso Soriano, who was once as awful defensively as Jeter is. While Jeter's skills defensively have gone down in recent years, Soriano has actually improved as he's matured and gotten more experience at the position. I know this may sound as crazy to some fans as me saying Jeter is horrible defensively, but I actually think Alfonso Soriano is an "average" defender at second base now.

So those are the guys Gary Sheffield is volunteering to join. It's just like when Flounder pledged the Delta House to join Bluto, Otter and Pinto.

As you read above, Gary Sheffield has not played a single inning at third base in over a decade. In addition to that, even when he was a full-time third baseman (1990-1993), Sheffield was not a good one. Having not played the position for 11 years and having aged 11 years during that time as well, I think it's safe to assume Gary Sheffield would be a horrendous defensive third baseman at this point. Which would allow him to fit right in with his infield teammates, of course.

If the Yankees do decide to let Sheffield play third base in 2004, I assure you their infield defense will be the worst in major league baseball by a fairly large margin. I also think there is a good possibility that an infield of Giambi-Soriano-Jeter-Sheffield would be the worst defensive infield in the history of baseball.

You have two players (Sheffield, Jeter) who are good bets to be the worst defenders at their position in the entire American League. You have another (Giambi) who, if healthy, might be able to scratch and claw his way to simply being really bad. And then you have Alfonso Soriano, who is in a position to be the "smartest kid in the dumb class" by simply being mediocre at second base.

Of course, an infield of Giambi, Soriano, Jeter and Sheffield would also probably be among the best offensive infields in baseball history, and that kind of hitting will make up for an awful lot of awful defense. Still, all the offense in the world won't do anything to keep Kevin Brown from waking up screaming in the middle of the night, with nightmares of slow ground balls trickling into the outfield and bunt singles down the third base line.

You see, Kevin Brown is one of the most extreme ground ball pitchers in all of baseball. He uses his tremendous sinker/slider combination to induce ground ball after ground ball after ground ball. In fact, Brown ranked third in all of baseball with a ground ball/fly ball ratio of 3.37. Only Derek Lowe (3.92) and Brandon Webb (3.44) induced a higher percentage of ground balls than Brown.

Brown spent 2003 pitching with a very good infield defense behind him in Los Angeles. Cesar Izturis, Alex Cora and Adrian Beltre are all among the top defensive players at their position. Brown's numbers from last year were phenomenal (2.39 ERA, .236 opponent batting average) and they were already in-line for a drop as a result of his coming to New York and switching infield defenses. If Sheffield moves in at third base, Brown's numbers will likely take another hit.

Actually though, as long as you're not a Yankee fan who dislikes seeing ground balls sneak through the infield, this whole Kevin Brown in New York thing could be a pretty interesting little experiment in 2004. Basically, we could all find out what happens when you take one of the most extreme ground ball pitchers and you move him from a team with one of the best infield defenses in baseball to a team with one of the worst infield defenses in baseball.

Even without Sheffield at third base, it's a damn good study in the effects fielders have on pitchers. With Sheffield in the mix, it could be one of those Frankenstein "I've created a monster" type experiments.

I really think the Yankees should take Sheffield up on his offer to play third base this season. I mean, if you're going to have a bad defense, why not go all-out and make it really bad? I'm talking Alfonso Soriano is the best of the bunch, Kevin Brown is smashing something in the dugout between every inning and Derek Jeter isn't the worst defender on the left-side of the infield bad.

It could be a lot of fun for everyone. Well, everyone except Kevin Brown.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

January 27, 2004

Is John Smoltz "The Next" Dennis Eckersley?

Earlier this month, Dennis Eckersley was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame, receiving a vote on 83.2% of the ballots cast by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

In addition to being a fantastic pitcher for an incredibly long time, Eckersley also had one of the more unique careers in baseball history. He debuted as a 20-year-old in 1975 and went 13-7 with a 2.60 ERA pitching primarily as a member of Cleveland's starting rotation. He spent the next 11 seasons as a starting pitcher for Cleveland, Boston and Chicago, making the All-Star team twice and finishing among the top 10 in the Cy Young voting two other times.

Then in 1987, after a dozen seasons as a starting pitcher, Eckersley joined the Oakland A's and made the switch to the bullpen. Once there, he became one of the most successful closers in baseball history, saving a total of 387 games in 12 seasons (he also had three saves before coming to Oakland). Eckersley made four more All-Star teams as a reliever, led his league in saves twice, and finished among the top 10 in the Cy Young balloting four times. In addition to that, he was the American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner in 1992, after going 7-1 with a 1.91 ERA and 50 saves for the A's.

