Summarized by Leesa Johnson
Utahn Trying to Break Baseball's Age Barrier
Salt Lake Tribune 28Feb00 S2
By Laurence Miedema: Salt Lake Tribune
PROVO, UTAH -- After 14 years Tom Wright is still determined to make it
in the Big League. At 27, when he first started to make his attempts at
a pro career he was already considered too old for the game. Now at the
age of 41, Wright is still determined to get a spot on a Big League team.
But Wright isn't your average 41 year old. Gary Pullins, Brigham
Young's assistant athletic director and former baseball couch, states,
"There probably aren't many 40-year-olds on the planet that can lift
weights, run and throw like Tom. He is extremely fit. He probably looks
like he's 21."
Watching the 12 minute video presentation of the 6 foot 1, 200 pound
Wright (with only 12 percent body fat) has attracted some interest. In
the video he shows off his throwing, hitting, and running forms. The
clips also show him lifting 620 pounds, and squatting 500 pounds. He
also runs the 60 yard dash in 6.7 seconds (major league average is 6.9
seconds). It's only after Wright reveals his age that the team gets
scared off."The biggest thing in baseball is age. It's a huge factor,"
says Gary Cooper, a former BYU star and 10-year pro who used to work out
with Wright says. "I could have probably played until I was 38. But I
understood when I was 30 that I had to be twice as good as a player who's
24. "That's the reality."
Formerly a member of BYU's swim team and a competitive power lifter,
Wright didn't become interested in a pro career in baseball until he
returned from his LDS mission in 1987. When he returned he was advised
to lie about his age, but would not.
There have also been many sacrifices in the past 14 years. Although he
would like to get married and have children, he doesn't have the
resources or time. With a degree in exercise science, Wright has taken
very few full time jobs that wouldn't conflict with his daily workouts.
He has worked as a telemarketer, car salesman. NuSkin distributor,.and as
a personal trainer. Wright has also lived in Arizona, Florida,
California, and New York. But has also moved in with his parents in Orem
many times. "I've driven my parents crazy," Wright said. "My parents
aren't wealthy, either. I've put them through a lot. They have been
supportive and felt I had the ability."
Even when he has had opportunities in baseball, they have not been very
profitable. "I've been in Mexico with a dollar in my pocket not having
anything to eat and not knowing where I was going to sleep," said Wright,
who was invited to preseason tryouts in the Mexican League in
1991, '95 and '97. "I've been in that situation more than once."
With the financial and emotional hardships he has faced, even some of
his supporters say his passion is misplaced,"On one hand, you have to
respect a guy who is that determined. It means a lot to him," says
Cooper. "But at some point, you have to put the pieces together and
figure out it's not going to happen."
After hundreds of tryouts without a contract offer, even Wright is
almost ready to call it quits. "It's getting to the point now I know I'm
at the end of my rope," Wright said. "That's why I'm frustrated. It's got
to happen now. If something doesn't happen this year, I'm done."
Wright has even written baseball commissioner Bud Selig to ask for help,
indicating that he may file an age discrimination lawsuit against the
Major League Baseball. "I feel like I have the ability. No one's let me
play long enough to prove otherwise. I want to know how good I am,"
Wright said. "I just want 200 to 400 at-bats, and if I don't make it
happen, then that's a legitimate shot.
"Then, I can walk away."
Winning such a suit would be difficult, but Wright compares it to what
African-American players went through before
baseball integrated in 1947. Satchel Paige, a Negro League player, was a
42-year-old rookie when he made his big-league debut a year later.
"That was race discrimination. This is age discrimination," says
Wright. "Maybe we'll break in at the same age."