February is here. If you live in the South, as I do, that means Little League and high school baseball practices are underway and opening days are looming. Tis the season of hope. Players dream of key hits, big catches, and championships. And some parents dream – openly or secretly – of MLB careers, and the riches and bragging rights that come with having pro ballplayer in the family.
I’m not here to remind those parents about the long odds of Junior playing in the Bigs. They know the odds. About one in 200 high school baseball players are drafted by a professional team. That’s 0.5%. And being drafted doesn’t mean a player will ever sprint onto a Major League field. We all saw Bull Durham, right?
But what if your son is a truly elite prospect, with a serious shot at playing professional ball right out of high school? You should prioritize that shot, right? Why send him to college when he could immediately start working his way up the minor league ladder?
Maybe. But allow me to offer a contrarian view based on my experience as a financial planner. Over the course of my career, I’ve helped several former professional athletes put together savings and investment strategies. All were journeymen; solid players who held their own but weren’t superstars. They made their league’s minimum salary, or a bit more, over multi-season careers.
And then they needed to find a new career. That wasn’t always easy. Being a solid role player on a professional sports team doesn’t prepare you for much else in the world of work. One client, a former major league pitcher who had tasted post-season glory, struggled for months to find work after he left the show. He made the league minimum salary for most of his X-year career, which was $300,000. He was careful with that money, which was good because replacing it proved tough. He eventually found work as an industrial salesman and has since built a solid and lucrative new professional life.
My client had an advantage over his fellow former ballplayers when it came to job searching. He had a college degree. That’s a rarity among MLB players. Just 5% of major leaguers are college grads.
So even if your son is being touted a top prospect, you need to think long-term on his behalf. The detours on the road to stardom are innumerable, and the average MLB career is just 5.6 years. Even if he makes to the Majors, what will your boy do for a living afterward? True, the league minimum is now $507,500, so if he has a career of average length, he’ll make $2.8 million. Before taxes. Before living large. Before wasting money on crazy indulgences because he’s 23-years-old. The leftovers won’t fund his baller lifestyle for very long.
For this reason, I’d encourage my son to attend college on a baseball scholarship instead of heading straight to the pros. Yes, that delays the potential big payday and, yes, something career-ending could happen during those four years at school. But earning a degree while sharpening his game will prepare him for all eventualities in a world where having a college degree is becoming the minimum requirement for having a lucrative and rewarding career. College graduates earn an average $51,206 per year. High school grads average just $27,915. Even if he wants to coach high school or college baseball for a living when his playing days are done, he’ll likely need a college degree.
If college-first is a non-starter, insist that your young player works towards a college degree in the off-seasons. He may end up attending several schools before he graduates, but he’ll have that all-important credential – or at least be close – by the time he hangs up his glove.
Dreams are wonderful, especially when they are attainable. But everyone will sleep better with a backup plan in place.