The news itself hardly amounted to a footnote. The Royals announced it quietly a day or two after the World Series ended, the buzz that surrounded the Yankees-Phillies series still fresh in the baseball air.
But it wasn’t news I could ignore, because it centered on one of the most refreshing personalities baseball has had in recent years, a player with perhaps the catchiest name in the game's history: Coco Crisp.
The news: The Royals declined to pick up an $8 million option on Crisp for 2010, a decision that leaves him a few days away from free agency.
I can’t say the decision came as a surprise. His time in Kansas City was uneventful after coming there from the Red Sox in November 2008. He was supposed to energize the Royals with his daring play; he never did. Crisp spent more time on the disabled list than he did in manager Trey Hillman’s lineup. And at $8 mil, the Royals didn't see his as a good investment.
Now, he’s essentially on the jobless roles, if you can compare what happened to him as being jobless just yet. I’m guessing there’s a difference. I doubt he’d qualify for an unemployment check.
In this depressed economy, an economy that baseball isn’t insulated from, Crisp will have the same difficulty finding an $8 million job as a laid-off autoworker at the Ford plant in suburban Detroit would. I do hope Crisp has his baseball resume ready to send general managers.
The sad part of it is that he’ll not be the last high-paid Major Leaguer who will find his job eliminated this offseason. Jermaine Dye and Austin Kearn joined the list the other day, though both men walked away for $1 million get-lost checks in their pockets.
For men like Dye, Kearn and Crisp, the offseason will be hard to predict. They are players who, in other years, would find plenty of suitors. But only the Yankees -- always the Yankees -- will be keen on spending big.
The rest of the teams, the Royals, the White Sox, the Indians, the Pirates -- you pick the team -- will be window shopping for bargains: The Dollar Store over Neiman Marcus.
What does this mean for players? And for baseball fans?
For the former, they will have to take deep cuts in pay, if they can find work at all.
I don’t think that message will be lost on any of them. I can remember talking to Crisp after the 2005 season about his trade from Cleveland to Boston, he was circumspect about it all
"It's business," he told me.
That’s how baseball fans have to look at it as well. To expect their favorite teams to go spending wildly is to believe the Earth is flat or that you can buy a Rolex at Walmart.
To look at life to the contrary is to waste it, and fans need to keep on living life as they look realistically what this offseason won’t be.
Somewhere out there is a Major League team that will see Crisp, 30, as a useable, inexpensive part. It will see him for what he still has to give the game: enthusiasm, speed, charisma -- a Triple Crown of intangibles that seamlessly tie into his talent.
In a sport short on charismatic players, a sport peopled by dour souls like Arthur Rhodes, David Weathers and Milton Bradley, baseball needs a Coco Crisp perhaps more than he needs it.
I'm a former journalism professor at Ohio University, and I still enjoy teaching, although I don't do it anymore in a formal classroom. I have long felt that teaching is the most noble -- or selfless -- thing a person can do, which is why I value it so highly. But I'm also a sportswriter, which I enjoy doing nearly as much as I enjoy teaching. ... Justice B. Hill