The readership of this site seems to skew toward a younger demographic. Every now and then, a history lesson is in order. Now is one of those times. There was a time when highly-touted rookies could make a team right out of Spring Training. Heck, there were a couple of notable players from the 1960s & ‘70s – Dave Winfield and Catfish Hunter — who became Hall-of-Famers despite never having played even a single minor league game! This was a time before free agency – that didn’t arrive until after the 1975 season. It was also a time before salary arbitration – not minted until 1973. From the late 1800s until 1973, the legendary “Reserve Clause” ruled. Veteran and rookie alike were subject to the whim of the owner, who could extend a contract yearly and unilaterally until the player proved no longer useful. There was no CBA – there was barely a players’ union in anything but name until the mid-‘50s. So when we hear about things like “arbitration clocks” and “service time issues” and “Super Twos,” it sounds like a different language to someone who’s studied a time when there was no amateur draft – inaugurated in 1965 – and researched the era of Bonus Babies.
The Bonus Baby rule was one of the more creative ways the Major League owners tried to rein themselves in. In the scramble for amateur talent in the wake of World War II, signing bonuses began to spiral ever higher. By 1946, the bigger teams – read the Yankees, Cardinals and Dodgers, primarily – were able to sign the most desirable amateur players and stash them in the bushes forever. When owners realized they were paying thousands to highly-hyped players who might never reach the Bigs, they instituted a slightly insane rule, where a youngster who received a signing bonus in excess of $4,000 (!!!!) had to take up a Major League roster place. Thus, from 1947 through 1956, teams were littered with teenagers and “men” in their early 20s who would have been better served toiling in some Class D League, honing their skills, rather than rusting on major league benches. This is one reason Sandy Koufax didn’t get good until his 6th major league season. Thank goodness logic prevailed after ten years – nanoseconds for MLB executives – and the idea was scrapped.
There has been a cry among Mets’ supporters to have Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud come North with the 2013 Mets. As has been noted elsewhere, this would be folly. While the show both are putting on in Port St. Lucie is highly entertaining and encouraging about the future, their value lies right there: the future. The Mets are in no kind of position to hamstring their finances any further, no matter how many Amway recruits line up outside Citi Field. Granting “Super Two” status to d’Arnaud and jackrabbiting Wheeler’s arbitration clock would do just that and make little difference to the fortunes of the 2013 squadron. And just ask Jenrry Mejia about making a major league team for other than baseball reasons. Discretion should rule the day here and Sandy Alderson has tons of that.
That being said, the average fan still drools over these two physically gifted players and dreams of them populating the Queens expanse sooner, rather than later. Yes, Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler would have been Bonus Babies.
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