Major League Baseball’s Career Transition Saga

With the mayhem that is this summer’s NBA off-season, a consistent theme has been the insane amount of money being given to free agents. When free agency kicked off just after midnight on July 1, teams were dishing out huge contracts to sign their coveted players. This lead to the Los Angeles Clippers signing Blake Griffin to a five-year, $173 million contract only to be outdone by the Golden State Warriors who signed Steph Curry to a massive five-year, $201 million deal a few hours later.

While basketball players have been in the spotlight for signing these monstrous deals, MLB players are no strangers to mega-deals. Giancarlo Stanton, the slugger for the Miami Marlins, signed a 13-year contract worth a whopping $325 million in 2014 – the largest contract in sports history. MLB contracts are fully guaranteed and teams do not have to adhere to a salary cap, providing a point of contention for athletes in other professional sports.

With the millions of dollars the athletes are making, the question of “what do they do with it all?” can arise. Due to their endorsement deals as well, these superstar athletes are likely financially set for life. However, for the vast majority of players not making hundreds of millions of dollars, the question turns into “what’s next?” When a playing career ends, athletes are typically still relatively young compared to those who have been in the work force. That is where their respective league and player’s association comes into play with career transition programs. In terms of what the different leagues and player’s associations are doing to assist their athletes in life after the game, a few stand out from the others.

The Precedent: NFL and NBA

The NFL and NFLPA have established a precedent for current player preparation and former player transition assistance through programs such as The Trust and the Career Transition Services Program. The NBPA has also has programs supporting current and former players such as Sportscaster U., which is an immersive course for players interested in a broadcasting career upon retirement.

It has been thought that since baseball players make all this guaranteed money that they do not need to worry about a life after the game. However, those players making hundreds of millions of dollars make up a small percentage of Major Leaguers. Due to this, there has been an increased number of former players looking for post-playing career help from the league, specifically to work in the game. The MLBPA expressed its frustrations that many of its retired members – especially minorities – were having difficulty finding jobs with teams and transitioning to second careers in an April 2016 Associated Press article.

MLB’s Increased Efforts

MLBPA President and former All-Star first baseman Tony Clark devised a plan which he outlined in an interview with The Associated Press. It includes college scholarships for all prospects signing professional contracts and the creation of a database of minority players and programs to enhance their post-playing employment prospects. Additionally, the MLBPA wants to create a “Baseball U.” program for continuing education and courses in baseball analytics, statistics and business etiquette. The MLB recently took its first step towards investing in the education of its athletes in a partnership with Northeastern University.

In the 15 months since Tony Clark expressed his frustrations about the lack of a program, the MLBPA and Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA) have partnered with The Ayers Group, a Career Partners International firm, to create a transition program with the goal “to help you [MLB players] identify and take your next career step with speed, confidence and a sense of control.”

The partnership with The Ayers Group is a major step in the right direction, as each player can have a program tailored to his career interests. After an assessment of career and lifestyle needs, work history and exploration of options, The Ayers Group will assist with all aspects of the process. Right now, participants in this program can choose one of three employment paths: in a business setting, start-up/self-employment or, tying in the MLBPA’s concern, staying in the game. Once the desired path for employment is established, there is a market research and strategy phase followed by the implementation of the desired path’s specific plan.

Unique Nature of Professional Baseball

This career transition program is meant for those who have played in the MLB. However, with over 1,200 minor league players at any given moment, there is also a need to assist those who will never reach the Major League level. According to Baseball America, steps have been taken to ease the transition in the MLB’s Dominican Republic office. Released players are now given a brochure that makes them aware of certain career transition services, including education and vocational counseling for which players may qualify. Bringing this information and program to Minor Leaguers in the states is in the works as well.

In order to reach the players and give them more information right off the bat (no pun intended), MLB is trying to incorporate post-baseball training into its rookie development seminars. Currently, these programs focus on media training, the sport’s domestic violence policy and other aspects of adjusting to life as a professional baseball player. However, only those that are deemed “top prospects” from each organization are sent to these development seminars.

The Future

While America’s pastime is working on the future for its players it can look to its counterparts that have already established solid career transition programs for its players, such as the NBA and NFL. Since players have multiple opportunities to get drafted (with various levels of education completed) there is also a need to help this large group of players who will never make it to “The Show.” As more and more players retire and find themselves questioning what to do next, MLB’s career transition program will need to expand. The program launched a few years ago is likely to cost $7 million to $8 million in the next three-to-five years, according to The Associated Press. For a league that saw revenue approach $10 billion in 2016, this is a relatively small investment into the futures of its athletes.

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