It’s hard to blame Bryan LaHair for thinking life is a little bit unfair. After making the National League All-Star team in 2012 the horrible Chicago Cubs didn’t even invite him back. Of all the teams to get dissed by, not the Cubs. Except for the Houston Astros, and now the Miami Marlins, there isn’t a team in the sport that needs help in more ways.
So for the Cubs to inform LaHair they don’t care about him, that’s a real insult. It also comes after LaHair hit 16 home runs and played in 130 games. Making a living by playing Major League baseball is about as glamorous as work gets in this country, and anyone who can find a spot on a big-league roster is living the dream and making good money.
Yet we do get reminded that not every player is created equal. We have the multi-million-dollar-a-year guys and we have the minimum salary guys. While the numbers on the low end are still high enough to make us jealous, the status of those ballplayers does mean existing on the fringe. In the movie “Bull Durham,” the Kevin Costner character regales his minor-league teammates with stories of his cameo in the majors and he calls those 21 days the best days of his life. For Costner, aka Crash Davis, that’s all there was. LaHair out-did Crash Davis by sticking on big-league rosters longer.
Face it–and LaHair has–he is a journeyman. He broke into the majors in 2008 with the Seattle Mariners and played 45 games. He kicked around the minors, always hitting around .300, for a few more seasons and resurfaced in the majors again in 2011 for 20 games with the Cubs. He was a full-time player in Chicago this past summer, but instead of being able to capitalize on that role for the Cubs in 2013 as he turns 30, LaHair was dumped.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound lefty swinging first baseman would seem to have something to offer many teams as a back-up player filling holes. But although he was a free agent, LaHair’s best offer came from Japan. The other day he signed a two-year contract with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of the Japan Pacific League for $4.5 million.
LaHair was never going to make that kind of money in the majors, so he took the deal. It seems wrong that after the most exciting season of his Major League life that LaHair would have to leave the country to find a team that really wanted him. If it seemed that LaHair was a little bit hasty by grabbing the offer so early in the off-season, surely the size of the Japanese deal erased doubts.
There are several pluses for LaHair going to Japan. He is going to make more money than he was ever going to make in the United States. He will get a chance to play regularly. He will be looked at as one of the big guns in the lineup, and if he turns into a 30-homer, 100-RBI man he might have the most fun he ever had in his life playing baseball.
Moving to a foreign country where the primary language is not English and the customs are much different carries pitfalls. It is up to LaHair’s personality how he adapts to his new world, but if he maintains a good attitude and plays well he should do OK. Wielding a reliable bat is the first line of defense when it comes to establishing a new home and bridging any communications gaps.