The most frightening investment that comes to my mind is free agent baseball. And the last that would capture my fancy.
You’re dealing first with an agent, whose commodity is the flesh of a player, and who sits back and waits for the deal. Usually, the agent is greedier than his client, who has found that the game he once played in a sandlot league has elevated him into the central figure of a bidding war. Millions, I mean. Not just thousands, but millions.
Did it ever cross your mind when you watched Mark Teixeira playing third base at Georgia Tech that one day you’d be watching him in a New York Yankees uniform working for $23,150,000 — that’s millions — not for a lifetime, but a season? ONE season. There it is.
You probably gulped when you read that Cliff Lee, the left-handed pitcher who had escorted the Texas Rangers into the World Series, would not be going back to Texas. He had been passed around from Cleveland to Philadelphia to Seattle to Texas, and the Rangers were offering him $154 million for seven season to come back. BUT, he decided he’d rather return to the Phillies for about $30 million less. His poor agent, bless his heart, had to take a cut right along with him, but it was Cliff’s body, not his.
The bids got pretty crazy between the Rangers and the Yankees, and besides that, the Phillies already had Roy Halliday and Roy Oswalt, not to mention Cole Hamels. But there was something beckoning him in Philadelphia.
Sometimes these free agent deals work out just fine, and sometimes they leave you scratching your head. Three this season, in fact. The Braves went fishing in the free agent pond and bought stock in Dan Uggla. The Nationals made a deal with Jayson Werth, but the Red Sox bit on the biggest fish, Carl Crawford. When Washington offered Werth $126 million for seven seasons, his agent, the gluttonous Scott Boras, was so shocked he didn’t even invite rival bids. Werth is currently hitting .254, after a recent surge.
When the Red Sox gave Crawford $142 million for seven seasons, Boston media were shocked. He had never had a 20-home season, and while he’d led the league in stolen bases and triples, all that indicated was speed. His batting average is now at the .229 level — after an uplifting 4-for-4 game.
Uggla — no need to dwell on his case, suffering as he is. The Braves committed $62 million to him for five seasons, and at the moment his batting average is .180. Even the rustic Brooks Conrad and Eric Hinske have become more heroic at their commonplace salary levels.
So much for after-sight. There’s a lot of season left, but time on that old slow-starting plea is expiring.
Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.