Posts Tagged ‘Bonus Babies’
It was ruled in 1949 that anyone signed to a bonus contract exceeding $6,000 had to be assigned to the major leagues. Baseball’s executives were trying to limit their own payouts for unproven talent. In effect, the owners were trying to reign themselves in – a losing proposition. Like today, the push for the spending limits was introduced by the small market clubs.
The new rules did nothing but bring an element of fraud and secrecy to the business and ruined many a young ballplayer in the process. Scouts just signed players for the maximum amount and slid the rest under the table. The rule was later amended to $4,000 in 1953. The fraud continued.
The young players were usually 18 or 19 years old, coming out of high school or maybe college. They had no business going right to the majors; in fact, they needed seasoning in the minors.
Once on a major league roster, bonus babies often just sat on the bench and amassed the ire of teammates who were both jealous of their signing bonus and ticked because of the roster spot the unproven player was needlessly taking up.
Sandy Koufax is the classic example. He worked out in the end but others were huge disasters, and highly publicized ones at that. The first was Heisman Trophy winner Vic Janowicz who coaxed $25,000 from the Pittsburgh Pirates. He left baseball after 83 major league games to enter the NFL.
Another was Paul Pettit who appeared in only one major league game, despite a $100,000 bonus from the Pirates. Billy Joe Davidson received $125,000 from the Indians but never even made it to the show. Ted Kazanski, a $100,000 Phillies bonus baby, lasted only 400 games.
Some players did pan out of course. Lefthander Johnny Antonelli was one of the few to have a long, successful major league career. Ray Sadecki and Dick Wakefield also shined in the majors. Bonus Babies Koufax, Al Kaline and Harmon Killebrew are all in the Hall of Fame.
Teams eventually abandoned the process after repeatedly getting stung. Officially, the Bonus Baby Era ended with the free agent amateur draft in 1965. Rick Monday would be the first selected by the new procedures.
Later, teams began paying exorbitant bonuses to sign their draftees. The New York Yankees parted with $1 million in 1991 to sign young, lefthanded speedballer Brien Taylor. He never appeared in the bigs.