MLB: Would shortening the amateur draft be too terrible?

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 3: A sign is posted in the Oakland Athletics draft room, during the opening day of the 2019 MLB draft, at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on June 3, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 3: A sign is posted in the Oakland Athletics draft room, during the opening day of the 2019 MLB draft, at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on June 3, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images) /

The 2020 MLB Draft could be shortened based on Rob Manfred’s discretion, something that agent Scott Boras has an issue with.

Baseball’s government and its players’ union have agreed to several stipulations for if and when the game can return from the coronavirus pandemic’s isolation. Stipulations such as the conditions under which the season will begin, and that players will be credited for a full year’s major league service time. But it also gives commissioner Rob Manfred discretion to shorten this year’s draft.

Uber agent Scott Boras isn’t exactly amused.

Boras tells USA Today he fears giving Manfred that discretion means “send[ing] the wrong message” when it comes to limiting the financial rewards the amateur players reap in the draft, regardless of the rounds in which they’re picked. He also fears (oh, the horror!) that they’ll have to go back to school.

“I’m a big proponent of college,” Boras hastened to tell USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale, “so I want these kids to get their education, but what really bothers me is that kids outside the fifth round deserve their bonuses. And now they’re freezing [bonuses] for the next two years, and are paying them late.

“I just think in this climate and this environment, you should keep the status quo,” continued the agent, whose clients include Jose Altuve, Gerrit Cole, Bryce Harper, Mike Moustakas, and Stephen Strasburg. “You’re sending a message to drafted players: you are major league baseball’s step-child. It’s unconscionable to me for that small amount of money. We’re talking about a whopping $6 million savings over the whole damn draft.”

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Boras laments that teams require ten rounds to stock their farm systems, adding that a high school player picked in the sixth round and a college player in the eighth round are good players. “They can be All-Star players,” he said. “Now, they’ll be back in school.” He says that as though it’s a terrible thing almost entirely.

You get his alarm over the shift in the draft bonus picture. But you also remember that in normal times the Show has about 630 players now. Now or then, not everyone who commands the big spotlight and the big dollars on draft day pans out, for various reasons.

Some of them managed to finish their collegiate studies, and it might have been the smartest things they could have done. Some have used those degrees, others have them as fallbacks, but as often as not they’re in better shape post-baseball than others who gave up school for baseball and discovered the game wasn’t going to be what they thought it would be for them.

One was a Stanford University pitcher named Mark Appel. He went number one to the Houston Astros in 2013 after putting up a 2.12 ERA in his final Stanford season. Never saw a day in the majors while injuries compromised him in the minors. He was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in the deal that made an Astro out of relief pitcher Ken Giles, Appel walked away from baseball after four minor league seasons.

“It depends on how you define it, but I probably am,” Appel once told Bleacher Report when asked if he thought he was baseball’s biggest draft bust. “I had high expectations. I didn’t live up to those for a number of reasons. If you want to call me the biggest draft bust, you can call it that.”

The good news is that Appel finished his Stanford business degree while he was at it. He’s now a partner in a successful small chain of San Francisco-based Ike’s Love and Sandwiches restaurants that he helped bring to Texas in the first place.

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Even before the draft was born in 1965, there were players signed out of school for big bonuses but knew in their hips that baseball was no sure fire thing. Have you ever heard of Arnold Umbach?

The Milwaukee Braves did. They handed Umbach a $100,000 bonus in 1961. They also went slightly nuts when they discovered Umbach had every intention of finishing a college degree at Auburn University, which irked the Braves since it meant him arriving at spring training later than his teammates.

Umbach had a single-game cup of coffee with the 1964 Braves and then 22 games as a spot starter and reliever with the 1966 Braves. In the interim, arm troubles got to him. He hung in the minors through the end of 1968, then ended up earning his law degree from the University of Alabama in 1971.

He remains a partner in the Auburn law firm Davidson, Davidson, and Umbach. One of his very first law clients tied to his former baseball life: he became the legal counsel for the AA-level Southern League. His legal career has also included time as Auburn’s city attorney. Today one of his sons is also an attorney working at his father’s firm.

You might be more familiar with the name Jay Hook. Once a Cincinnati Reds pitcher, Hook was left open to the first National League expansion draft. The good news: Hook became the winning pitcher in the first-ever Mets win, breaking a life-opening nine-game losing streak.

The bad news: It may have been one of two highlights of Hook’s pitching career, the other being the 1963 day on which Reds rookie Pete Rose homered off him to open a game—but the Reds scored nothing else against Hook, while their ace Jim Maloney shut the Mets out the rest of the way. Thirty years passed between that game and the last time a game’s only run came home on a game-opening bomb.

When not pitching, though, Hook was a Northwestern University student who earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in thermodynamics. (Hook’s ability to explain the science behind the curve ball led his Mets manager Casey Stengel to say of his pitching, and it still amuses Hook to this day, “If only Hook could do what he knows!”)

He married that to a passion for cars and went to work for Chrysler in product development after his baseball career ended. His career took him from there to similar work for Rockwell International and Masco before he retired to teach at his alma mater and buy a northern Michigan farm with his wife.

When St. Louis Cardinals World Series hero (2011) Allen Craig‘s career ended thanks to foot issues that reduced him to spare part status, Craig wasn’t worried: he held a degree in social welfare from the University of California-Berkeley. He hasn’t needed to use it yet; the Cardinals hired him for their front office after he ended his baseball career last year. You can bet he’s not complaining about having his fallback, either.

Four-time World Series champion pitcher Javier Lopez—known as a sidewinding lefthanded relief specialist—had no worries, either. He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Virginia. He hasn’t taken it from there yet; he now broadcasts for the San Francisco Giants. If  that doesn’t work, he’ll have incentive to pick up where he left off in psychology: his wife has a doctorate in the discipline he studied at first to help him keep his baseball equilibrium.

Baseball lacks guarantees, unfortunately. Maybe 20,000 men have played major league level baseball (in MLB and the Negro Leagues alike) in America, and that level’s been alive since the National League as we know it was born the same year Alexander Graham Bell received his telephone patent. Only 269 of those men (234 major leaguers, 35 Negro Leaguers) have become Hall of Famers.

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Nobody likes what the coronavirus has imposed upon the country and so much of its work, its play, and its lives. But don’t be too quick to lament the prospect of a few hundred amateur baseball players compelled back to school for a while, even due to circumstances beyond their control. Those who choose to play the game don’t always have to learn the hard way about a fallback.