With Eckersley's induction into the Hall of Fame coming up later this year, I have heard many people talking about John Smoltz as "The Next" Dennis Eckersley. Certainly the similarities are there. Like Eckersley, Smoltz was a very successful starter for many years and, like Eckersley in 1987, he was moved to the bullpen in 2001. In fact, Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz are the only pitchers in baseball history to start at least 250 games and save at least 100 games.

Certainly Smoltz's Hall of Fame "case" is far from finalized. Still, I thought it would be interesting to see how Smoltz compares to Eckersley and to try to figure out whether or not he is on-track to someday join Eckersley in the Hall of Fame.

In looking at each pitcher's stats, the first thing that stuck out to me is the fact that they both started exactly 361 games in their career. Smoltz may yet add to his career starts total, of course, but I think it's unlikely. As it stands right now, Smoltz and Eckersley are the only two pitchers in major league history to have started exactly 361 games in a career.

Think about how amazing that is for a second. The only two pitchers in major league history with 361 career starts are also the only two players in major league history with 250+ starts and 100+ saves in a career. At the very least, that's one heck of a freaky coincidence.

Here's a look at how they each did in their 361 starts...

AS STARTING PITCHERS


GS IP ERA W L
Eckersley 361 2478.1 3.71 149 130
Smoltz 361 2439.1 3.37 159 115

Those numbers are also very similar. Smoltz pitched slightly fewer innings (a difference of about one inning per 10 starts) but had a significantly lower ERA. He also had more wins and a higher winning percentage.

Normally, comparing raw totals like that from different periods of time is difficult, but the offensive levels of the leagues they played in while starters were relatively similar. The adjusted league ERA during Eckersley's time as a starter was 3.87, while it was 3.98 for Smoltz.

So, as a starter, Smoltz's ERA was 15.3% better than league-average, while Eckersley's was only 4.1% better.

Now let's take a look at their numbers as relievers...

AS RELIEF PITCHERS


G IP ERA SV
Eckersley 710 807.1 2.85 390
Smoltz 168 178.2 2.17 110

Whereas Smoltz actually has an edge over Eckersley in their performances as starters, Eckersley is head and shoulders above Smoltz as a reliever. Of course, that's due in large part to the fact that Eckersley pitched until he was 43, while Smoltz just finished his age-36 season.

Still, a difference of 630 innings and 280 saves is a lot. Heck, aside from Eckersley and his 390 career saves, only 18 other pitchers in baseball history have saved 280+ games in their entire career. Or think of it this way: in order for Smoltz to equal Eckersley in saves and innings pitched as a reliever, he would essentially need to add Mariano Rivera's career (283 saves, 649.2 innings) to his existing totals.

Even if Smoltz pitches until he's 43 like Eckersley did, it is very unlikely he will reach Eckersley's 390 saves. He would need to average 35 saves per season for the next eight years, which just isn't going to happen.

Another interesting way of comparing these two pitchers is through Win Shares. Here's a year-by-year running total of their career Win Shares:

TOTAL WIN SHARES THROUGH EACH AGE


AGE Eckersley Smoltz
20 17
21 28 0
22 46 15
23 70 29
24 94 42
25 104 60
26 110 76
27 127 82
28 130 99
29 146 126
30 161 147
31 169 163
32 182 181
33 197 181
34 211 189
35 230 206
36 244 222
37 262
38 271
39 276
40 282
41 290
42 298
43 301

Eckersley got started at a younger age than Smoltz and had 45 Win Shares by the time Smoltz had his first one. Smoltz also missed his age-33 season with an injury. Despite all that, the two pitchers are fairly close through age-36. Smoltz trails Eckersley 244-222, which is a difference of about one very good season. The fact that Smoltz was able to nearly "catch up" to Eckersley despite a later start and a lost season is a tribute to his consistently great work as a starter from 1988-1999.

Despite the comparisons and the similarities between Smoltz and Eckersley, I think what all this shows is just how unique and amazing Eckersley's career was. Smoltz was better as a starter pitcher, but it is a relatively close contest. As relievers, it is highly unlikely Smoltz will be as valuable as Eckersley was and it seems almost impossible to me that Smoltz could ever match Eckersley's 390 career saves.

Eckersley almost literally split his career in half, pitching a dozen seasons as a starter and a dozen seasons as a reliever. Smoltz, on the other hand, pitched a dozen years as a starter, but has just three seasons under his belt as a reliever. And Smoltz was 36 years old last season, at which point Eckersley already had 188 saves to his name.

