May 23, 2012
The Platoon Advantage
Life and Ed Whitson
Routine decisions are the easiest. I know which coffee I like best, which chair in my living room is most comfortable, and which jeans in my closet are flattering. Medium-hard decisions require more thought, but when pushed I can decide where to go for vacation and what color would look best should I decide to paint the kitchen. But the hardest decisions are the ones that have financial implications, because, let’s face it, a life without money would be incredibly difficult.
There is nothing wrong with being particular if you can afford it. Roy Oswalt can afford to be the Van Halen of baseball—with stipulations that he’ll play only for teams in a particular time zone, and that all the brown M&Ms be removed from the clubhouse bowls. Most of us, though, players and people alike, have to risk venturing into situations that might not be suitable to us so we can maintain mere subsistence, never mind repose in candy-coded splendor.
Eddie Lee Whitson was a player who changed teams often, seeking steady employment and opportunity. Whitson spent much of his career (1977-1991) bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen due to inconsistency. Whitson spent time with the Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants, and Cleveland Indians, before rejoining the Padres in 1983. At first, it was more of the same: in his first season with the Padres, Whitson found himself in the bullpen again, with a 2-6 record and 4.73 ERA. Whitson found his way back into manager Dick Williams’ rotation by the end of the season, with a 3-0 record and 2.20 ERA to finish the season.
Whitson built on his strong finish in 1984, which would prove to be a turning point in his career—he finally had the breakout season that he thought might secure him employment with the Padres indefinitely. The Padres ran away with the National League West, finishing 12 games ahead of the Braves, and Whitson finished the season 14-8 with a 3.24 ERA, and added a masterful postseason outing against the Cubs in Game 3 of the NLCS, giving up just one run on five hits in eight innings. But when the Padres offered a four-year, $2.8-million contract to Rick Sutcliffe instead, it was evident Whitson wouldn’t be returning to their rotation.
Fortunately for Whitson, the New York Yankees were interested. In a period in which the Yankees had sacrificed almost all of their first-round draft choices to sign free agents, they were dependent on free agents to fill out their pitching staff. In a photo taken the day that Whitson signed his five-year, $4.4-million dollar deal with the Yankees, the 29-year-old right-hander was sandwiched between his wife Kathleen and new manager Yogi Berra. Standing heads taller than his company, he’s smiling from behind a spectacular mustache while holding his new pinstriped jersey and wearing a pristine Yankees cap. Whitson’s smile says it all: he was content in finding employment and security as one of the final remaining free agents of the offseason.
My breakout season came in Chicago in 2011, the year I finished graduate school. I hoped I had done enough academically to secure a position with the firm I wanted to work for, but like Whitson I found myself waiting, a free agent with two business degrees and five years experience in a crippled economy. In crunching the numbers, I realized it wasn’t possible to pay my student loans, the monthly payments of which were akin to leasing a Mercedes E63, on the wages I earned, so I spent months networking, applying, and downright begging for suitable employment, realizing my time in Chicago had an expiration date: I’d have to leave after graduation.