If Delmon Young so much as sets foot into a Golden Corral some Philadelphia Phillies fan will bust him with a phone camera picture posted online and there will be no denying he waltzed up to the buffet.
If Young so much as inhales the aroma outside of Jim’s Steaks in South Philly, some tattle-tale will report him. There’s no way Young will be able to explain away a pause near the door of The Cheesecake Factory. Let’s just say the outfielder wrote himself into a corner (or maybe a sauna) with his new Phillies contract. If Young wants to hit, he’s gotta stay fit.
Argue that he is big-boned or not, Young acquiesced to terms of employment with the Phils as a free agent that his mother probably couldn’t enforce. Young was a free agent, departing the Detroit Tigers after playing in the World Series and winning the American League Championship Series MVP in 2012, but he discovered there’s no free lunch on the open market.
At 6-foot-3 and maybe 240 pounds, Young is a powerful young man. But apparently scouts (perhaps aided by Jenny Craig) have concluded that he hits better and will hit better if he weighs in the 230s or less. A few years ago Young dropped from 239 to 207, but it didn’t take. As part of his new deal with the Phillies a weight clause was inserted that boils down to this: if Young stays trim under the team’s definition of trim he can make $600,000 more during the 2013 season than if he doesn’t.
As us average Joes would say, for $600,000 I’d chop off a pinkie finger to lose weight. What the contract tells us, though, is that the Phillies don’t trust Young to lose weight and keep it off without a powerful monetary inducement. It’s kind of doubtful, but maybe knowing himself the way he acts around sweets, he asked for that clause to be inserted.
This is not the first time, by any means, that baseball players have signed contracts with similar weight-related points included. Among them are Curt Schilling, Carlos Lee and Ronnie Belliard. In the 1920s, Yankees manager Miller Huggins was all over Babe Ruth‘s case to eat and drink less soda pop and lose weight. The Babe ignored him, still hit great, but probably did cost himself some good years at the end.
Far more celebrated–at least in public discussion–was the case of pro football player William “Refrigerator” Perry of the Chicago Bears in the mid-1980s. At a time when 300-pound pros were still a rarity, Perry could hit 360 pounds, depending on the mood of the scale. When he signed his first contract out of Clemson it contained a weight clause and throughout his tenure with the Bears coach Mike Ditka frequently lectured Perry about his weight. The Bears lobbied Perry to reduce to the size of a smaller kitchen appliance, but it wasn’t in him to become toaster-sized.
Perry was a delightful personality, reveled in his colorful nickname, and didn’t mind bantering about his poundage with sports writers. He once said, “I was born to be big and I ain’t disappointing nobody.”
Nowadays, Perry would fit right in with the biggest guys on the line, several per team that weigh as much as he did in his 320-poundish days.
Delmon Young may use the Fridge as an example to suggest he is just ahead of his time. He may argue that his former partner in the Tigers’ lineup, Prince Fielder, certainly wore shirts a few sizes larger than he does. But once a team decides you’re at your best at a certain weight and you sign on the dotted line in agreement you’ve got no jiggle room.
So Young has sentenced himself to a summer of reading labels on the outside of food packages at the grocery store, of studying the calorie-counter menus at restaurants, and of being a dietary prisoner even in his own home. If he hits a ton of home runs, drives in a bushel of runs, and tops .300, maybe Young will decide it was all worth it. Then he can go out and celebrate with a big, juicy meal.