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Thoughts on Danny Duffy

A guess: Most people who read this site grew up yearning to become – heck, dreamed of becoming – a professional ballplayer.

Another guess: Most people who read this site are not professional ballplayers.

Lots of broken dreams surround the job title “professional ballplayer.” The lavish life, full of carefree living, groupie love, hero worship, private jets, and, in Carson’s dreams, additional groupie love. Well, it’s not really like that. Not for most professional ballplayers. The title is ambiguous, although since there are more minor leaguers than major leaguers, the realities of the majority should overshadow the fortune of the extreme minority.

Nevertheless, when people read about Danny Duffy walking away, one reaction is more common than any other. Something like, “How could he!?” Duffy has been called a moron, an idiot, a fool, and a few words that need not be reprinted. Here are the facts as we know them:

– Duffy is 21 years old and the Kansas City Royals selected him in the third round of the 2007 amateur draft.
– His signing bonus was worth roughly $370,000.
– He ranked just outside of Keith Law’s most recent top 100 prospects list.
– Had yet to pitch this spring due to elbow soreness.

To say Duffy had a golden track to the show is a lie. The attrition war that comes with young pitchers has claimed countless victims. Most of them you don’t remember. Most of them never came near a big league ballpark as a player. The majority of the minor league community won’t reach the bigs. That could be a good thing for some, since that one taste as a 25-year-old inspires them to latch onto the hope for another three, five, maybe six years. Then what? Then it’s time to find a day job.

It’s not that these guys never dreamt about being ballplayers. They almost definitely did. It’s just those dreams about the perfect picnic never account for the traffic. As I’ve written before, pitching baseballs seems like a great life, until the next mortgage payment relies upon it. And the thing often ignored when it comes to a player walking away is just how hard this decision probably is for them. The guilt of being successful and blessed with natural talent. The guilt of getting this far, and then to just walk away because you feel overwhelmed or realized that reliance upon money and ability to have fun sometimes cancel out. That guilt has to be… well, difficult.

Critics often accuse saberists of losing sight of an endless truth – that being that most baseball players are human beings, too. Indeed, they are. We might be experiencing the most varied collection of ballplayers in the history of the game. You have metric conscious sweethearts like Brian Bannister. Oft-beat and often humorous players like Manny Ramirez. And then there are players with amazing intellect, like Fernando Perez, or amazing mystique, like Ichiro Suzuki. This collection includes a more taboo side, too. Players like Khalil Greene, dealing with some personal issues and a battle with self, are beginning to find it acceptable to openly exist. And yeah, there are players like Grant Desme and Duffy. They have dreams, and those dreams included baseball at some point.

If Duffy’s dream is to exit on his own, without a tattered elbow, without a wrinkled face bearing disappointment, or without the assistance of poor performances, and instead to go out with a good perspective on being a professional ballplayer then yeah, I can accept that.