The Harsh Reality of Major League Baseball

Brian SavageContributor IJune 3, 2008

So, it's that time of year again.

High school and college ball players across the country are dreaming of being selected to play under the bright lights of a Major League stadium.

Throughout most of these kids lives, the game has come easy. They were the best players on their little league teams and in high school. Some might have led their teams to state championships and likewise been deemed gods of their school.

But the journey to the major league level is a long and arduous one. Just take a look at the careers of Jack Cust and Jeremy Brown of the Oakland A's.

In 1997, Jack Cust was the first round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks. In his minor league career before making his debut with Oakland last May, Cust had tallied exactly 200 homeruns, cranking them out at an astonishing rate of one every 19 at bats.

His minor league journey took him through the organizations of Arizona, Colorado, and Baltimore before he joined the A's. His Ruth-esque power numbers in minor league baseball didn't attract many General Managers in baseball.

The hard truth was that in his limited opportunities in the bigs, Cust couldn't handle big league pitching. When Mike Piazza went down last May and the DH spot opened up, Cust steped in and mashed six homeruns in his first seven games. He could count on making Oakland his home for a while.

The path to the major leagues is not always a success story. A story like Cust can overshadow a tale like that of Jeremy Brown. Brown was a first round selection of the A's in 2002 and coveted by Billy Beane for his gift of getting on base. The threat of Brown stealing second after getting on base was about as low as Rosie O' Donnell stealing broccoli at a supermarket. However, Brown's eye at the plate was vastly superior to other catchers who seemed likely candidates to be chosen in the first round.

Brown spent four years in the minor leagues before making his major league debut on September 3, 2006. He ended up tallying three hits in 10 at bats for the 2006 season. His success during his "cup of tea" at the major league level didn't earn him a roster spot for the 2007 season, as the starting position was taken by veteran Jason Kendall, and competition was fierce for the backup duty.

Long story short, Brown was designated for assignment and outrighted to the minor leagues on May 23, 2007. Less than a year later, Brown announced his retirement from baseball to begin the next stage of his life.

The bright lights of Major League stadiums, crowds of over 30,000 people, and a paycheck that would make Babe Ruth envious (if Ruth earned today's pay in 1927 there would have been a food shortage that year) are the rewards of making it to the bigs. But as the story of Jeremy Brown tells us, the game can be over even before the lights have turned on.