06/20/11 6:28 PM ET
Retired players focusing on making ends meet
By Evan Drellich / MLB.com
Even if it belied his talent, the path the 37-year-old has taken looks like that of a quintessential "Four-A" player. He has 284 home runs in the Minor Leagues. He's played in just 149 games in the Major Leagues.
"You know you're getting to the end of your career and you're getting old and you just know that you're going to have to turn the page at some point," said Tracy, who is with the D-backs' Triple-A team in Reno, Nev. "I've been thinking about that on and off for the last four years."
A final reprise in the big leagues would be special for Tracy for all the expected reasons: posterity, a last hurrah. But when you retire from baseball without having ever landed a grand payday -- that is, when you're like most baseball players, Major League or Minor League -- there's a bit more to it.
"It'd be awesome for a guy like me with a family to get back up," said Tracy, whose children are two and four years old. "You got to look it from a healthcare perspective. I'd get [Major League] healthcare through Opening Day."
As for what career Tracy will find next, he's uncertain. For 16 years, he's been one class away from finishing his Bachelor's degree.
Tracy's situation is hardly unique, and the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association knows it. It is developing a career-transition program to help players like Tracy ease into a second life after their playing days are over. Such a program is expected to be in place soon, possibly within a year, according to Dan Foster, chief executive officer of the alumni association.
"Both the [MLB] Players Association and the Alumni Association agree that there's a need to come up with a career-transition program, which we're working on currently," Foster said. "We're just getting into how this is going to work. Nobody has the answers yet."
The number of living former Major Leaguers is estimated to be about 8,000, although it's impossible to pinpoint, Foster said. Players who did not accrue 43 days in the bigs are not part of the Major League pension plan, putting some out of contact. The number of career Minor Leaguers is virtually impossible to estimate.
Some players retire and are financially comfortable for the rest of their lives. The majority, though, are not. For every multimillionaire All-Star, there are hundreds of players who did not make very much money in the game, especially if they spent most or all of their careers in the Minors. And a good number of those players turned pro after being drafted out of high school.
"The stories are all the way from the guys who have gone on to become doctors and dentists and lawyers to healthy businessmen, to guys who are literally digging ditches who have to work," Foster said. "I was talking to a guy last week who's trimming trees with his landscaping business. The stories are as vast as there are guys."
Jon Switzer is working his way into the real-estate business. Cut in Spring Training last year by the Astros after parts of five seasons in the Majors, the now 31-year-old went back to school, got his real-estate license and is trying to find a landing spot.
"I've just been trying to figure this thing out, the career transition is really what we'll call that, and getting accustomed to what it means not having baseball as a source of income," said Switzer, a 2001 second-round Draft pick of the Rays. "What I've discovered is that although we have a great skill set to go out into the real world and do things, it's hard to prove that to an employer with no actual work experience and nothing on a resume other than 'I threw a ball around.'
"Which is pretty cool, it might get you an interview or a discussion, but at the end of the day, those guys are making a living off of you and they're not going to [take a chance], especially in this economy when there are plenty of unemployed people with greater experience and awesome resumes sitting out there."
Switzer is a lucky one, and in terms of his money management, he's always been a smart one. He signed for a reported bonus of $850,000, money he put away and hasn't touched.
"I still have to go to work, but I don't have to do something I don't want to do," Switzer said.
Baseball is one of the two major American sports to have an extensive farm system, hockey being the other. But none of the others boast as many professionals as baseball does, and none of the other sports, therefore, send as many former players into the workforce.
Phil Seibel, who received a 2004 World Series ring from the Red Sox for making the only two big league appearances of his career, advises ballplayers on their finances. He recalled making roughly $850 a month -- that's only during the season -- in his first year in the Minors. At Class A he reached $1,100 a month, then went up to $2,500 a month at Triple-A, figures he said remain close to the norm for players at those levels who are not on 40-man rosters.
Whether Minor Leaguers would be covered by the career-transition program, or to what extent they'd be covered, is one of the details that needs to be worked out. The same is true with the funding sources. About a decade ago, there was an attempt at a pilot.
