Sunday, January 29, 2012

Baseball free agency and the 'hot stove league'

The “hot stove league”, the winter off season for professional baseball, is a time for baseball fans to look forward to the upcoming new season with enthusiasm and optimism about their favorite teams.    Baseball’s winter off season has become shorter because of Major League Baseball’s expansion.   Whereas the World Series used to be over before mid-October, this past season officially ended on October 28 and spring training for each Major League club will begin in less than a month.          

But the major change in the “hot stove league” has occurred because of player free agency.  The biggest attention grabber during winter used to be blockbuster trades.  In December, 1965, the Cincinnati Reds traded All Star Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles.  Robinson won the American League Triple Crown and Most Valuable Player award that next season and helped Baltimore win four pennants and two World Champions.  What “hot stove league” trade do you remember that helped your favorite baseball team?

But now free agent signings are what stoke the coals during the winter.  This past December, three time National League MVP Albert Pujois left the St. Louis Cardinals and signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  And last week, Milwaukee Brewer All Star slugger Prince Fielder signed with the Detroit Tigers.  Due to free agency, over 40 players will take the field next season with a different team.  For baseball fans of the free agency generation, dramatically different team rosters from year to year have always been an aspect of the game.

Baseball fans of the “baby boom” generation; however, fell in love with the game when players were bound to the team in which they signed their first professional contract.  Player movement was totally controlled by team owners.  It was not a good system for the players, but it was great for fans because the core of their team stayed together year to year.   St. Louis Cardinals fans did not have to worry about losing Stan Musial, Ken Boyer, Bob Gibson, or Bill White to free agency. 

But, free agency is more beneficial for the players.  They are no longer “well paid slaves” as the late Curt Flood, former Cardinal, called them.  So forgive us baby boomers if we miss those times when teams were together longer.  We are still adjusting.

  What “hot stove league” trade do you remember that helped your favorite baseball team?