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By That Much
2006-02-09 15:55
by Will Carroll

Someone - I don't know who - once said they'd rather lose by twenty than by one. I seem to remember Coach Newton, my high school football and wrestling coach saying it, but I have a habit of putting other people's wisdom in his mouth.

If true, is being close worse than never coming close? Is the fate of the Triple-A player who knows he's a heartbeat away harder to take than the Single-A draftee who takes his bonus check and washes out? There are tons of guys who live and die at Triple-A, the types of guys who have spent the last couple months looking for jobs and figuring out if there's a chance that this is the year.

It seems every team has one. Some are simply never quite there - Roberto Petagine comes to mind. He's always touted as the next big thing and when I saw him play alongside Paul Konerko and Sean Casey, I would have taken Petagine over the other two combined. There's Jim Rushford, a guy who can crush Triple-A pitching but didn't do much when he got all-too-brief chances at the bigs.

Certainly, the life of a Triple-A level player isn't bad. It's better than work, but often not much more lucrative. Players at the minimum, guys who didn't bank a nice bonus, are spending 10-12 hours at the ballpark, months away from their family, and getting what's the equivalent of minimum wage given the hours. That close to big bucks, even on a split deal, it's amazing that more don't get tempted by performance enhancers or shady agents.

You'll see guys hanging on, trying to figure out why they're there. Ty Wigginton spent a month of last season trying to figure out why he wasn't in Pittsburgh. Bobby Hill was so surprised to find himself back in the minors that he blurted out, on-air, that "I must suck." Jon Nunnally looked nothing like he did when I saw him play as a rookie. Then again, neither did I.

Most people don't know any better. They go to the park and know that there's baseball and popcorn and beer, that the guys on the field are getting paid, and that some of them might be in the bigs someday. They don't know Pete Zocollilo's Double-A line or see Stubby Clapp for anything more than a bald guy with a funny name, singing along to "Tainted Love."

All the guys hope to be Bo Hart for a moment or Scott Podsednik. They can see themselves in the uniform of the big club. They all, to a man, have something between confidence and delusion, just knowing that 'I'm getting screwed here' by not getting the chance that someone else got. It's never them. Like guilty men in prison, there's no bad hitters in Triple-A.

And most of us, we'd give anything to be them just for a day.

2006-02-09 16:41:48
1.   kirbyk
Roberto Petagine, from
Salaries (Leaders)
1994 Houston Astros $109,000
1995 San Diego Padres $115,000
1996 New York Mets $135,000
1998 Cincinnati Reds $175,000
Career (may be incomplete) $534,000

Add in whatever Boston paid in 2005 - let's say $200,000, I don't really know - and you're at about three-quarters of a million.

That's more than most flame-out A-ball players make in a career outside of baseball.

I'd rather scoot along the edges of a minimum salary MLB player, sure. The reward for the hours of work is phenomenally higher than 99% of the American population.

2006-02-09 18:05:00
2.   joejoejoe
This post reminds me of a player I found goofing around on baseball-reference, Bunny Brief. Brief changed his name from Grzeszkowski to Brief (or had sportwriters change it for him) so it would fit in box scores and lineup cards. Brief played parts of 4 years in the bigs from 1912-17 and put up uninspiring career numbers:

184G 501AB .223/.306/.325

So what, right?

Brief is the all-time leader in home runs in the American Association and played on some of the greatest minor league teams ever. In 1923 - six years after his last major league at-bat Bunny Brief put up the following stats for the Kansas City Blues:

166G 640AB .359/.446/.615
230 hits, 161 runs, 164 RBIs

How does a guy like that not get a look in the majors?

2006-02-09 18:28:18
3.   Will Carroll
Bunny Brief. If there's no story there, we should make one up.

Brief seemed to be caught up in what kept a lot of people out of baseball - scarcity. He doesn't look like a great defender at 1B and was stuck behind a poor hitting George Stovall. It took me a minute to figure out how Stovall kept his job ... he was the manager! In 1913, Branch Rickey managed the Browns for part of the season, so we can't say there was incompetent management.

He somehow got to the White Sox, who were on the verge of being very good. Joe Jackson couldn't crack the everyday lineup. A couple years later, Brief made it to the Pirates, only to find Honus Wagner in front of him.

As joejoejoe said, Brief was able to play for years more at a high level, back when the AA and the PCL were stacked with talent. In an expansion age, Brief might have been something like Dante Bichette.

2006-02-09 19:30:42
4.   Marc Normandin
kirbyk --

I'm pretty sure Petagine was also the highest paid player in all of Japan for a few seasons. I could be wrong though.

2006-02-09 19:55:43
5.   joejoejoe
Thanks for the follow up Will. It might just be harder to beat out your manager than Honus Wagner or Joe Jackson.

I recommend googling 'Bunny Brief' - you get a nice mix of minor league baseball articles and links to Playboy brand panties.

2006-02-10 21:13:15
6.   Smed
You have to remember at that time of the game the minors weren't all that 'minor'. Brief probably got more money and fame in the minors than he would have playing for the dregs of the majors, and the minor league team had no reason to move him along.

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