Men are simple. Sports are complicated.
Here's your cheat sheet.
An athlete is said to be in his “contract year” when his contract will expire at the end of the current season of play. This applies to the big four sports (baseball, basketball, football & hockey), but primarily baseball and basketball.
It’s often said with a bit of a sneer by sports fans, intended to indicate that athletes play harder when the chance for a new, pricier contract is on the line.
For example, slugger Albert Pujols’ contract with the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team ended at the end of last season. So, last season was his contract year.
Pujols, who was with the Cardinals for 11 seasons, is now on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Yes, that’s really their name. Yes, yes, I know. Long and stupid. I know.). Last year, Albert hit 37 home runs in 147 games. That averages out to about one home run every four games. We’re about 30 games into the 2012 season and, so far, after receiving a fat contract that locks him up with the Angels for the next decade, Albert has hit one home run and is batting .190. This means that just about 80% of his turns at-bat result with him swinging the bat, and ending up back in the dugout afterward.
In a perfect world, I’d like to believe nobody would actually play lazy. Most of these guys play their hearts out because COME ON. IT’S THEIR DREAM. It’s the stuff little leaguers of any sport dream about in their pint-sized racecar-shaped beds. But the numbers — overall, not just in Albert’s case — do seem to indicate that athletes do better when a crap-ton of money is on the line. Seems like a bit of an ethical failure to this deflated fan.
Anyway, there’s your definition. Contract Year: the season after which a contract expires, during which time a player attempts to do his very best, in the hope of making more money with a new contract.
P.S. If this kind of thing interests you at the psychological level, may I suggest a long, but interesting, interview between sportswriter Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell on the subject of, among other things, why some player come to training camp every year overweight.
If you’re an outsider looking in on the sports world, terms like this will drive you nuts. It’s like ESPN invented their own language, and it’s much, much more widely spoken than, say, Esperanto.
This series examines a bunch of terms widely understood by sports lovers, ESPN analysts, the guys on the local news that talk about sports before the dorky weather dude with the map comes on, and the guy you sit next to on the couch, who occasionally lets one of these words slip out of his mouth like you know what the heck he’s talking about.