Saturday, August 29, 2009

Branch Rickey On Signing Bonuses

With the news of Stephen Strasburg's recent record setting 15.1 million dollar guaranteed contract, I want to refer to a passage from "Branch Rickey's Little Blue Book" on signing bonuses from over 50 years prior. Similar sentiments are felt today by the fans and many players who had to work their way up through the minor leagues to secure a Major League contract. In this passage, Branch Rickey was discussing the merits of eliminating the, "High School Rule," which prohibited teams from even discussing a professional career with a player who had high school eligibility remaining.

"Now there is another good reason to be rid of the High School Rule as written or proposed: It promotes the "bonus," and that is the greatest menace to the continued solvency of a great many major-league teams. Some teams are spending as much as a half-million dollars yearly in signing new, young, untried players about whose ability nothing positive is known. The bonus inherently affects the player in a number of negative ways. The player's morale is upset. He is often ruined by the sudden possession of large amounts of money. His ambition is stultified. And his self-sufficiency is pronounced (even his habits in the direction of the "good life" are affected).
The club is likewise affected, because it is just too bad to have 25-year-old, tried and true players view with amazement the presence of one or even a half-dozen bonus players who get more money to sign a contract as an 18-year-old than most of them can ever hope to save in a lifetime of playing.
The financial structure of the game is jeopardized. Most clubs cannot possibly pay between $300,000 and $700,000 a year for new, unknown material of tender age and be assured of staying solvent." Branch Rickey's Little Blue Book, p.55

While the figures have grown significantly, Rickey poses multiple observations of the effects of a large signing bonus: complacency, loss of focus, animosity between veterans and rookies, and giant financial risks for the Major League teams. Let's hope that Strasburg becomes a front-line starter for many years to come, or else the Washington Nationals checks might be sporting a new logo, Spalding.


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