Offseason jobs fading memory

The New York TimesFebruary 24, 2013 

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Collin McHugh, a 25-year-old right-handed pitcher, achieved a lifelong goal last year when he was called up to the New York Mets.

The taxes deducted from his first major league paycheck, which covered a month at the end of the season, exceeded the salary he had earned from his previous two minor league seasons combined, he said.

Then, when the baseball season ended, his dream well underway and his finances secure, he went to work.

For the fourth straight offseason, McHugh took a part-time office job at Boosterthon Fun Run, a professional fundraising company for schools. Four times a week, he commuted to the headquarters near Atlanta, settled into a desk chair and pored over spreadsheets on a computer screen. Baseball workouts fit easily around office hours.

“He’s done several research projects for us,” said Brett Trapp, who leads the company’s marketing team. “At the same time, we’ll see him putting labels on envelopes – things that aren’t glamorous. But he does it.”

McHugh is something of a throwback, his offseason job evoking a bygone era when players packed their gear after the final out of the season and entered the workforce.

For decades, this was the norm, even among the game’s greats.

Stan Musial, who amassed 3,630 hits during his Hall of Fame career, sold Christmas trees from a parking lot alongside his St. Louis Cardinals teammates Red Schoendienst, Marty Marion and Terry Moore during the late 1940s, when Musial was a three-time World Series winner and three-time National League most valuable player.

Roy Campanella, who starred for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s, earning three MVP awards and eight All-Star selections, owned and operated a Harlem liquor store throughout his playing career.

Quirkier stories that are part of baseball lore include that of Richie Hebner, who hit 203 home runs over a 1,908-game career that began in 1968 and worked as a gravedigger at a cemetery in Norwood, Mass.

Jim Palmer, who won 268 games and the Cy Young Award three times while pitching 19 seasons for the Baltimore Orioles, laughed, too, recalling the professional whiplash he felt during the fall of 1966. On Oct. 6, he pitched a 6-0 shutout to lead the Orioles past Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers in Game 2 of the World Series, which the Orioles swept.

But the exhilaration of the championship was short-lived. Palmer, who said he made around $7,500 as a 20-year-old that season as well as an $11,683.04 World Series bonus, had bought a house – one that needed carpeting and a couch – and his wife was expecting their first child. So he went looking for work, eventually taking a job at a well-known Baltimore clothing store.

“I was the youngest player to ever throw a shutout in a World Series,” he said, laughing. “Next thing I know, I am selling men’s clothes at Hamburgers.”

Palmer arrived at the store every morning at 9, sold suits, signed some autographs and went out to lunch with other sales representatives. It was nothing out of the ordinary. One of his Orioles teammates, he recalled, made steering wheels at a General Motors plant. Another was a part-time social worker.

“I made $150 a week,” Palmer said of his offseason job. “Enough to pay for groceries, hot water and electricity.”

During the mid-1970s, it became less common for major leaguers to seek offseason jobs, and by the next decade almost no one did so.

And as a whole, the practice of securing part-time jobs is fading into baseball’s past.

“Most guys don’t like to talk about their offseason jobs, especially when they get to spring training, when it’s all about baseball,” said Jeremy Hefner, 26, who worked as a cashier and in the warehouse at Wal-Mart the two winters before his major league debut for the Mets last April. “It’s sort of a necessary evil, but guys are prideful. It’s like, ‘I am a baseball player.’ ”

McHugh has no such reservations.

As an 18th-round selection in 2008, he received an $80,000 signing bonus, but he estimated that he earned less than $7,000 in his first professional season. He started a warehouse job at Boosterthon after making deliveries for United Parcel Service his first winter, solely for the income.

But even as he progressed through the Mets’ system, his salary improving slowly, he returned to offseason work. And as his job responsibilities have grown, his perspective on them has changed.

“It still helps a little money-wise,” he said, “but it helps more than anything for your sanity.”

McHugh said baseball would be his priority during his playing career. But he said he was wary of being pigeonholed as an athlete for his entire life.

“I want to continue to develop in ways I can’t on the field or in the clubhouse,” said McHugh, adding that he made about $600 a month at Boosterthon. “I won’t be afraid that, when I’m done playing ball, I won’t have transferable skills.”

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