Contract language continues a legacy

Well, December is upon us, and that long Thanksgiving break certainly served Yankee fans up with more than just some turkey.

First, a very Happy 44th Birthday to Mariano Rivera last Friday!

And just before turkey and stuffing, the news came out late Wednesday night that bullpen coach Mike Harkey was on his way to be the pitching coach for the Diamondbacks beginning with the 2014 season. While many fans and players will certainly miss seeing his smiling face and calming presence in the bullpen, we wish him the best of luck in his promotion and with his new team (except any time they play the Yankees!). Interviews are underway for his now vacated position with the Yankees.

Then today, they surprised everyone with a couple of big announcements. First, in an interesting trade, the Yankees traded catcher Chris Stewart to the Pirates for a player to be named later. For those of you not familiar with last year’s off-season, I’m finding this significant because the Yankees lost catcher Russell Martin to a long-term contract with the Pirates just last year. And now his former back-up will now be backing him up once again. There must be something in the water over there at PNC Park.

They also signed infielder Brendan Ryan to a 2-year contract with an option for a 3rd year. This may come as a shock to any Jayson Nix fans because this means his role as a utility player may now be unnecessary. They may use the contract option to trade him elsewhere as well.

I have to admit, I’m partly glad I don’t understand the whole contract thing — arbitration-eligible, tender, non-tender, crispy, extra spicy… it’s rather a complicated part of the business side of baseball. And while I usually have to have a Wikipedia page or some other kind of baseball reference site open while I’m researching this kind of news, it still makes very little sense to me. And here’s the thing, I’m a really smart person. Okay, I’m a smart person who didn’t go to law school, which probably explains why I don’t understand all the legalese that attaches itself to everyone’s contract.

But I must admit, I think there’s a lot of people outside of the professional side of baseball that miss the old system of either you’re on one team or you get traded to another team or you’re retired. And then, looking through my history of baseball, I realize why we have all these other parts to the contract, mainly created by the formed union to aid and benefit the players who were often at the short end of the owners’ stick of profits and decision-making of their own careers. The man behind all of this? Marvin Miller, who served as the first executive director of the MLBPA and really helped develop it into one of the best unions in the US. Currently, Miller posthumously is up for the Hall-of-Fame, as part of the Veteran’s Ballot.

And I guess, with Michael Weiner’s recent passing, I was just thinking about the legacy of Miller and how it continued to evolve and develop even through Weiner’s illness last year. So while the public (and I’m including myself in this) really don’t get when GMs toss around words like “tender” or “arbitration-eligible” and the depth of their impact on every player in MLB, I think we can be grateful they exist at all.

Without all that legalese, players would be getting short-changed in their career, which is still a gamble on both sides of the negotiation (as we are witnessing with the current Cano negotiations). When a player is 30, the world seems completely conquerable and unending of all its feats to accomplish. When the player is closer to 40, injuries, aches, and the tolls of elite-level athletics certainly are louder than the call of awards or accomplishments. A player’s professional career is relatively short compared to their lives, and so smart players use the advantage of the heavy-loaded salary well, investing, developing new businesses, getting endorsements, so that for the next 50 years of their life, they can live comfortably. And hopefully, see the day they are honored for the accomplishments on the field with a plaque at Cooperstown.

If not, the memories still live on, thanks to a few lawyers and economists who made an effort to make a better life for a couple of ball players (a couple thousand, that is).

Go Yankees!

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