Of course, none of this is to say that John Smoltz is not a great pitcher. In fact, I think John Smoltz is one of the best pitchers of his generation and he looks to me like a borderline Hall of Famer even if he retired right now. I think it's even possible that Smoltz could end up having a more valuable career than Eckersley. He's just never going to pitch long enough to split his career in half like Eckersley did and, because of that, he's not going to reach Eckersley's level as a relief pitcher.

Dennis Eckersley's career-path is an extraordinarily difficult one to copy. He started very young, was good immediately, remained healthy throughout his career, played 24 seasons, and was great as both a starting pitcher and a reliever. Which is why he's a Hall of Famer, I suppose.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

January 26, 2004

Slow news days

F*ck. F*ck. F*ck. F*cks. Snot. F*ckee. You want to use that?

It depends on how big a news day it is.

--- Broadcast News

As you've probably noticed from some of the topics on this blog over the past week or so, there isn't a whole lot in the way of breaking baseball news to comment on this time of year.

This point was driven home to me yesterday afternoon, when I scanned ESPN.com's baseball page for interesting stories. What I found was pretty sad. The top story under the heading "ESPNews Headlines" was Alex Rodriguez being named Captain of the Texas Rangers. In my opinion, that is not important or even interesting news. That is something that shouldn't even be the top story on TexasRangers.com and it's probably debatable whether it merits discussion anywhere outside of ARod's immediate family.

It gets even worse after that, because at least the Alex Rodriguez story is timely. Under the top story, there were seven other headlines. One of them was a story about Tim Redding being named the Astros' fifth starter for the upcoming season. Again, this is barely news. Beyond that, it is a story that first appeared last Thursday! Basically, a manager naming his fifth starter before he gets to spring training has been important enough to be featured as a headline on ESPN.com's baseball page for nearly a week.

That's not to say this is ESPN.com's fault at all. You can't feature interesting news stories on your baseball page if there simply aren't any. It's just a perfect way of showing just how dead this time of year is in the baseball world.

A month from now, someone being named the fifth starter of a team will be lucky to get a quick mention in one of those "notes" columns that wraps up like 50 relatively unimportant happenings around the league. But in the middle of January it shows up as a top story every day until something better knocks it off the list, which obviously takes a while.

TGNN (The Gleeman News Network)

In the absence of real baseball news, I would like to give you some Aaron Gleeman news. Well, not quite. You know how you hate it when someone says something like "You'll never guess what I heard today...but I can't tell you, it's a secret"? I hate that more than anyone, but I'm still going to be guilty of it today. As the great Howard Stern often says, I would like to "tickle your ass with a feather" and hint at some upcoming news about me (and my baseball writing).

I have three announcements to make. They are all somewhat related, but different enough that if ESPN.com decided to devote a page to coverage of Aaron Gleeman, they would each warrant their own headline. While none of these things would qualify as particularly big pieces of news in the grand scheme of the world, they qualify as fairly big in my world. Actually, two of the things are only slightly big and then the third thing is legitimately big. There will be a whole lot more information to come as we near Opening Day.

There, consider your ass sufficiently tickled.

Pudge Reflux

In response to yesterday's entry about free agents leaving good situations for big money, I got a whole lot of emails from readers. The majority of them were generally in agreement with most of what I said. I also got a few emails that...well, weren't. Here's one of them:

From Jeremy:

Your Ivan Rodriguez article has got to be one of the all-time worst articles ever written and I'm surprised something as infantile as that came from you. While I can't find the exact Joe Sheehan article, I believe at the time of the almost-Arod trade he made a great argument against your point that once a player reaches a certain point, the money doesn't matter anymore. What if Ivan Rodriguez has different goals than "spend a lot of money on cars and jewelry?" What if Ivan Rodriguez wants to own his own baseball team at some point? What if he decides to run for senator of Florida?

I think it's silly for you to try and tell Pudge how happy he will or won't be if he goes to Detroit. If I were in his situation, I'd grab the $40 million, no questions asked.

As someone prone to exaggeration, I appreciate Jeremy's statement that yesterday's article "has got to be one of the all-time worst articles ever written." In fact, I like that quote so much that I'm adding it to the "What others are saying about Aaron Gleeman and Aaron's Baseball Blog..." section at the bottom of the sidebar.

