Sports are the most forgiving of all professions. We as a society are willing to forgive and forget. We can take the beatings of scandal, deceit, and dishonesty and move past that. We give second chances. Baseball exhibits this in its embrace of those known to have cheated and players with checkered off-field records. But while we give second chances to those who have made mistakes, we don’t often see a second chance for a career cut short.
Imagine everything you’ve ever loved, ever hoped for, gone at the age of 22. Imagine facing life without your one true passion, moving on to a life where your talent has gone to waste. Imagine playing baseball your entire life, breezing through high school ball, impressing college scouts, getting signed by a pro team, and rising through their ranks to be one of the top prospects in the organization. Now imagine playing through pain and dizzy spells, getting test after test run, and finally having doctors tell you, “there is nothing we can do for you.”
That was Drew Cumberland‘s fate by mid August. It finally spiraled into his worst fears by August when he had to retire from the game he so loved at just 22 years old. On August 17, 2011, Padres.com beat writer Corey Brock wrote about Cumberland’s struggles and walking away from the game he loved. One sentence summed it all up.
"Cumberland’s playing career, barring an unforeseen medical miracle, is over, as he has been diagnosed with a rare neurological condition called bilateral vestibulopathy, in which the portions of both inner ears that control balance are damaged."
So many of us played the game hoping to one day be as good as our heroes. Drew Cumberland did the same, and was good. But it was ripped away from him in a blink of an eye. Like a cruel joke, Cumberland was given the talent, given the opportunity, then told “sorry, you were on borrowed time, and your time is up.”
Cumberland, though, pushed on. He got more tests, found second opinions, and finally found the miracle no one thought he could find. Doctors discovered his rare neurological condition can be controlled through medication, eye exercises, and brain exercises. Cumberland now has a second chance.
During next week’s winter meetings, teams will conduct the Rule 5 Draft. The Rule 5 Draft is a way to allow minor league talent the opportunity to play for a Major League club. Some of these players would not get that opportunity otherwise. For teams with a well-developed farm system, a player like Cumberland may sit behind other top prospects for years, never getting a chance at a promotion. This draft helps alleviate that. Teams must either add prospects to their 40-man roster or risk them being drafted away in the Rule 5 Draft.
The Padres did not protect Cumberland because by all accounts, his career was over. He announced his retirement, but never filled out the paperwork. Now that he is healthy enough to play again, the Padres 40-man roster is already set, and Cumberland will be exposed to the draft. So while Cumberland may get a second chance, there is a possibility that second chance will not be with the Padres.
There is one possibility that allows Cumberland to return to San Diego. If every team participating in the Rule 5 Draft (remember, teams can only participate if they have an open roster spot on their 40-man roster) passes on Cumberland out of fear of the unknown. Cumberland would then be free to continue in the Padres organization. Only about 10-15% of unprotected prospects get picked in the Rule 5 Draft because any player picked must be kept on the Major League 25-man roster for the entire season. A player who is not ready for the Major Leagues would just be eating up a valuable roster spot in this situation.
In the grand scheme of things, Cumberland is just happy to have a second chance. On a smaller scale, the Padres are disappointed they didn’t know sooner. Cumberland was a rising star in the organization at shortstop. Below is how he fared in his minor league career:
Hopefully Cumberland can capitalize on his second chance, whether it’s with the Padres or some other team.