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SHADOW GAMES: Big-League Dreams Don’t Pay the Bills

Darrell Rasner made a real-life decision about baseball the other day. The 27-year-old pitcher asked the New York Yankees to sell his contractual rights to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan’s Pacific League.

It’s a sound financial move for Rasner, who is coming off his best Major League season. A two-year deal with the Golden Eagles will pay him far more than he could make with the Yankees – a reported $1.2 million guaranteed with the chance to earn $3.5 million – and there won’t be any worries about going down to Scranton.

“I just have to hope and pray that this is good for me and my family,” Rasner told Tyler Kepner of The New York Times. “Having another kid, that kind of changes everything. I just think now’s the time to try to do something and try to get the stability that I need for those guys. This is what I’m doing it for, anyway. My family is everything to me.”

Baseball collides with real life all the time, but players are conditioned to ignore it. They dream of the Major Leagues from the time they are old enough to throw a ball and swing a bat. It’s an all-consuming obsession until one day they realize that big-league dreams don’t pay the bills.

Rasner woke up to that reality last week.

A pitcher named Shannon Withem got the same wake-up call 10 years ago.

Withem went 17-5 with a 3.27 ERA for the Syracuse Chiefs in 1998. That AAA performance earned him a September promotion to Toronto where he pitched once in relief: Three innings, one run, two strikeouts. There was talk that he could earn a spot in the Blue Jays’ bullpen with a strong spring in 1999, but he chose to sign a two-year contract with the Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s Pacific League.

“It’s tough to give up when I’m so close to my dreams,” said Withem, who had just turned 26. “But I’ve played pro ball for seven years and never made a whole lot of money. This is a chance to help my family and I just can’t pass that up.”

Withem never made it back to the Major Leagues and there is a chance that Rasner won’t either.

Pitchers are taught to be fearless. They learn to locate their fastball and throw curves and sliders and cutters and splitters. They pitch until their shoulders ache and their elbows burn, but the hardest lesson is the one that Rasner and Withem had to figure out on their own: That big-league dreams don’t pay the bills.

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1 michael o. allen   ~  Nov 17, 2008 10:18 am

Todd, I love this piece. It's easy to forget how much Rassner helped the Yankees last year. But, the way MLB is structured for people like Rassner--good enough to make it but not necessarily stay, you're forced into these kind of decisions sometime.

Rassner has already achieved one measure of success most people could only dream of: He pitch successfully for the Yankees. I hope, for the sake of his children especially, that he is a big success in Japan and that he makes it back to the big leagues and pitches successfully again.

Thanks for Shannon Withem, too, for remembering him and bringing us his story, which lends a perspective to Rassner's, which we would never have had.

2 Joe L.   ~  Nov 17, 2008 1:29 pm

It sounds like a good deal for Rasner. Hope it works for him.

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