Professional baseball has always been a business. There’s this myth held, especially by older fans, that teams and players were once loyal to one another until free agency ripped that loyalty apart. Like most baseball myths, this one is basically crap. Superstar players tended to stay with their original teams for long periods of time for one simple reason: they had no leverage. This was the era of big league baseball’s reserve clause which basically tied a player to the team that first signed him forever. The player would receive a series of one year contracts. If they didn’t agree to terms with the team, the team could simply renew their previous contract. The only other option was to quit. Even players as talented as Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, who held out in 1966 in hope of more money, couldn’t get what they wanted.
Of course, ownerships have always dealt players when they think it’s in their team’s best interest, or sometimes, for other reasons. It wasn’t uncommon for players who weren’t stars to be traded three or four times during their careers. Occasionally, even a superstar in their prime would be dealt. The Red Sox sent Babe Ruth to the Yankees for money so their owner could finance a Broadway show. The Reds dealt Frank Robinson before the start of the 1966 season. He would lead the Orioles to a World Series victory while winning the AL Triple Crown in his first season with Baltimore. When Reds fans revolted after the deal, the GM defended the deal by saying Robinson was an "old 30" years old, and a malcontent. (Running a player down after dealing them? Sounds like the Diamondbacks.) Of course, it wasn’t common to deal a superstar because no matter how great a player performed, he had no leverage in negotiations other than to threaten to walk away from the game.
Eventually, men like Curt Flood and Marvin Miller would bring about change. The owners and the union would work out a free agent system which would allow teams to protect their initial investment in a player’s development, but would eventually allow a player to shop his services to other teams. I’ve never understood the outrage of so many when a player gets his agent to get two teams bidding against one another. It just seems like good business to me. Since the advent of free agency, players have been derided regularly as money grubbing scumbags who are holding the owners and their fan bases hostage. Hogwash. I think a lot of this can be explained by simple jealousy. Most of us have no leverage in our jobs and our careers so we resent those who do. We come to consider blind fealty to our bosses as a virtue, because really, most of us have no choice. Again, hogwash. I’ve been employed for a long time by several small companies and a few large corporations and the one thing they have in common is that they will cut me loose in a second if they think it is in their best interest. That’s why, if someone offers me a better job, however I choose to define that in the moment (more money, better hours, whatever), I take it and I don’t hold it against a player who wants to do the same.
So I have a different definition of loyalty than most fans. I have different feelings about what I think a player owes me as a ticket buying fan. To me, a player does not owe me his whole career. Just because I rooted for a player in his early days does not mean that he owes me the ability to watch him in the same uniform his entire career. I think a player’s loyalty to a team can be shown in one way only: effort. I’m not talking about slamming into the wall or diving after every fly ball. I simply believe that it is the player’s responsibility to do everything in their power to maximize their talent and help their team win ball games. They may fall short of their ideal performance, but as long as the effort is there, I have no complaints. (I’m thinking of Dan Uggla here.) If a player hits the market and chooses to get as much money as he can, more power to him. It doesn’t make them ungrateful, it simply makes them a businessman.
I also recognize that there is another side to this coin. If it is in a team’s best interest to deal a player, then I think they have to do it. For better or worse, a team has to try and win ball games. If this means saying goodbye to a fan favorite, then so be it. A team has to operate as a business if it wants to be successful. I don’t think it is fair to hate on Frank Wren just because he has dealt one of our favorite players. If you want to criticize the deal based on the merits, fine, let’s have that debate. Otherwise, I think he should be cut some slack because I don’t think anyone believes it was easy for Wren to say goodbye to Martin Prado. He did what he had to do. The Braves will field one of the most dynamic outfields the league has seen in many years in 2013. Despite sending one of my favorite players across the country (not to mention the retirement of a Braves legend), I’m more optimistic coming into this season than any since the early 2000s. I like the optimism.
None of this means I won’t miss Martin Prado. I was sitting at lunch catching up on tweets the other morning, and I saw the deal was about to be made. I was excited. Then, I read Martin Prado’s name and I was immediately crestfallen. I have a lot of friends who are not sports fans and could never understand the attachment we feel as fans to our favorite players. Martin Prado is one of those guys who is built to be under-appreciated by fans of other teams and to be a fan favorite of whoever his current employer is. Honestly, for the last several years, I’ve felt he was the heart of the Braves. He’s a guy you can watch on the field and you just know you are watching a guy who is giving you everything he has. It might sound silly since I don’t know the man, but I love Martin Prado and as far as I’m concerned, he’ll always be a Brave.
Is Dale Murphy any less a Brave because he told the team to trade him? Of course not. Greg Maddux only spent one year less in a Cubs uniform than a Braves uniform, but he’s still a Brave. Tom Glavine in that orange uniform of the Mets was simply absurd, because he’s a Brave! John Smoltz may have wore the red of Boston and St. Louis his last year, but he’s still a Brave. Andruw Jones has bounced around the league, but he’s still a Brave. The great Warren Spahn ended his career with the giants. Still a Brave. Eddie Mathews finished up with the Astros and Tigers. Still a Brave. The greatest Brave of them all, Hank Aaron, was told there was no place for him in the Braves front office when he wanted to retire following the 1974 season. So, he engineered a trade with the Brewers and finished up in the city where his career started. Is Aaron any less a Braves for wearing a Brewers uniform? Of course he isn’t. Martin Prado is, and always should be, one of our guys.
I’ll miss Martin Prado’s smile. I’ll miss the stories of him missing his mother. I’ll miss the images of him hitting in the batting cage underneath the stadium late into the night when he’s slumping. I’ll miss his ability to play seemingly any position and make at least one play that makes me go "wow". I’ll miss his crazy antics in the shallow right field area of Turner Field as he goofs off before the game with his teammates. I’ll miss the commercial of him doing anything and everything for the team, especially announcing. I’ll miss him scooping up dirt in his hands after a walk off win and rubbing it in the hair of that day’s hero. Still, come on guys, he isn’t dead! I can always root for Martin Prado and I will.
For a variety of reasons, I hope the Diamondbacks finish in last place, but I hope Zeke Spruill, Brandon Drury and Nick Ahmed live up to every bit of their potential. I hope Randall Delgado contends for the Cy Young award at some point. I hope Martin Prado keeps playing like an All-Star. I hope Martin Prado makes us miss him with every swing of his bat in every game he plays against a team other than the Braves for the rest of his career.
So yeah, I’m still collecting Martin Prado.
Check Your Retail Stores
Topps has released what appears to be the final checklist for Topps Series 1 and there are few surprises. If you were hoping for a last card of Martin Prado in a Braves uniform, you won’t get it in Series 1. I would expect him to be in an airbrushed Diamondbacks uniform for Series 2. There’s a good chance his last Braves card will be in Heritage this year. Justin Upton will appear in Series 1 and he will appear in his Diamondbacks uniform since the Topps had already printed and packed out Series 1 before the deal was made. I would expect his first card in a Braves uniform this fall in Update Series. I still expect BJ Upton to get his first Braves card in Series 2, although, there’s a chance it could be in Heritage. We will see when the checklist and set is released near the end of February/beginning of March.
Series 1 will be released officially this coming Wednesday, but there are reports that some are finding the cards already in retail stores. So, if you want to open a few packs, you might want to hit up your local Target or Wal-Mart today.
Correction from Last Week
Last week, I stated that Hank Aaron and Stan Musial were roommates on a tour of Japan with other All-Star players. This was incorrect. As Aaron stated on the MLB Network’s tribute program to Stan Musial, they were roommates on a tour of Vietnam to visit the troops. I apologize for the mistake.