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14 Offbeat Clauses in Baseball Contracts

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Major League Baseball's winter meetings just ended. As general managers return to their homes, the annual flurry of free agent signings and contract extensions is in full swing. These deals aren't just about the money, though; they're also about bonus clauses and sweet, sweet perks. Here's a list of some of the more ludicrous ones players have received.

1. Charlie Kerfeld, Houston Astros

After a spectacular rookie season in 1986, the rotund reliever who always pitched in his lucky Jetsons t-shirt needed a new contract. Kerfeld asked for $110,037.37, matching his number 37 jersey, to pitch in 1987. On top of that, he received 37 boxes of orange Jell-O in the deal. The Astros would soon regret this delicious bonus, though; Kerfeld, who was famously caught eating ribs in the dugout that season, would battle weight and injury problems and get sent down to the minors.

2. Rollie Fingers, Oakland Athletics

rollie.jpgFormer A's owner Charlie Finley never thought of a gimmick he wouldn't try, including a mechanical rabbit that delivered fresh balls to the umpire and hiring a 13-year-old MC Hammer as his "Executive V.P." In 1972, Finley offered his players cash for growing a mustache by Father's Day, thereby giving birth to reliever Fingers' trademark handlebar "˜stache. The A's went on to win the World Series that season, and Fingers' contract for 1973 contained a $300 bonus for growing the mustache as well as $100 for the purchase of mustache wax.

3. Roy Oswalt, Houston Astros

tractor.jpgBefore Oswalt made a start in the 2005 National League Championship Series, Astros owner Drayton McLane promised to make the ace's dreams come true if he won, specifically his life goal of bulldozer ownership. After Oswalt dominated the Cardinals to send Houston to its first-ever World Series, McLane came through with a Caterpillar D6N XL. Since Major League Baseball requires high-dollar gifts be disclosed, Oswalt signed an addendum to his contract, a "bulldozer clause," authorizing the club to give him his new toy.

4. Troy Glaus, Arizona Diamondbacks

arizona.jpgArizona inked the slugging third baseman signed for four years and $45 million in December 2004. As part of the deal, Glaus receives $250,000 annually for "personal business expenses," namely the cost of his wife Ann's equestrian training and equipment. Although Glaus bashed 37 homers for the Snakes in 2005, he also tied for the major-league lead in errors by a third baseman with 24, and despite Mrs. Glaus' surely improving performance in the steeplechase, Glaus had to hoof it to Toronto when he was traded barely a year after signing.

5. Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks

johnson.jpgWhen the Big Unit signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998, team owner Jerry Colangelo also threw in a pair of partial season tickets for the Phoenix Suns to lure in the lanky lefty. Seems like Johnson could have afforded his own tickets, but to be fair, when you're making $52 million over four years, it's hard to get scalpers to fall for "Can you take twenty for the pair? I swear it's all I've got, dude."

6. Carlos Beltran, New York Mets

beltran.jpgBeltran's mammoth seven-year, $119 million deal from January 2005 showed that he had all of baseball's five tools but lacked a conditioned ocular enhancer, a gadget that throws numbered, colored tennis balls over 150 mph to help players pick up the speed of a pitched ball. So he got a contract clause requiring the Mets lease the machine and retain an operator for it. However, Beltran only hit .266 in his first year with the club, so maybe a used copy of Tony Gwynn's tome The Art of Hitting would have been more cost-effective.

7. Brad Lidge, Houston Astros

lidge.jpgWhen the Houston Astros (sound familiar?) re-signed Brad Lidge in January 2007, their former closer got an incentive clause promising $25,000 for winning a Silver Slugger, given annually to the top hitter at each position. Lidge probably didn't consider this easy money; as a relief pitcher, he had only been to the plate seven times in his five-season career and hadn't seen an at-bat since 2004. Despite an erratic season on the mound, Lidge was the model of consistency at the plate in 2007, mostly because he never had an at-bat. Houston finished 13th in the National League in runs scored, though, so maybe letting Lidge take some hacks would have been worth a try.

8. A.J. Burnett, Toronto Blue Jays

jays.jpgLots of players have free-plane-ticket perks written into their contracts, but some feel that air travel really lacks that fun we're-going-to-the-prom feeling that you can only get from a long limo ride. When flamethrower A.J. Burnett signed with Toronto as a free agent in December 2005, he required that his wife receive eight round-trip limo rides from his home in Maryland to Toronto each season. That's around nine hours in a limo each way, which is enough time to move the little divider between you and the driver up and down roughly 3,500 times.

Some other interesting perks and bonuses:

dice-k.jpg9. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston Red Sox "“ Dice-K's deal with the Red Sox includes a plethora of strange or excessive clauses including housing allowances and a personal masseuse, but the oddest is that he's contractually guaranteed the jersey number 18.


10. Kevin Brown, Los Angeles Dodgers "“ The seven-year, $105 million deal Brown signed after the 1998 season guaranteed twelve round trip private jet trips from L.A. to his hometown in Macon, Georgia for his family, sparing his children from cruel flight attendants' taunts about their dad being overpaid.


11. Dave Roberts, San Francisco Giants "“ The deal Roberts signed last December gives him the right to buy four premium season tickets each year. He's probably going to keep passing until management puts a decent team on the field, though.

12. Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners
"“ Ichiro's five-year contract extension from July 2007 contains some reasonable perks (interpreter, plane tickets to Japan), but also stipulates the club give him a Jeep or Mercedes SUV, filling the Japanese auto industry with a deep collective sense of shame.

13. Mark Teixeira, Atlanta Braves - Teixeira's deal for 2006-2007 (originally negotiated when he was with Texas) had a clause paying him $100K for winning the AL MVP, a tough feat since he finished the contract while playing in the National League.

14. Curt Schilling, Boston Red Sox "“ The three-time World Series champ's new deal with the Red Sox for the 2008 season not only rewards Schilling for maintaining his weight, but also gives him $1M for appearing on any voter's three-man Cy Young ballot. Take note, enterprising voters ("Sixty-forty split sound fair, Curt?")

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

See also...

A Brief History of Stadium Naming Rights
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How Sports Owners Made Their Money
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An Unofficial Guide to Life as a Ref
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All-Star Voter Fraud
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Quiz: Mr. Burns' Softball All-Stars
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Quiz: Where Are They Now? College Superstars
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The Bud Bowl: A Definitive History

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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