It takes a certain amount of unhealthy obsession to spend 11 years in the minor leagues in the hopes of making it to the show. Chris Coste took a long and hard road to become a major league baseball player.
In the process, he ran into the ugly reality of some of baseball’s worst prejudices, and he defeated them. His book, The 33 Year Old Rookie, is an excellent baseball autobiography now available at ChrisCoste.com.
Coste begins the book at the 2006 Philadelphia Phillies spring training camp. Through luck and some determination, he was able to get some meaningful playing time.
His batting average was over .450, he was able to sell himself to Charlie Manuel and to the pitching staff. It looked like Coste was finally going to make it.
A last minute trade doomed him, and he was sent back to the minor leagues. Coste’s dream was on hold again.
The book then goes back to Coste’s Fargo upbringing, his life as the best amateur ballplayer in town and his college years. Coste’s life goal is to play major league baseball, and it’s a dream he keeps alive through a lot of hard work.
Unable to get a job in a MLB organization, he starts working his way through independent ball. Despite good numbers, Coste finds it more and more difficult to crack the big league hierarchy.
This gets us back to those prejudices Coste had to fight. Baseball has had a problem for many years over how to scout talent.
For a long time and continuing to this day, baseball scouts have used the “five tools method” to find prospective ballplayers.
The method is used in short tryouts where players are given a workout of wind sprints, throwing and batting practice. Players, who are athletic and fast, do well in these tryouts and attract the interest of major league scouts.
The “five tools” deal overvalues athleticism and undervalues baseball skill. Speed becomes an addiction to baseball scouts.
Whether it’s speed on the base paths or simply fastball velocity, scouts fall in love with fast. For guys like Coste, this addiction is a costly check on making any progress up the baseball ladder.
Throughout the book, Coste laughs at himself and his lack of speed, but it was probably one of the biggest reasons he was left to languish so long in independent baseball.
His lack of speed also hurt him earlier in his career when he failed to get noticed in the amateur draft.
After posting some incredible numbers as a catcher for the RedHawks in the Northern League, he was finally able to get in with a major league organization. Unfortunately, his problems were just beginning.
It was impossible for him to get on anyone’s radar. He had been labeled as a “minor leaguer” and wasn’t given the opportunity to prove himself worthy of a big league uniform.
Again, baseball has its prejudices, and Coste was forced to fight not only other players but the inability on baseball to objectively rate playing ability.
The greatest lesson of sabermetrics has been that minor league stats are significant measures of talent and predict major league performance. Minor league stats matter.
Coste’s .299/.354/.447 minor league line in 3688 at bats matches very well his .310/.358/.481 line he has in 397 major league at bats.
At the age of 35, Coste is enjoying regular playing time with the Philadelphia Phillies. There’s nothing left for Coste to prove other than how long he can stay in the majors.
His book is well written, entertaining, and eye opening. There is no easy path to the show, but Coste’s route has to be deserving of Congressional recognition.