Coming To America – – Lionel Messi

The big news from yesterday is the Lionel Messi had decided to sign with Inter Miami in MLS instead of taking a reported $1B deal from a team in Saudi Arabia. The initial reports said that the details of Messi’s contract with Inter Miami have not been finalized, but we can be certain that it will not be anywhere near a 10-figure deal.  Reports say that his contract will include “ownership stakes when he retires”; Messi is 36 years old, so retirement is not decades into the future; this is not going to be analogous to a “Bobby Bonilla deal”.

For perspective, the biggest contract I can find in MLS for this year is $8.2M.  That gives you an idea of the gap between soccer contracts in the US and in Europe where playing contracts can exceed $40M per year.  Messi will probably earn at or near the top of the MLS scale for however many years he is on the pitch.

This is a big move for Messi, and it is a feather in MLS’ cap; but Messi is not nearly the first major European star to come to the US for his final days on the pitch.  A good friend of mine worked at ABC Sports and was involved in promotions for the old North American Soccer League (NASL).  He got me tix for “Soccer Bowl” in 1980 which was played at RFK Stadium in DC.  That game featured the NY Cosmos and on their roster were Pele and Franz Beckenbauer.  Pele was 40 at the time and Beckenbauer was 35; both were great players in major soccer competition in their hey-day; Beckenbauer played in Germany and Pele in Brazil before joining the Cosmos.  [Aside:  Pele did not play in that Soccer Bowl game in 1980 but was still on the Cosmos’ roster; Beckenbauer played.]

In addition to Pele and Beckenbauer, I remember Johan Cruyff playing for the Washington team in the NASL in the late 70s and early 80s.  Cruyff was a great player and stood out when playing against NASL competition.

When Messi signs on the dotted line with Inter Miami, his “boss” will be the team owner, David Beckham who also came to US soccer after a long and gloried career in Europe playing for Man U in the EPL and Real Madrid in La Liga.

I know that I will have missed more than a handful of foreign soccer stars who came to the US late in their careers so let me rattle off the ones I recall without doing any searching:

  • George Best
  • Thierry Henry
  • Robbie Keane
  • Wayne Rooney

This is a big deal, but I do not want to fall into the same trap that many commentators fell into when the likes of Pele or Beckham signed on with a US team.  This event – in and of itself – is NOT the inflection point at which soccer will grow exponentially and outstrip the NFL in popularity in the US.  Yes, ticket prices for Inter Miami games soared on the news of his decision to come to Miami; some tickets were going for $500.  Yes, this signing could well be the tipping point that allows Inter Miami to get a new stadium – – or significant expansion of its current stadium in Fort Lauderdale which only seats 18,000 fans.

  •  It is a big deal for Inter Miami and for MLS, but it need not be exaggerated.

Moving on … There was another important story that came to light yesterday that is far less joyful.  The Texas Rangers announced that Jacob deGrom will have season-ending surgery to repair a “tear in his ulnar collateral ligament” meaning he will miss the rest of this season.  deGrom is 34 years old and is in the first year of a 5-year contract that he signed with the Rangers last winter; he made only 6 starts for the team in 2023.

Jacob deGrom earns his living by throwing a baseball around 100 mph from the pitcher’s mound to the catcher.  His most dominant season was in 2018 when he started 32 games for the NY Mets and finished with only a 10-9 record despite pitching to an ERA of only 1.70 for the season.  In 2018 he also struck out 269 batters while walking only 46.  Indeed, he won the Cy Young Award that year despite the mediocre won/lost record.

In the three seasons between 2017 and 2019, deGrom threw more than 200 innings and given his style of pitching, it seems to have taken a toll on his arm.  Granted 2020 was a truncated season, but since 2019, he has not thrown more than 92 innings in any year; in his 6 starts this year, he threw only 30.1 innings.

deGrom has been on the IL since late April with what was originally diagnosed as “elbow inflammation”.  After treatment and an attempt at rehab, an MRI revealed “damage that was significant” and that ended the 2023 season for deGrom.  Normally, this sort of surgery takes a year to heal; given what deGrom will try to do with his repaired elbow, my guess is that doctors and trainers will be very cautious about “rushing him back to the mound”.  deGrom says his goal is to be back “before the end of next year”.  Rangers’ fans certainly hope that he can return and pitch the way he did back in 2020 and before; baseball fans should root for his return also because when he is on, he is fun to watch.

Finally, since there is optimism in Miami and optimism about the injury to Jacob deGrom, let me close today with this observation by British physician, Havelock Ellis:

“The place where optimism most flourishes is the lunatic asylum.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “Coming To America – – Lionel Messi”

  1. in 2021 DeGrom was insane. He had a WHIP of .55, and was hitting well over .300. In 92 innings, he struck out 146, walked 11. If you broke that down to 9 inning games, that’s 14 Ks, 1 walk, 1 run allowed on average. But he was getting pulled early for tightness, etc. After half a season he broke down. He hasn’t been right since. He’s 35 in about a week, and this is his second Tommy John, he had one in the minors coming up. And he was late coming up, since he played college, though his arm wasn’t taxed as much, as he was mostly a shortstop in college.

    Extending him here was debated, with even most fans saying they would not go long term, as they figured it was a matter of time before he broke down again. Sad. That half year was the best pitching I ever saw. Better than Pedro in 2000 or Gooden in 85. For a while his ERA hovered around .50, and it ended at 1.08

  2. I prefer Peter Gent’s definition concerning injury: If it hurts the body, it is pain; if it hurts the corporation, it is injury.

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