You’ve been playing baseball since you were just five years old. You don’t remember why you started playing in the first place (after all, you were five), but your parents probably had something to do with it. Every kid played baseball at that age.
You were pretty good, too. The best on your team, actually. Now, your dad’s saying you should go pro. Your mom says you’ll always be her little baby, no matter what path you take in life. Your coach says you should think about college ball. Even your older brother’s friend, Ryan, who plays at the collegiate level thinks you have a shot.
So now you’re thinking, why not become a professional baseball player?
Wrong. So wrong. All wrong.
When someone says you have a shot at making it in baseball, what they’re not telling you is the size of the target. Sure, you have a shot. You can take that shot if you want. But you’re shooting at a target the size of a penny from about eight miles away. The penny is practically smaller than the bullet itself. Be real. This is one game you’re not going to win—no matter how many high school championship games you’ve won.
If you were really ready for the pros, it’d be obvious by now. That is, did Tiger have any doubt about turning pro at 21? He’d already won many times pretty much everything you could win as an amateur.
You’ve probably spent hours of your life reading, researching, and memorizing all kinds of statistics about your favorite baseball players. You know the most obscure stats on some of the most obscure players. Time to put the same amount of thought and research into your own baseball trajectory. Do some work on, well, yourself.
Let’s look at some numbers. Even rough, generous estimates will paint a pretty clear picture here.
To begin with, there are roughly 2 million Little League players of all ages in the U.S. By the time they reach high school, that number drops a little. But there’s still nearly half of a million baseball players on high school teams across the country. Of those, there are about 130,000 players in their senior year—which, by the way, makes them eligible for the First-Year Player Draft in MLB. Let’s assume none of those kids do get drafted, because very, very few players get drafted straight out of high school. (Something to do with maturity, experience, skill, the value of a college degree, blah blah blah.)
But you want to play college ball. Heck, your coach says you should play college ball! So college ball it is. There are about 50,000 college baseball players. For those of you following along at home, that means roughly 10 percent of high school players advance to the collegiate level.
Hold up. Not all colleges—and not all college baseball teams—are created equal. To be a contender, you’d best be on an NCAA Division I team. Ain’t nobody got time for the lower ranks here. You’ve got a lot of options in Division I. There are 300 teams, for crying out loud. But each team has more than 30 players. Before you know it, there are 10,000 players in the best colleges for baseball around the country.
And do you know how many draft picks there are every year? A whole lot less than 10,000. In fact, even though the MLB draft is one of the largest in professional sports (each of the 30 teams technically gets 40 rounds of picks, though the rules for the draft are more convoluted than the plot for Donnie Darko), in the end it doesn’t really matter. Because you want to play baseball, right? Not just be drafted by a major league team? The majority of first round drafts (that’s right, each team’s número uno pick) never play an actual game in the major league during their first season. So imagine if you’re drafted in the 23rd round? Yup, you’re going to rot in the minors until the day you die, quit, or most likely, get fired.
So basically, if we’re being really, really generous, you need to be in the top three rounds to have a future in baseball. So really, you need to be in the top 100 baseball players in the WORLD at the time of the draft. (Don’t forget about the stiff and growing competition from Latin America.) There are 300 really good, Division I baseball teams in the U.S. and 1,600 collegiate baseball teams altogether. Which means that most teams don’t get even their best, most superstar player to the majors. Even if you’re the superstar player on your team, no one cares, because every team has one.
So what does it take to become a baseball player? It takes more than talent, hard work, determination, or work ethic. It takes luck, a wealthy uncle high up in MLB who can pull strings, a willingness to work for a sub-poverty-level salary, or prodigal talent the likes of which the baseball world hasn’t seen and that, frankly speaking, it’s almost a certainty you don’t have or you wouldn’t be reading this missive. We’re sure Tiger had no doubts.
But because you’ve been so patient, let’s really quickly entertain your (pipe)dream of making it to the majors. What’s it like to really be a baseball player? Realistically, you’ll be playing in the minor leagues. Exploited and manipulated. For crappy pay. With no meaningful union unless you join the relatively wealthy ranks of being a janitor at the stadium. With no celebrity. With no limited edition bobble head that looks vaguely like you. You’ll be alone, traveling at least four days out of every week to small, Podunk towns with renovated cornfields masquerading as “stadiums” that can never attract more than quarter capacity.
Or, miracle of miracles, you’ll make it to the major leagues, just in time to strain your shoulder. Goodbye, career. Or you’ll make it to the major leagues, because you’ve been doping on steroids, and while you have a pretty good career, eventually that catches up with you, certain parts of you shrink, you have to online-shop for bras, your liver shuts down, and then you have a heart attack. And die.
Mostly kidding. Because remember: You are not going pro. Neither is your best friend Jimmy with the .800 batting average isn’t going pro, and neither is the wunderkind pitcher who threw a no-hitter against your team in last year’s All-Star Game.
No one is going pro.
If you love baseball, and you don’t want to stop playing, then fine. Do what makes you happy, but don’t expect to make a career out of it. Because you won’t make a career out of it. In fact, baseball as a whole isn’t doing so hot right now. Fewer American kids are playing Little League, fewer Americans are attending games or watching them at home, and little kids play videogames, not “catch” with their dad on the weekends. Our advice? Go take a computer programming class or get a plumber’s certification. Do anything other than baseball.
And maybe you’re better off being a fan. Go treat yourself to some peanuts and crackerjacks. You’ll feel a little better. Because you know who’s not eating peanuts and crackerjacks right now? Any of the baseball players down on the field, because they’re too busy chewing tobacco and biting their nails down to the quick because they’re not sure when that hamstring pull is finally going to heal—if ever.
Baseball can be a lot of fun to play and watch. (Emphasis on “can be.” By the way, have you ever seen a basketball game? If not, you should really get out more.) But it won’t lead to your career. The sooner you accept that, the better off you’ll be in life.