This is Alexis Brudnicki’s first piece as part of her March residency at FanGraphs. Alexis is the Director of Baseball Information for the Great Lake Canadians, an elite amateur baseball program in London, Ontario, Canada. She has written for various publications including Baseball America, Canadian Baseball Network, Sportsnet, The Hardball Times, and Prep Baseball report. She won a 2016 SABR Analytics Conference Research Award for Contemporary Baseball Commentary. She can also be found on Twitter (@baseballexis). She’ll be contributing here this month.
Baseball has a life of its own.
When players are immersed in that life, most often they’re focused on the task at hand, the path ahead, and the game they love. There are some who think beyond the season, or their current contract, and try to make plans for a future without the game. The truth is, though, it can be really hard to think about a life beyond the only one players have ever known.
According to a 10-year-old study from the University of Colorado at Boulder, the average Major League Baseball career lasts 5.6 years, with one in five position players lasting only a single season in the majors. The study also indicated that, at every point of a player’s career, the chance of it ending entirely is at least 11%.
Baseball’s average career length is also the longest among the four major sports, with the average NFL career lasting 3.5 years, an NBA career 4.8 years, and the NHL next-longest at 5.5, according to information obtained by the RAM Financial group a decade ago.
Major League Baseball originally established its College Scholarship Program in the 1960s, and last year made changes during collective bargaining to what is currently called the Continuing Education Program, “to help baseball players prepare for life after baseball.” The alteration to the program represents an attempt to move away from for-profit schools and to allow players to continue education at institutions with more successful graduation rates.
Steve Tolleson is a ballplayer-turned-wealth advisor for Parallel Financial, who got his start in the money game in college. His final research project en route to obtaining his degree revolved around studying professional athletes and what happens to their money both while playing and after leaving the game.
“Most athletes feel like they’re great at their profession, so they’re probably great at managing their life outside of their profession,” Tolleson said. “Those are a lot of the athletes who fall into trouble…
“It’s a special brotherhood we’re all in, and we get a bad rep for managing money and managing lifestyles. It’s the reality. If you have a 25-year-old making $5 million a year, they live in a way they shouldn’t live. It’s not for everybody because some people are going to do what they want to do no matter what you do or no matter how you scare them, but the guys we work with are very much understanding of what life after baseball has to look like.”
Tolleson — whose professional career spanned 12 years, with stretches of four of those in the majors — had an early glimpse of the financial world during college, but the infielder took a real interest in it, and his future, following an extended trip back to Triple-A after some time and success in the big leagues.
“I honestly started getting more serious about it in 2012,” he said. “I played pretty much the full year in the big leagues with Baltimore, I was designated [for assignment], I played with the White Sox, had a great year in Triple-A, and was never given the chance to play in the big leagues for whatever reason that was. That offseason really led me to start thinking, what’s next?”
But what does life after baseball really look like? After years of focusing on throwing a ball or wielding a bat, how do players adapt to preparing for the second stage of life and everything it entails? Some players are ready, some use their baseball network to remain in the game in another capacity, and some find options just fall into their laps. Others, no doubt, just fade from our view.
In this two-part series, several former players discuss how they prepared for civilian life and the challenges they’ve faced since leaving the game. This first part features two players who left the game for a different kind of show business. Meet the entertainers.
Chris Leroux has always lived his life in six-month spurts.
After being drafted out of high school in Mississauga, Ontario, he actually began his professional career after attending Winthrop University, a seventh-round pick of the Florida Marlins in 2005. The right-hander played in the big leagues for the Marlins, Pirates, and Yankees during his 11-year career, also spending time in Japan and splitting winters between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, before calling it quits and becoming the titular bachelor on The Bachelor Canada last year.
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