Baseball fans will be a long-time mourning Tom Seaver’s passing. “Tom Terrific” was an icon like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams who, for those who watched them play, will forever treasure the experience.
At the beginning of Seaver’s Hall of Fame career, he approached super-slugger Henry Aaron before the 1967 All-Star Game. Aaron, who later said that Seaver was the toughest pitcher he ever faced, politely replied: “Kid, I know who you are, and before your career is over, I guarantee you everyone in this stadium (Anaheim) will, too.” Seaver recorded a save in that year’s All-Star Game.
More important when lamenting Seaver’s death, however, is to remember his character. When the HOF announced he had died, it referred to his dignity, sportsmanship, integrity and wisdom — qualities too-infrequently found in famous athletes.
Since Seaver’s stellar 1969 season when he led New York’s “Miracle Mets” to a World Series victory, baseball has undergone transformative changes: three more expansion rounds, divisional realignment, radically altered on-the-field game execution philosophy, foolish rule changes and several added layers of post-season play.
One of the most dramatic shifts is the demographic composition in the player rosters from mostly native-born Americans to roughly 30 percent foreign nationals.
On Seaver’s 1969 Mets, the 25-man roster was 100 percent U.S.-born, which included five African-Americans.
The 2020 Mets Opening Day roster included nine foreign nationals, a mix of Cubans, Dominicans and Venezuelans, but no African-Americans.
Fans wonder how, over a half-century, foreign nationals displaced about 30 percent of American-born players. They question why such prestigious, generously paid jobs go, virtually by default, to international players.
The most commonly used is the P-1, which remains valid for the duration of players’ contracts, often for multiple years. Since 2006, even minor league players are P-1 qualified; before 2006, players received an H-2B visa, which meant they had to return home when the season ended. Unlike the H-2B, the P-1 has no numerical cap, so owners can no longer grouse about visa snafus that strand their international players.
The backstory is that Major League Baseball franchise owners, who preside over a $10.7 billion industry, have business models identical to Microsoft, Apple and AT&T: hire cheap labor, and maximize profits.
Caribbean players are cheaper to sign — period! Dick Balderson, former Seattle Mariners general manager, once said that in the impoverished Dominican Republic, even a modest signing bonus represents a small fortune.
Team owners can sign 20 penurious Dominicans, also incentivized by the prospect of coming to the United States legally, for the same cost as four Americans.
To hone Dominicans’ skills, all 30 MLB franchises have development camps run by professional coaches and trainers. Owners scuttled plans to start similar camps in Venezuela when the political climate became too unstable. Not a single similar MLB-maintained academy exists in the United States.
Instead of inking foreign nationals, owners could choose from an abundance of solid domestic players. The annual College World Series puts their talents on display. Yet, wrote author Ryan McGee in his book, The Road to Omaha, for most college players, the CWS is the last organized baseball game they ever participate in.
Playing in the Major Leagues is the world’s best job. The starting, average and the highest salaries are, respectively, $565,000, $4.4 million and Los Angeles Angels’ center dielder Mike Trout’s bank-busting $35.5 million, a one-year installment on his $426.5 million 12-year contract.
The international players are talented, and perhaps deserving of their place on an MLB roster. But, to repeat, playing MLB baseball is, although never considered such among its devotees, a job.
Talented U.S. players should get priority for playing in the big leagues, and making the riches that follow.
— Joe Guzzardi is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America who now lives in Pittsburgh. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @joeguzzardi19. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.