“Sometimes walking away has nothing to do with weakness and everything to do with strength. We walk away not because we want others to realize our worth and value, but because we finally realize our own.”
The Major League draft happened the day after we got eliminated from the College World Series while we were on a flight back to LA. This was the first time I was eligible to be drafted since high school It’s a rule that I agree with, and one that the MLB implemented to make sure guys are not “one and done” like you see all the time with college hoops. This benefits the school by assuring the player will stay for at least 3 years or until he turns 21. It benefits the MLB teams by oftentimes weeding out guys who most likely would have failed miserably at the Minor League level. It also provides more seasoning for the kids and in just about all cases gives the player a much better shot at succeeding in professional baseball. It also allows the player 3 years to develop physically, mature as person, and receive an education that will last a lifetime.
I was so caught up in the moment of the College World Series that I can honestly say I really had not focused too much on where I would be selected. Not because I didn’t care but because I was so dialed into the moment that I completely blocked it out. I had talked to several teams, but really had no idea, other than the fact that I was pretty sure I would go before the 38th round, where I was drafted in high school. There was one scout in particular, Doug Deutsch from the Houston Astros, that seemed overly exuberant. Every scout I had ever talked to refused to say what round they would attempt to draft me in, and I did not blame them. For the most part, my relationships were with area scouts that had little control over what the cross checkers or scouting directors were ultimately going to decide.
Doug Deutsch was different. He flat out told me he recommended to the Houston Astros they select me with the 17th overall selection. I could not get another scout to make a commitment within the first 5 rounds and this guy is telling me he believes I should be a first-round pick. Forgive me if I was skeptical, but I absolutely loved his attitude. Doug Deutsch helped give me a belief in myself that I was a “first-rounder” regardless of where I ended up being selected. “You are not very pretty to watch, EB, but you are a legitimate 5-tool player.” The 5 tools Doug was referring to are speed, ability to throw, field, hit for average, and hit for power. It is the basic measuring tool used by scouts for generations when grading out prospects.
I still knew the first round was a long shot and draft day confirmed my belief. Two of my teammates, Troy Glaus and Jim Parque, both found out they had been selected in the first round before we took off on our flight back from Omaha. When we landed in LA, I headed to the field to clean out my locker, and then eventually back to our condo. There was a note from Sidensol waiting for me on the coffee table right next to the signature golden spittoon. “Call Doug. You are a Houston Astro.”
“Byrnesie,” Doug exuberantly exalted. “We drafted you in the 4th round. . . Not as high as I wanted to get you but I am happy we got you. As of now, they gave me $90,000 to offer you, and that may go up but I cannot guarantee it. It all depends what happens with our other draft picks.”
This is exactly why I loved Doug. He never once bullsh*tted me. The problem was the Astros’ first-round draft pick was a kid out of Rice University that they had not anticipated dropping to them with the 17th pick, Lance Berkman. That said, it took more money to sign him than they had allotted for that spot, which meant everybody else was going to experience a trickle-down effect. Doing all the research myself, I figured out that the average amount of money 4th round guys had signed for the previous year was $135,000. I called Doug to tell him given that the approximate annual increase in signing bonuses per year has been about 5%, $141,750 is the fair number that will get me playing professional baseball.
2 weeks later, after hearing crickets from the Astros, I decided to jump on a rare opportunity to head to Cape Cod for a 3rd summer in a row. I actually became one of the very few players who have spent 3 summers playing in the Cape League. The first week I was there, the Astros scouting director was in town. I saw him at a couple of my games but for whatever reason he seemed to be avoiding any sort of communication with me. I found it odd. Finally, after about 4 or 5 games, I figured I should introduce myself. “Hello Mr. Scouting Director, I am Eric Byrnes, your 4th round draft pick.” We went to breakfast the following day.
The scouting director was waiting with another Astros scout when I walked into this sweet little breakfast spot in downtown Hyannis. Before I could order a cup of coffee and an orange juice, both dudes proceeded to tell me everything they did not like about my game. Specifically, they did not like my tendency to pull the baseball and they said my circus act in the outfield was difficult to watch. They then proceeded to tell me that $90,000 was their final offer. I did my best to break down the situation from my perspective:
“So, let me get this straight. You guys are offering 40% less than what everybody else is getting in the round. Let’s say I do accept the offer. I immediately give half the money back to Uncle Sam, then spend whatever is left over on a truck I would need to haul my ass from one po-dunk Minor League town to another. No doubt I would need to throw some 36-inch Mickey Thompson mudslingers on the bad boy to keep up with every Tom, Dick, and Harry in desolate America. At the end of the summer, after I drop buckets of coin on tires, gas, rent, and extra-curricular activities to keep me sane, I figure financially I would be right back where I am now, a broke-ass college student with no degree who still can’t cut the umbilical cord from his parents’ bank account. Also, why in the f*ck would I want to start my professional career with my back against the wall with an organization that thinks I suck donkey balls? I am not sure exactly what you dudes were trying to accomplish but for future notice, you dumb asses might want to think about taking a different approach when you try to sign your other draft picks. I appreciate the offer but I am going back to UCLA.” I got up and walked out.
That was that last conversation I had with anyone affiliated with the Houston Astros front office. Amazingly, they did not sign their 2nd or 3rd round picks either. I have got to believe they are one of the only teams in the history of Major League Baseball to not sign their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round picks in the same year. If you are an Astros fan, go ahead and hang your 10-gallon hat on the fact that at least they didn’t f*ck up their first-rounder and the ‘Stros are now your 2017 World Series champions.
Human Crash Test Dummy Life Lesson #32
Don’t be afraid to walk away from a situation that doesn’t feel right. My dealing with the Astros had way more to do with how I felt they negatively perceived me than it ever did about money. Feel the situation and do your best to analyze the scenario from an outside perspective. If it doesn’t feel right, walk, even if it means leaving breakfast on the table.[Listen to the audio version of Walk It Out above, or on The Hustle Podcast.]