Baseball's boy in a million
John Carlin in Washington says a minor is about to make a Major killing
Sunday 01 December 1996
The answer is $10.2m, the record-breaking sum paid by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to secure the services of Matt White, an overgrown amateur pitcher with a telling fastball.
White, who was identified by USA Today and Baseball magazine as the high- school player of the year, will receive the millions as a signing-on fee, an amount which it would take the average Major League Baseball player some 10 years to earn. White's money exceeds by a factor of five the amount paid for the pick of last year's amateur baseball litter, Kris Benson, by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
As if all that were not stupefying enough, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays do not even exist yet as a fully functional professional team. They will be joining the major leagues only in 1998.
No one could accuse the Rays' owner, Vincent Naimoli, of lacking ambition. "It's like hitting a gold mine you never expected to hit," Naimoli said, savouring the triumph of having outbid the New York Yankees, the winners of this year's World Series, for the precocious young colossus. "This was literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is never going to happen again."
It could if Naimoli's purchase pays off. But the baseball world is sceptical. Kevin Malone, the assistant general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, is among those who believe the Rays will come to regret their recklessness. "I think it's insanity to pay that to an unproven college player," he said.
But Naimoli and his general manager, Chuck LaMar, are convinced they know better. After White spent a week on trial with the team last month, the two were effusive. Lamar said that Rays' scouts, who had spent time observing the young man at his home town of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, had been beside themselves with excitement. "To name a few of their reactions: `a man amongst boys' and `most talented ever scouted'. When you're looking at talent, you look at their make-up, upbringing and God-given talent. It's rare to see anybody with all three. Matt White represents all of those."
When Naimoli first met White he knew the verdict of his scouts had not been exaggerated. "I've never been to a try-out before," Naimoli said. "But in talking to him, I discovered he's a person of great character. People who have success in life, as in baseball, have that inner character. I see in Matt every good characteristic you want in the business world or in life."
Naimoli, himself a wealthy businessman, sounds as if he is in love, or perhaps rather as if in White he saw a youthful reflection of himself. Is there any logic in a venture which on the face of it is so extravagantly risky?
In so far as there might be, this is it. The Rays want to start their professional life with a bang, but the established teams in Major League Baseball have tied all their top players to virtually unbreakable contracts, thus making it all but impossible for the Tampa Bay newcomers to make successful transfer bids for the cream of the professional crop.
Naimoli has had to bet - and bet big - on youth. "I'm sure we'll hear complaints from other teams," he said. "But the system caused us to do this. Look how things are stacked against us."
It may be a long while before Naimoli sees a return on his investment. It could be some years into the 21st century, if ever, before White acquires the professional seasoning necessary to help the Rays become World Series contenders. But the lad himself is unfazed.
"I'm just going to play baseball and try not to think about the money," he said. "It's a great feeling to know you're in an organisation so committed to winning."
Latest in Sport
Arsenal transfer latest: Arsene Wenger set to sign...no one on transfer deadline day as manager heads to Rome to referee charity match
Manchester United transfer news: Louis van Gaal offloads fringe players as he looks to the long term
Radamel Falcao transfer latest: Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City linked with blockbuster move
Tottenham to offer Andros Townsend to Southampton in £14m deadline day bid for Jay Rodriguez
Tottenham vs Liverpool player ratings: Who was the star man? Raheem Sterling? Alberto Moreno? Or new-boy Mario Balotelli?
- 1 Half of young women unable to ‘locate vagina’ and 65% find it difficult to say the word
- 2 Perez Hilton apologises for Jennifer Lawrence naked photo leak
- 3 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 4 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
- 5 Jennifer Lawrence 'naked sex video' will be leaked threatens 4Chan celebrity photo hacker
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...
£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...
£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...
£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...