I was going through my baseball card collection the other day and stumbled upon a two -season collection of cards issued by the then Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies Triple-A-affiliated Ottawa Lynx.
We were fortunate to have this team for 15 years, mainly as an affiliate of the Montreal Expos. The last two seasons, 2006 and 2007 I was part of the press box, covering each and every home game and doing numerous interviews with players on the home team and the visiting teams.
Shuffling through my baseball card collection I noticed one startling fact. The vast majority of the Lynx players have never and probably will never make it to the major leagues for anything more than the proverbial cup of coffee if even that. This is most likely the norm for other organizations and not the exception.
Tommy Lasorda once stated that most players who get signed are only there to play catch with the future stars. It got me to wondering as to the reasons. These players made it to one step below the Show but couldn’t make that seemingly small leap up the ladder to the big time. What were/are the reasons? Was Lasorda correct in his rather brutal assessment?
I was privileged over the years to have been able to see close-up future stars such as Derek Jeter, Jon Lester, and B.J. Upton. For the most part, these types of players are generally promoted from Double-A. It is true that the International League has quite an impressive roster of graduates who not only played in the Major Leagues, but became noteworthy stars and Hall of Famers or at least future Hall of Famers. But International League and minor leagues seems to be, for the most part, stocked with players who will be used only for temporary injury replacements for the big club, or prospects who might flourish for a time as a utility player or long relief pitcher.
For every Jeter, there are many who didn’t make it and most likely never will. It was with a mixture of sadness and wonder that I interviewed several of these players. It was with the same mixture of wonder and sadness that I watched fringe major league players have long careers, players who didn’t seem to be better than those Triple A players I got to know so well. These players worked hard, as hard as any other, yet were becoming part of baseballs never to be. Other players often passed them by in the blink of an eye. With each passing season, their window to the bigs was getting smaller and smaller.
Some were stuck behind superstars. Some simply couldn’t find that extra drop of talent which would get them that final step up the ladder. I suspect many had through no fault of their own become labeled with the dreaded 4A status. A 4A status for those readers who are not familiar with the term, refers to players who are too talented for Triple A, yet not talented enough for the majors. Most have had a brief appearance in the majors but were deemed not good enough in their brief trial, or viewed only as a temporary replacement for an injured star.
Some gained the reputation as a premier minor league power hitter who would never be a power hitter in the majors. Some were first baseman, third baseman or corner outfielders who were able to produce a high batting average but not the power in demand at those positions. They were stopped by a baseball tradition and way of thinking almost as old as the game itself. Even if successful during their trial, managers and coaches at the big league level often put this down to a flash in the pan. Sometimes it was ownership who didn’t want to pay a higher salary when they had ten more similar players who could temporarily fill the void.
I cheered and hoped for every one of these players I interviewed. They were all trying to grab the ring which I had always hoped for but was never nearly talented enough to achieve. Many are still out there trying as they know of no other life. I feel for them all despite the fact that they have never known 9-5. They are doing something, albeit at a minor league level, that I can’t even dream of doing.