On a recent listener e-mail episode of Effectively Wild (number 983 to be exact), Ben and Sam responded to a question from a listener named Jeff on the rights to Clayton Kershaw’s newborn son, Charley:
Ben: If you were running a team, how much would you pay to control Charley Kershaw’s rights through 2046?
Sam: I have to ask you this…Would you rather have the rights to Charley Kershaw or Pedro Martinez’s son?
SM: See, I thought for sure you were going to say Kershaw’s. I thought I was going to trap you. It certainly seems like it should be Kershaw. Pedro’s 6-feet and that’s a bad starting point, whereas Kershaw is a big Texan dude. But of course, Pedro’s brother made the Major Leagues and was very good.
BL: Great pitcher genes.
SM: Where were we going with this? Oh yeah…great question.
BL: Charley Kershaw is a newborn human being. I don’t know if this is relevant, but eight pounds two ounces, 21 inches birthweight.
SM: Big kid.
BL: That sounds like a fairly big baby.
SM: It actually is a fairly big baby, Ben.
BL: So he’s gonna be a big human being probably and is the son of Clayton Kershaw. You’ve written pretty extensively about sons of Major Leaguers.
SM: I have. So for the people just joining us: I one-time went through everybody who played in 1978 and spent forever looking to see if they had kids who had been drafted or played in the majors.
Here Sam brings up his old article “The Baseball Bloodlines Project” from June 4, 2014, where he researched the sons (and potential sons) of 118 random players from 1978. Sam found 27 had at least one son drafted, nine of which made the Major Leagues, highlighted by Barry Bonds and Gary Matthews Jr. Sam also noticed a trend that the less a father played, the worse the odds their son would be not only successful, but even drafted in the first place.
Taking out the effects of inflation, Ben opined that he would pay about $300,000 per year for the next 30 years (or $9 million total) to hold the rights to Charley Kershaw. It was an estimate Ben would later categorize as a “little high”, but he still held firm the number would be in millions. In formulating his guess, Sam ventured down a rabbit hole trying to figure out the actual cost of developing a minor league player in an organization. By the end of it, he had actually talked himself out of his own point. Ultimately, he just threw out a $2.1 million figure like he picked it straight out of a hat.
Eight podcast episodes later (991: In-Shoots, Out-Curves, and Drop Balls), the dynamic duo briefly circled back to the topic. Sam decided that Ben was probably right with his original assessment and he shouldn’t have talked him down from the original $9 million guess.
Welcome to the world, Charley!
Charley Clayton Kershaw (8 lb, 2 oz, 21″) was born yesterday. Ellen, Charley, Dad & Cali are all doing well. pic.twitter.com/N5ND04KfFJ
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) November 19, 2016
I hate to disagree with our podcast overlords, but nothing in the nearly 150-year history of professional baseball points to Charley Kershaw being little more than organizational roster fodder. Yes, legacies in baseball families are well known from the Griffeys and Alomars to the Fielders and Gordons, but greatness, Hall of Fame greatness, isn’t something that is passed down from father to son.
Instead of looking at a random collection of players from a given year like Sam did, let’s look at a subset that Charley’s dad will join around 2032 or so. Unbelievably only nine of the 246 players currently enshrined in Cooperstown have sired sons who even reached the Major Leagues (ten if we prematurely concede Tim Raines gets the deserving call this year). So instead of the 10% chance he plays in the majors that Sam concluded, the true likelihood is probably closer to 4%.
Let me repeat that: only nine sons of the best players to ever play the game of baseball got as little as one plate appearance (or two in Chuck Lindstrom’s case) in the big leagues. Lots more have been drafted and played in the minors, but the pedigree that comes with being the child of an elite ballplayer appears to have no bearing on future success. Ask Billy Hornsby, Chad Sutter, Reid Ryan, Dustin Yount, or Ryan Ripken how that has worked out for them.
In this regard, it appears that Charley Kershaw is destined for mediocrity.
The most successful baseball career among Hall of Fame offspring belongs to Dick Sisler with a meager 7.9 WAR over eight seasons, including an All-Star appearance in 1950. The next two with the highest career WAR are Tony Gwynn Jr. and Dale Berra, and those names shouldn’t instill much confidence in Charley Kershaw’s future dominance.
Breaking it down even further by looking at pitchers instead of position players, only one son of the 74 Hall of Fame pitchers has ever reached the Major Leagues and that was Ed Walsh Jr., who compiled a 11-24 record over parts of four seasons with the Chicago White Sox between 1928 and 1932. In fact, in the history of baseball only 48 sons of Major League pitchers went on to also reach “The Show,” with eight of them actively playing affiliated baseball. Culling through that list, the most outstanding father-son hurlers are the Trouts (Dizzy and Steve) and the Stottlemyres (Mel and Todd). Once again, I would consider that a very weak harbinger for the success of the Kershaw progeny, especially when you remember Mel Stottlemyre Jr. also joined his brother in the majors for 13 forgettable games in 1990 with the Royals.
Perhaps Charley will set a precedent like we’ve never seen before, but I wouldn’t want to flush millions of hypothetical dollars down the toilet to find out. Yes, his name will probably be called in the MLB draft, as Sam’s research proves he has a better chance than all of ours sons put together, so the opportunity will likely exist. But if teams are buying his rights for the next 30 years investing in the hopes that Kershaw the younger will be the next coming of his father, baseball history suggests they’d probably be better off just taking that money and rebuilding Clayton’s left shoulder and elbow in titanium and pixie dust every five years.Next post: Why You Should Write for Banished to the Pen: Alex Crisafulli
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