What Does the Off-Season Mean for Players?
Laurel Wilder | On 14, Nov 2013
The baseball season has been officially over for about two weeks now, and already the grumblings have begun: “When does baseball start again? Only 100-some days until pitchers and catchers report for spring training!” 2014 season tickets packages have been on sale since September and the Indians schedule for next season has already been released. And, with Terry Francona having just won American League Manager of the Year, excitement is high for the coming season.
The off-season, however, has a completely different meaning to fans than it does to players. To observers of the sport, the off-season is a loathed concept, a time when the most beloved pastime is taken away and Twitter is quiet without the rants and raves of baseball lovers everywhere.
For the players, the off-season takes on a completely different form. Instead of spending their days playing the game and traveling, they are participating in a number of other activities. Sure, players work out and maintain their baseball abilities through off-season training, but they also live other lives – their real lives off the diamond.
These lives take players all over the country, and even the world. For players in the Cleveland Indians system – both major and minor league guys – home is, more often than not, not the city of Cleveland or the state of Ohio. For many players, the off-season means traveling back home to warmer climates, such as California, Texas, Florida, the Dominican Republic, or Venezuela.
For minor league players who have had a longer off-season than those in the major leagues, as their seasons ended in early September, the off-season can also mean a chance to minute honing skills and building for the next season through the Arizona Fall League and Instructional League. Top prospects are chosen to attend these selective leagues, which provide players with more experience and the ability to play in a team setting throughout the off-season.
For players who do not attend these building leagues, however, the off-season is full of a number of other adventures.
Some of the Indians minor league players are going to college to finish up their degrees before returning next season. Some are dedicating their time to their family and friends, soaking in their homes before they are pulled away for spring training and start the cycle all over again next year. The off-season is a time for players to decompress, to prepare themselves for the coming season, to pursue their lives outside of baseball.
Their lives outside of baseball, though, do come with a stipulation – lives outside of their salary. Minor league players are paid paltry wages throughout the season, with many subsisting on their signing bonuses to get them through road trips, meals, and purchasing their other necessities. With the off-season being around five or six months long for minor leaguers, it seems like the perfect time to pick up a part-time side job and make some extra cash to use throughout the season. The often-demanding workout schedules, though, combined with the desire to simply relax throughout the off-season and regroup from the strenuous and fast-paced working months of the spring and summer, make it difficult or undesirable for many players to take on some extra work during their time off.
This is a stark contrast from off-seasons of the past, when even players in the major leagues held off-season jobs to make ends meet. With the high salaries of those in the upper echelons of the game, the need is hardly there to make more money during the winter months. Instead of picking up extra shifts at a store or with a corporation, off-seasons are filled with contract negotiations, salary discussions, and questions regarding where a player will be during the following season. Add in a 9-5 or even a weekend job, and the stress level may be rather high.
In the 1940s, players such as Stan Musial and a few of his Cardinals teammates (Red Schoendienst, Marty Marion, and Terry Moore) sold Christmas trees in a parking lot. Roy Campanella owned and operated a liquor store in Harlem during his playing career with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Richie Hebner worked as a gravedigger in a Massachusetts cemetery.
Salaries of major league players in the mid-1900s are not enough to support families or maintain the lifestyles players sought. They took jobs selling clothes or fixing houses.
Despite players of current generations not having to operate separate jobs due to wage increases, the ways in which many players – especially those in the minor leagues – spend their off-seasons are hints that they are looking beyond their immediate future. They are preparing for lives either beyond baseball or beyond next season.
Throughout the off-season, I will profile a number of players throughout the Indians system as to how they are spending their off-seasons and shed some light into their pursuits off the field.
Just as players of the past knew that the money they made throughout the season was not going to last forever, these players know not to take anything for granted – not their fitness levels, not their careers. Even if they are not spending their off-seasons working for extra dollars, they are working to better themselves in some way – improvements that can take them through their careers and cement a successful future.
Photo: Marc Duncan/AP Photo