I woke up Monday morning to the sounds of helicopters and news trucks here in St Lucie, Florida. The New York Mets’ instructional league started this week. I’ve had clients attend in the past, but this year none of my clients are going. By now you know one player who is, though: Tim Tebow, the former Heisman-winning quarterback turned NFL quarterback impersonator. The Mets signed him a couple weeks ago for $100,000 after he performed at a scouts workout—have you heard about this? Have you heard that Donald Trump is running for president? Have you heard that beef comes from cows? I have all sorts of hot news scoops.
I’ve never, to my recollection, commented on the signing of another agent’s player, but for Tebow I’m ready to make an exception. I’m really having a hard time fathoming that Tebow is a baseball player now.
First things first: Good for him that he gets to live his dream. Not many people get to wear a professional baseball jersey, and even fewer get to do so once they’re nearing 30. Good for him. Really.
But as somebody who works in the industry, it’s frustrating to watch. It’s frustrating to see a 29-year-old who was never drafted, didn’t even play his senior year in high school, get a shot (and a bonus that would change many a kid’s life) solely because he’s a big name.
Anyone who reads this column knows I love betting on longshots, which means I also love rooting for longshots. I love longshots’ stories, seeing what they go through and what they put into the sport. Seth Lugo was a 34th-round pick with a really rough medical history, but I got to know the man and see the stuff and once that happened I was a believer. He was old for his level (23 and in Low-A when we first met), but it didn’t matter. I was all in from jump.
Having represented Lugo when he was going through those medical issues, on his way to the career he has now but three years delayed, it’s hard to think about the roster spot Tebow is taking now. Maybe a prospect who was on the bubble gets left at home. Maybe that guy never develops the skills he'd have gotten at instructs. Maybe he never makes it because he missed out on instruction or a roster spot.
You spend time with the longshots and you can’t help but think of the guy who is going home, and how it’s someone like Lugo or any of a multitude of guys I’ve worked for. It’s a competitive sport and it’s fair for players to have to earn their spot every step of the way, but it’s frustrating to see the spot going to somebody who is hedging his bets—who is taking weekends off, whose motivations for being there at all are unconvincing at best. That’s how I feel about this, and how a lot of people in the business of supporting young players feel. To do anything at the expense of kids grinding every inch out every day—it just doesn’t feel right.
When Michael Jordan played Double-A baseball back in 1994, I never really got it. Looking back, I do to an extent. While the Tebow experiment is mechanically the same thing, Tebow is not Michael Jordan. Jordan is a legend. He can choose his stunts. But Tebow? I don’t get it, from the industry’s perspective, unless it’s explicitly and entirely about the money the Mets will collect from his apparel sales. If so, hey, I guess hooray for capitalism.
But this is being sold as something more, as a real triumph and an inspiring story of player development. You have to sell it that way if you want to sell jerseys, because people want to buy something they believe is real. I don’t buy it. His ceiling is motivational speaker. He’s not a former first-rounder. He’s not a former college star who gave it up to pursue a different dream. My heart goes out to his future cutoff men. The bottom line is that there is no upshot to him as a baseball player.
There is a cost, though. For the players who are truly pursuing a dream—and who occasionally turn into the longshot-makes-good stories that this sport runs on—the cost is unfathomable. As an agent, I get it, but I’m sickened by it all the same.
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