I have always been drawn to the concept, in baseball transactions, of the “player to be named later,” but the truth is I’ve never really understood it. How much later is later? Are there parameters set in place for the quality (or, as anecdotal evidence suggests, the lack thereof) of the player? Does the giving team or the receiving team name the player? If it’s the giving team, why wouldn’t they just throw a baseball uniform on the crotchety one-legged Korean War veteran who folds their towels and give him train fare to get to the receiving team, and if it’s the receiving team, why wouldn’t they just name the guy leading the giving team in slugging percentage? Or is there some specialist in the employ of the league commissioner whose sole job is to fairly and justly assess each trade involving the “player to be named later” clause and to then balance the scale of each deal by aptly identifying and, yes, naming the player to be named later? And if so, how can I get this job?
I don’t have the answer to any of these questions, but perhaps some progress toward illumination on this matter can be made in further consideration of my cardboard childhood companion Mario Guerrero, shown here in his 1975 card in the ol’ Topps hold the bat straight out in front of you and gaze with wistful regret into the middle distance pose.
Mario Guerrero slipped quietly into the major leagues a couple years after coming to the Red Sox organization as a player to be named later. Specifically, he was the player to be named later in one of the worst deals in Red Sox’ history. So “later” in this case turned out to mean a couple of things. In a strictly literal sense, later meant 100 days, from March 22, 1972, when the first players involved in the deal were exchanged, to June 30, 1972, when the identity of the player to be named later was finally revealed. But in this particular deal, which prior to the involvement of Mario Guerrero featured the Red Sox sending future Cy Young award-winner Sparky Lyle to the Yankees for fading mediocrity Danny Cater, “later” also (and more accurately) meant “too late.” Mario Guerrero’s arrival to the Red Sox in the context of this deal was akin to the arrival at a thoroughly burglarized home of a somewhat interesting seashell sent from the private beach connected to the brand new Caribbean retirement mansion of the burglar. Under other circumstances, perhaps the recipients would have appreciated the quiet, unassuming beauty of the seashell, but in this case they could only hold the seashell to their ear and listen to a facsimile of the ol’ Matthew Arnold unplumbed, salt, estranging sea.