"The end result was that there was no funding for it," Foster said.
That didn't mean that players were left or are without help, though.
If there is a financial crisis in the baseball family -- that includes everyone from former players, managers and umpires to widows, spouses and children -- the Baseball Assistance Team, known as B.A.T., has been a success since 1986.
Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball both have pensions and healthcare plans, although the Majors' plans are more comprehensive. And since the 1960s, the Professional Baseball Scholarship Plan has helped send players to school. Switzer tapped into that.
There are other organizations that can assist, too, from ones specifically dedicated to athletes to others with broader scopes, like The Kauffman Foundation, which is dedicated to entrepreneurship.
Still, there is a hope for more.
"There are those that need financially to continue to make a living to support their family, that is certainly one level," said Rex Gary, a longtime agent. "And then there's the other level of players who are more financially secure, at least for a period of time, but they want to do something that's worthwhile."
One of Gary's clients, Mickey Morandini, went from playing second base in the Major Leagues to running an upscale stationary and gift company with his wife.
No matter how soon a career-transition program lifts off, players can help themselves be better prepared for their lives after baseball by managing their money effectively. That may be obvious in theory, but isn't always in practice.
"I don't drive expensive cars. I'm just trying to get the car and the house taken care of," Tracy said.
"It's pretty overwhelming once you get your first Major League paycheck," said 32-year-old Matt Smith, who pitched in 35 Major League games between the Phillies and Yankees and now works at R&R Partners, an advertising agency in Las Vegas. "You look at it and you compare it to what you've been making in the Minor leagues, it's mind-boggling. ... I'm not going to say I was a saint and I didn't spend my money, but for the most part I was pretty good."
How players manage their finances is varied. Agencies sometimes handle it, players sometimes do it on their own, and some just aren't concerned with it. Agents like Gary and Joe Sroba, the former of whom is Tracy's agent, have seen players run the spectrum with their desire to look after their funds. So, too, have most players.
Jody Gerut, a retired six-year Major Leaguer, is entering the world of financial management with the hopes of stemming that tide. Gerut's not yet sure how closely he'll be working with baseball players, though he does intend to work with athletes, while Seibel's group can already count a handful of Major Leaguers among its clients.
Seibel and a small group of other ex-ballplayers run the AWM Group, a division of Penniall and Associates that focuses on athletes. Seibel is the only one of the partners to have made the Majors, and works on the insurance side, but the idea behind the group was to work with those who come after him.
"Unfortunately and fortunately for me, I've kind of been through the ringer," Seibel said. "I've been injured, I've had contracts taken away, I've been to the top, I've played in the Major Leagues. I have the gamut of experiences where I can relate. The only thing I didn't get was that large contract signed, but there's a small percentage that do."
School and the job hunt
Navigating the college experience isn't always a 20-year-old's game. Tracy's going to finish his last class, but he hasn't yet figured out exactly what degree he'll receive from Bowling Green State.
"I've been procrastinating for 16 years," he said. "It'll be an upper-level business course just to finish my degree."
Still, Tracy, who was 22 and almost finished at Bowling Green when he was drafted, is better off than someone who signed out of high school might be. One class is better to worry about than two or four years worth of them.
Online courses have been a particularly useful to ballplayers. Smith used them to his advantage, as did Switzer.
"I took summer classes online with the idea that if something did come up," Switzer said, "I could sign and take the computer with me."
Pulling away from the game entirely is rarely easy. Like many, Tracy would love to stay around, be it as a coach or otherwise, but that's a family decision. Travel is the chief issue.
For Smith, who isn't involved in the game anymore, saying goodbye was "the hardest thing in this transition."
That's why Seibel believes he's found the best of both worlds. He worked in the D-backs' front office before entering the insurance world, and had aspirations of running a club someday. He stepped back, though, and he saw what that life would mean if he decided to have children.
"The reason I got into [the front office] was because I wanted to help players, and I wanted to be a resource for them as a guy who played in their shoes," Seibel said. "It didn't pan out the way that I was hoping it to, but I honestly believe I found that way: to earn a living, and then at the same time, hopefully help and educate these players."