A classic movie line informs us there’s no crying in baseball. As Tim Tucker reminds us, there’s no loyalty, either.
Only two players in Atlanta Braves history have played more games for the team than Andruw Jones. Only two have more hits, more home runs or more RBIs. And none, of course, have made more game-saving defensive plays. Yet, when the Braves said an abrupt goodbye to Jones this past week, their fan base hardly revolted.
“In the 1970s and ’80s, even through the ’90s, it was upsetting to people when a player left,” said Dale Murphy, the Braves’ two-time National League MVP of the ’80s. “Now it’s part of the game. It’s more acceptable, more understandable, and fans move on a lot easier.”
Baseball players began moving on with the advent of free agency 30 years ago, and the pace has accelerated with the soaring salaries of the past decade. Most teams annually juggle their rosters to balance their budgets. Players move around so much that it has become a laughing matter. A current television commercial for delivery company DHL has fun with the career of vagabond outfielder Kenny Lofton, who has been with 11 teams in 17 years, including the Braves.
In the past five years, Braves fans have said goodbye to a parade of entrenched stars â€” Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Javy Lopez, Rafael Furcal. Now, Andruw Jones.
Only seven other active players have been with their original big-league team longer than the 11-plus years Jones had been with the Braves. And with the retirement last weekend of Houston’s Craig Biggio, the major leaguer with the longest tenure with his team is Braves pitcher John Smoltz (19-plus years).
To stay with a team for an entire career often requires concessions by the player, said Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who played all of his 20 big-league seasons with San Diego. “I made a point of never getting to free agency, because if you get to free agency you’re not sure how your team is going to handle it,” Gwynn said. “I always tried to get an extension two years before. You’re usually not going to max out on the dollars that way, but in San Diego, if you made it appealing for them to keep you, they jumped at it.” He wonders if a similar approach might have worked for Jones here. “With the agent he’s got, I don’t know if that was an option,” said Gwynn, referring to the hard-driving Scott Boras.
It’s a shame to see Andruw go. The bottom line, though, is that there are only so many people teams not named the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, or Cubs can afford to hand $20 million a year to.
Fans expect “loyalty” from their teams and players but it’s simply not realistic. The Braves can’t justify paying Jones the money he’s demanding and Jones can’t be expected to sacrifice $10 million a year or more to stay with the team if someone else out there is willing to give it to him.
Certainly, none of us would stay with our current employer if a similar firm was offering to double our salaries; it’s not fair to ask athletes to do that either.
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