Certainly there are exceptions to every rule and if Ivan Rodriguez has goals in life that put additional millions on top of the millions he already has ahead of playing somewhere he'll enjoy the most, then my "advice" to him yesterday is irrelevant.

The point of my article, however, was not to give advice to Ivan Rodriguez, specifically. I was simply commenting on the fact that every single year, in every sport, players leave good situations seemingly because of money. My entire point was that, after reaching some level of wealth, playing somewhere you think you'll enjoy the most should take precedence over being paid $80 million instead of $60 million.

If that opinion is enough to make yesterday's article "one of the all-time worst articles ever written," then I don't have much of a comeback in my defense.

Jeremy ends his email by saying, "If I were in [Rodriguez's] situation, I'd grab the $40 million, no questions asked."

The "$40 million" meaning the contract offer from the Tigers. I guess this is where Jeremy and I differ. I don't know how much money Ivan Rodriguez has, but I assume it is a tremendous amount. Like I said yesterday, he's made $66.5 million playing major league baseball in his career and I assume he has had additional income during that time as well.

By the way, I got about 50 emails yesterday from people informing me that citizens of the United States of America are required to pay taxes on their income. To those people, thank you very much for the information, but I was already well aware of that fact, whether or not it came across in yesterday's entry. In fact, as a citizen of this country myself, I have actually paid taxes, believe it or not.

Anyway, as long as we are putting ourselves in Ivan Rodriguez's situation, let me say that if I were him and I had, let's say $25 million in the bank, I would choose to play for Chicago or Seattle or Florida for $20 million way before I chose to play for Detroit for $40 million.

Many people like to say stuff along the lines of "There are many things more important than money." As I said yesterday, I don't buy that. Instead, I would change it around and say that "There aren't many things more important than money...unless you already have money."

Ivan Rodriguez and various free agent athletes who have been in his position over the years already have money. In addition to that, in Rodriguez's case him turning down Detroit's offer to accept a deal from another team would probably mean he would only get $20 million from them, so it's not like it is a choice of wealth or poverty.

In that regard, unless free agents have bigger plans in life that demand maximum financial gains like Jeremy suggested in his email, I think many of the wealthier players would be happier making decisions based on something other than the total value of the contracts they are being offered.

Thanks!

After doing some talking about money in yesterday's entry, I decided it was a fine time to shamelessly beg for donations from my audience.

As I usually am, I was incredibly impressed by your generosity and I would like to thank each person who donated a little (or a lot) of money to me yesterday. I always feel very uncomfortable soliciting donations, which is why I very rarely do it. However, the donations I do receive are always greatly appreciated and it's incredibly nice to know that, while I do this everyday for free, there are people out there who enjoy my writing enough to spend some money on it.

If you've got some extra cash lying around and you missed your chance yesterday, fear not. You can still send me a donation! Just click on the following...

See ya tomorrow...

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

January 25, 2004

Mo' Money

Until Ivan Rodriguez decides if he wants to play in Detroit or for a team that might win 70 games again during his lifetime, there probably won't be much in the way of interesting baseball news to report on.

In the mean time, Rodriguez's situation allows me to comment on something I have always wondered about regarding how free agent athletes choose their new teams. In Rodriguez's case, he reportedly has a four-year offer for $40 million on the table from the Tigers. For the sake of argument, let's also assume he has at least a couple other offers on the table from other teams (Mariners? Cubs? Marlins?), perhaps for fewer years and almost certainly for less money.

Now, it's certainly possible that Ivan Rodriguez is excited about playing the next four years in Detroit, for a team that went 43-119 last season and hasn't finished above .500 for a decade. Maybe he likes the city, maybe he likes the team, maybe he thinks he can turn the franchise around. I think it's probably a lot more likely that he isn't at all excited about the possibility of calling Comerica Park his home through 2007.

Assuming the truth about Rodriguez's feelings regarding playing for Detroit are closer to the latter of those two options, here's my question... Why would he even consider signing with the Tigers?

I understand they might be offering him the most money, but so what? According to Baseball-Reference.com, Ivan Rodriguez has been paid $66.5 million over the course of 13 major league seasons. Let's say he's been horrendous with his money and he only has half of that left. Is the difference between the $10 million a year Detroit is offering and the $5 million a year he can almost certainly get with any number of other teams really enough to make someone with $30 million in the bank play somewhere he doesn't want to play?

Hell, even if he is flat-broke, without a penny to his name, is there really enough of a difference between $20 million over 3-4 years and $40 million over four years? Are millions 21 through 40 really enough to make you go to work everyday at a job you don't enjoy as much as you would somewhere else?

