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Bonus money and politics: Baseball fixtures

By Staff | Jun 19, 2019

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Major League Baseball recently completed its 2019 draft of amateur players.

Huge sums of money were mentioned concerning athletes who had never played an inning of professional baseball.

The draft had 40 rounds and lasted over parts of three consecutive days.

Speculation was rampant as to who the players would be that would go early in the first round of the draft.

Baltimore had the first overall selection. That player could command a bonus of $8,415,300 just for signing a professional contract. He would be the latest in more than 70 years of acclaimed “bonus babies”.

The largest bonuses surrendered in modern times have gone to Gerrit Cole in 2011 for $8 million, pitcher Stephen Strasburg in 2009 for $7.5 million and Bubba Starling in 2011 for $7.5 million.

The Cubs’ Kris Bryant inked his name to his first contract for $6,708,400. Bryce Harper was paid a bonus of $6,250,000. San Francisco’s Buster Posey was the recipient of a signing bonus of $6,200,000 and fellow catcher Matt Wieters left Georgia Tech for $6 million from the Orioles.

All of those bonus recipients received their money in increments in order to lower the taxes they had to pay on their good fortune. And all became golden boys in their respective organizations. All were investments. Some became solid business moves, rising to the big leagues and performing well when they got there.

The major league team doling out the bonus money was taking a financial risk if the athlete didn’t perform well and didn’t help in the big leagues. And there was always the risk of injury to the bonus baby. Any debilitating injury was at the club’s expense if the athlete could never play again. The bonus money was guaranteed.

Many years ago, in an effort to minimize the amount of bonus money given unproven athletes, Major League Baseball had a rule that anybody receiving a bonus of over $4,000 had to stay on a team’s major league roster for one calendar year. An 18-year-old just out of high school wasn’t going to be able to help a big league team. But if he were given a bonus of over $4,000 he was on that team’s roster for a year.

Still, some teams thought so highly of prospects that they doled out bonuses of more than $4,000.

Many famous-name player of by-gone eras took their bonuses and went on to star-studded careers in the majors.

Dodgers’ pitcher Sandy Koufax left the University of Cincinnati for a $24,000 bonus in 1955. Flame-throwing left-handed pitcher Herb Score received a $60,000 bonus from Cleveland in 1955. Johnny Antonelli in 1948 was signed for $65,000 and one Sunday afternoon in Charles Town pitched for his military base team against the Jackson-Perks American Legion team at long-gone Legion Field.

Pittsburgh gifted pitcher Bob Pettit with the first bonus of $100,000 or over in 1950. Pettit never helped the Pirates, but he stayed around in the minor leagues until all his bonus money had been paid.

The Major League Baseball draft didn’t come into being until the mid 1960’s. Teams would bid on the services of players until the advent of the draft. Prior to the draft era, California paid outfielder Rick Reichardt the highest bonus ever rewarded when they paid $205,000 for his signature.

One of the most productive investments came when Detroit signed shortstop Harvey Kuenn for $10,000 in 1952.

This week, Shepherd outfielder Brenton Doyle, a fourth round selection of Colorado, could have signed a contract for a bonus of $438,700 as the 129th player taken overall in the just-completed draft. Doyle will become one of Colorado’s more important business investments. He will be given every opportunity to do well. His bonus will also be paid in increments and the Rockies will doing whatever possible to insure he can give them a positive return on their investment.

Bonuses and baseball politics. Both have been a part of the Grand Old Game since President William Howard Taft stood at old Griffith Stadium in Washington for the first-ever seventh inning stretch.