Baseball and football so often compete for the same prep talents. Sometimes you have a John Elway, who chooses football. Sometimes you have a Joe Mauer, who goes with baseball. And sometimes you have a Bo Jackson or a Deion Sanders, who find the time and physical reserves for both sports. Most often, though, it’s an either-or proposition for the amateur talent. Recent events, though, could cause the balance to shift.
Football, you may have heard, is entering what figures to be a long period of upheaval, and that upheaval will almost certainly lead to sweeping change or the demise of the sport as a major entity. Because of the unfolding head-trauma epidemic—whether the single, transformative blow or the countless sub-concussive impacts endured by players—more and more parents are forbidding their sons to play. As a consequence, football is at its most vulnerable at the lower levels. Therein lies the opportunity for organized baseball.
While baseball can appeal to the young athlete’s sense of self-preservation (however muted such instincts tend to be within teenagers) by pointing to the fact that a life in baseball is orders of magnitude less harmful and diminishing than a life in football, cash is what really matters. Now, though, MLB, by punishing those teams who exceed slot money, is limiting the ability of its teams to compete not only with one another but also with organized football.
In the case of the Blue Jays and their selection of Alford, it’s almost certain they won’t be able to buy him out of his football commitment. It’s possible, of course, that he’s a Drew Henson-style, two-sport “flop in waiting,” but it’s also possible there’s a future All-Star within. We’ll likely never know.
The larger issue is that baseball, given football’s fraught state, has a chance to reestablish a cultural foothold at the lower levels. In some cases, growing fears over football’s dangers will be enough, but in other cases it’s a business decision. So never mind that baseball’s parity “problems,” which the hard-slotting system is designed to address, have always been an illusion. Forget that the new system really hurts baseball’s underclass teams. Then ignore that healthy competition among teams for young players is a good thing. Focus, instead, on that business element.