I suppose it's a lot different to actually be in Ivan Rodriguez's shoes. What would I say if someone offered me $40 million to do something, but the job or the company I would be working for weren't particularly appealing to me? Well, I'd certainly take it. But what if, at the same time, I had another offer, for let's say $20 million, and I felt that job and that company would be much more rewarding to work at?

It often seems to me that free agent athletes get caught up in the numbers. Perhaps it is because they have their agent whispering things in their ear about how much they are worth. Perhaps they see other players they know signing for huge money and joining new teams, and they get caught up in doing the same. Or perhaps it is simply human nature to want to get the most money in a situation like free agent athletes are in. Who knows.

Last year at this time, Jim Thome left the Cleveland Indians to sign a big free agent deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Thome often professed his love for Cleveland and he had an offer on the table from the Indians for multiple years and enough money to buy several small nations. In fact, I am fairly certain they offered him at least $60 million to stay. Yet Thome chose to leave the only team he had ever played for and join another team, in another league, hundreds of miles away. All for some extra money that he'll probably never spend.

Of course, Thome's case is a little different than Rodriguez's. For one thing, the Indians were in the beginning of a rebuilding period and Thome's decision to join the Phillies probably had a lot to do with that. The Phillies finished in third-place last year and, had Thome stayed in Cleveland, the Indians would be a serious contender for the AL Central title in 2004, but I suppose that's irrelevant. Still, it was an interesting situation and an interesting decision, and certainly dozens of athletes in baseball and other sports have done similar things as free agents.

To put this athletes and free agency thing into a "real" world situation is somewhat difficult. For most people, getting offered significantly more money to work somewhere means there isn't a very tough decision to make. If you've been working someplace for $30,000 a year and you really like it there, but another place that you don't like nearly as much offers you $50,000 a year, it's usually a pretty easy decision. When you're making $30,000 a year, another $20,000 makes a massive difference in your way of life.

On the other hand, when you've made $66.5 million over the last 13 years like Rodriguez or your current job is offering you $60 million to re-sign with them like Thome, is it really worth changing jobs and going to a place you may not enjoy as much, just so you can grab some extra millions?

I know this sounds very cliche, but when you've made as much money by the time your in your mid-30s as Ivan Rodriguez or Jim Thome, I think you'd be much happier in life basing your decisions on something other than money. You hear all the time about how much a player loves playing in a certain city and then you see those same players leave to sign a big contract with another team just as often. It always seems strange to me.

All I'm saying is that if you're in your thirties and you've made $50 million by playing baseball already, the difference between a contract offer for $60 million and one for $80 million probably shouldn't impact your decision at all. What can a person possibly buy with that extra $20 million that they couldn't have already gotten with the $50 million they earned already?

I wonder how many players who have left a good situation for a big free agent deal with another team end up regretting their decision. I also wonder how many of them who do regret the decision would say that money was the biggest factor in why they made that choice in the first place.

Money is an extremely important thing in life and it can do a lot of things. In fact, I'm not even sure I buy that line that "money can't buy happiness." Quite frankly, I think enough money can buy a whole lot of happiness. But when you've already got millions upon millions of dollars, why not just take a little less money to play in the place you think would make you the happiest?

So I guess that's my advice to Ivan Rodriguez, although perhaps it is too late. If you think you'd be happiest playing the next four years in Detroit, go ahead and take the offer. But if you think you'd be a whole lot happier in Seattle or Chicago or somewhere else, you should seriously consider taking whatever small amount of millions those teams are offering.

I think if Rodriguez signs with the Tigers, he's going to end up regretting his decision. Come next September, when he's squatting behind the plate in Comerica Park, calling pitches for Mike Maroth and trying to help the team avoid its 100th loss, I bet that extra couple million bucks isn't going to seem so important.

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On a semi-related note...

Because I haven't done this in a while and because I am perfectly willing to move to Detroit, Siberia, Antarctica, Iraq or any other less-than-desirable place in the universe (possibly even Wisconsin) for the right money, allow me to remind everyone that charitable donations in exchange for the completely free of charge content I provide on a daily basis here are graciously accepted and greatly appreciated.

And it's easy to do too! Just click on the following "PayPal Donate" logo and enter in the amount you'd like to give a poor college student who has an extraordinary passion for writing about baseball.

For those of you who believe in the after-life, I have it on very good authority that such a donation will get you into where you want to go and keep you out of where you don't. And for those of you who don't believe in such things, I'm sure it can be some sort of a tax write-off!


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