Jonathan Raymond | December 18, 2013
“Dave and I have spoken about it. It would be interesting to see how it goes.”
That’s David Warner’s manager, Tony Connelly, speaking to the Sydney Daily Telegraph on whether the Ashes standout could play professional baseball in the United States.
It’s not hard to argue that it would be interesting. Warner is only 27, and currently ranks among the most in-form bastmen in the wold. Conventional wisdom in baseball says a player typically peaks in his late 20s, so the timing would be right.
But would he actually want to do it? And would it actually work?
The answer to the first question is: probably not. It’s very difficult, to say the least, to imagine one of the best cricketers in the world switching sports and facing the prospect of suddenly being very average, mediocre, or perhaps even worse.
But the economic incentive is certainly there.
According to Forbes.com, MS Dhoni was the highest-paid cricketer in the world in 2012, earning $26.5 million (Dh97.33m). But $23 million of that came in endorsements, just $3.5M from actual cricket pay.
All of the top-five highest-paid cricketers in the world in 2012 were Indian, in fact, thanks to the nation’s massive cricket enthusiasm and endorsement opportunities with Indian companies for cricketers. Players from other countries, like Warner, simply aren’t going to see those kinds of payouts.
Connelly thinks he could even earn in excess of $5M, which would indeed make him one of the most well-compensated cricketers on the planet (according to Forbes, countrymen Shane Watson and Michael Clarke earned roughly $6M and $5M in 2012, respectively). It would also put him on par with some of baseball’s most average talents.
Just this off-season, flawed veteran hitters like Michael Morse (.215 batting average in 2013, $6M), Chris Young (.200 average, $7.25M) and Corey Hart (missed all of 2013 season, $6M) have earned one-year contracts worth more than $5M on baseball’s open market.
If you’re unfamiliar with baseball, Adam Dunn had the third-lowest average among qualifiers in 2013 (a batter must accumulate a certain number of at-bats to qualify for leaderboards, which neither Morse nor Young did), hitting .219.
So, to recap: David Warner, even if he maxed out his earning potential, would still be making substantially less than players who ranked among the very worst in baseball by batting average last season (batting average is a very, very rough tool to indicate player quality in baseball – Chris Young, for instance, is a very good defensive player, and Morse offers decent power – but it illustrates the point well enough).
Twenty baseball players made more than $20M before endorsements last season.
Now – could he actually do it?
First, it’s not uncommon for Australians to play in Major League Baseball. Grant Balfour, a pretty good Aussie relief pitcher, just signed a two-year, $15M contract with the Baltimore Orioles this week, in fact. In addition to Balfour, there were six other Australians who appeared in games with Major League teams in 2013. Roughly 30 in all have played in the Majors, almost all in the last 15 years or so.
So it’s not like Australians are unfamiliar with baseball. Dave Nilsson, a batter with the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1990s, even made an All-Star team. If Warner wanted to learn, there are domestic resources he can tap.
But the real question, of course, is whether a cricketer can translate his skills to baseball.
“He was a talented cricket player who paid his own way for a tryout with the Giants in 1954. Rodgers failed to make the team that year. He had to learn the rules of baseball, not to jump away from curveballs, and consequently, he adjusted and made his debut in 1957.”
Rodgers hit .249 with 45 home runs in over 2500 at-bats in his career, and his entire statistical profile puts him at slightly below average with the bat for his day.
It doesn’t necessarily apply to Warner, but more recently the reality television show Million Dollar Arm mined India for baseball talent in 2008. It produced Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, men who had played cricket casually as kids, but not at any kind of higher level. The two were signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as pitchers, and while Patel washed out relatively quickly, throwing just 13 professional innings in the lowest levels of the minor leagues in 2009-10, Singh made it to A-ball (baseball’s fourth level of the minors) and saw some success, posting a 3.00 earned run average in 72 innings in 2012. He was even a Team World All-Star for the Australian Baseball League in 2011. (A Disney movie about the pair is due out in 2014)
Perhaps most ominously for Warner, though, is an obscure game of baseball played in 2008 between the national baseball team of Great Britain and a side of cricketers led by Marcus Trescothick (they went by “The Bangers”) that included Ashley Giles, Geraint Jones and a few other county players.
The Great Britain national baseball team – which, for reference, with five extra years of development went 1-2 (beating Czech Republic, losing to Germany and Canada) in 2013 World Baseball Classic Qualifying and were outscored by a total of 32-14 – beat Trescothick and his cricketers. By a score of 21-1.
Trescothick managed three infield hits (running out infield tappers is one cricket skill that would actually seem to translate seamlessly to baseball) in four at-bats. But only James Heldrith, a Somerset batsman, was able to get a hit among the eight other batters in Trescothick’s line-up.
As the Great Britain baseball site put it at the time:
“The 20-run margin of victory reflected the gulf in ability between talented athletes with baseball experience and talented athletes who had not been exposed to the game before. This is clearly not a sport that you can excel in from day one.”
The evidence for Warner’s chances, were he ever to try his hand at baseball, appears mixed at best.
But Warner is also no ordinary talent, and I know I’d be interested in seeing him in a batting cage taking a few hacks, at the least.
And, as promoter Justin Moore told The Telegraph:
“I’ve had people asking me about David Warner from bizarre corners of the planet. Out of all the cricketers, he’s probably the one who could convert, because of his eye and his power, plus his fielding is good enough. If he was any good at baseball, he could earn double or triple what he earns from cricket.”