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The Miseducation of Major League Baseball

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The Miseducation of Major League Baseball

The Wall Street Journal published a story recently about the amount of college education, or lack thereof, in Major League Baseball. 

The study reports that there are only 26 members of Major League clubs (including managers) that have received a four-year college degree. 

Much of that can be attributed to the extensive amateur draft that we just witnessed.

There are now 50 rounds of players being drafted. Young kids leave high school and sign for a couple of thousand dollars, only to ride buses from town-to-town traveling the minor leagues for years.

Also, the increasing domination of international born players is flooding the majors with young men who have barely completed high school (and many that didn’t get that far).

For example, the Dodgers signed a high school player from Korea this past week. Tae-hyeok Nam is just 18-years old! Dodgers’ scout Logan White projects him with high praise, but Nam hit just .314-in high school-last season.

I’m not saying that Nam is a bad player, but it goes to show how instead of trying to develop a four-year college player, teams are turning to young international players as an alternative.

Part of that is the fact that the younger the player, the more time that can be spent in that organization with their talent development. This allows a club to work with a player as they progress so they can be better suited for the needs of the major league affiliate.

The problem with using four-year college graduates is that they enter your organization around 22 or 23-years old.

To put that in perspective, Rick Porcello of the Tigers is just 20-years old, and is 8-4 with a 3.54 ERA in ’09.

Or Ken Griffey Jr., who had almost five complete big league seasons under his belt by the age of 23.

The list could go on and on of young men who have blossomed in the big leagues before the age of a four-year college graduate.

It just isn’t worth it for teams to sign four-year college students unless they are immediately ready for the majors, which is a rare case.

And if there is a talent that is good enough to go right to either triple-A or the majors (see Stephen Strasburg for more), they don’t make it to their senior year. If you were Strasburg, would you pass up $30-50 million to earn your degree? Highly unlikely, and no one would blame you or him for the decision.

So does it matter that roughly only 1/30 of MLB players and coaches have a four-year college education?

In my opinion, as I’m sure is most of yours, the lack of education in the major leagues doesn’t make a difference.

On the field, it has no bearing on the outcome of a game. Although the match-ups within any given game center around complicated statistics, its not like a Lou Pinella has to crunch numbers to figure out Alfonso Soriano's total OPS+.

A manager simple goes to the all-knowing "notebook" that resides in every ball club\'s dugout. The notebook contains every players splits, every hitters career numbers against the opposing teams pitchers, etc. You name a stat; they have it in the notebook. 

Sure, without college graduates in the majors, a player might forget how to count to three, and throw the ball into the stands with two outs every once and a while (see Milton Bradley for more). But as fans, we are accepting and forgiving of our poorly educated heroes.

Craig Breslow stands out as a rare exception amongst a league of athletes with few college degrees amongst them. 

Breslow earned a degree from Yale in 2002. He majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, with a specialty in stem-cell research. In ’05, Breslow became the first player from Yale to make it the major leagues since Ron Darling.

Breslow has said that he has a small window to play baseball. The decision to abandon medical school to travel the country in the minor leagues was one that nagged him throughout his journey to the majors.

At times, the often-released Breslow was ready to give up and go to medical school.

Drafted in the 26th round by the Brewers in ’02, he was released just two summers later. Breslow commented that, “obviously when you are toiling in the minor leagues - especially after being released out of A Ball - that weighs on you.”

In ’05, he signed as a free agent with the Padres and made his major league debut that season.

He chose to play baseball because he feels that he can always go back to medical school when his playing career has ended.

Craig’s interest in the medical field began when he 12-years old.

His sister, Lesley, was just 14-years old, and she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. His sister continues to do well, but her condition heavily impacted Craig’s life. It was one of the reason’s he chose to pursue the fields of biochemistry and stem-cell research, and also is why he opened a childhood cancer research foundation.

He feels the foundation not only helps others, but also provides him with a way of staying connected to the medical field.

He told Minnesota Public Radio in ’08, “The impact that something like that has on your life is pretty great. I've always wanted to somehow give back or get involved in the community and this—I felt—was the way to do so.”

You can’t say enough about the drive and accomplishments off the field of a guy like Breslow.

Sure, he might never be your first-round fantasy baseball pick, as he is posting a 1-4 record with a 4.50 ERA in ’09.

But I’d be willing to bet that Breslow’s legacy will bring more help to the world than leading Joe the Plumber’s fantasy team to a championship.

Maybe Breslow will go to medical school. Maybe he will become a prestigious doctor. Maybe he will find a cure for a rare disease.

Or maybe he will find his way on the mound, and pitch a long career in the major leagues, earning enough money to become content with not attending medical school.

So while the lack of college education doesn’t bear an impact on the game itself, the biggest shame of all would be if one brilliant young man lost his academic drive because of the uneducated, money-driven atmosphere in the major leagues. 

 

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