Stuff Even I Don’t Know

Hot Stove

Contrary to popular belief, there are things I don’t know. In some cases I may think I know them, but really don’t.

I’m not alone in this regard.

In reference to the side aspects of a human being—not an athlete,a human being—there are many things that go on in an individual’s life that affect their work. Sometimes it’s self-created; others it’s just…life.

I got to thinking about this after reading Bill Madden’s column yesterday and how Rafael Soriano‘s reputation has taken a beating for his behavior as a member of the Rays and Yankees GM Brian Cashman’s reluctance to sign him.

According to Madden, the Rays despised Soriano:

But losing his No. 1 draft pick wasn’t the only thing that bothered Cashman about signing Soriano. The 31-year-old Dominican’s makeup is – and should be – of great concern. Despite his league-leading 45 saves and 1.73 ERA, Soriano was hated by almost everyone in Tampa Bay last year. His periodic hissy-fits over being brought into games in non-save situations, or being asked to pitch more than one inning wore thin on Rays manager Joe Maddon. The final straw was the last game of the season – Game 5 of the ALDS versus Texas – when Maddon asked Soriano to pitch the ninth inning with the Rays trailing, 3-1. After throwing a tantrum in the bullpen in front of all his fellow relievers, Soriano trudged into the game and promptly gave up a single to Nelson Cruz and a game-breaking homer to Ian Kinsler.

This is an example of “stuff” I didn’t know. I was aware that Soriano didn’t like entering games in non-save situations, but had no idea it had reached the level of public tantrum in a playoff game—a game that was still within reach; in reach until Soriano came in anyway.

The easy answer is to blame Maddon for this; to suggest that the B.J. Upton lack of hustle and clear absence of discipline that’s present in the Rays clubhouse—amid the new age culture cultivated by Maddon—is responsible for the players feeling they can get away with anything. But I don’t see this as the fault of Joe Maddon; it’s people showing who they really are.

Did Soriano have it in mind that entering a game in a non-save situation wouldn’t add to his number of saves and, by extension, not contribute to his paycheck in free agency?

Of course.

Is this natural with a human being?

Yes, but here’s the difference between the Soriano-type and another player who would have an eye on the numbers both statistically and financially—the other player, while selfish, would do his job for the team absent of the shortsightedness displayed publicly by Soriano.

Curt Schilling could be considered an attention-seeker who liked to hear his own voice and have his face plastered all over the newspapers with stories—that may or not have been accurate—of his on-field heroism. This, more than anything else, is why the “bloody sock” was seen as a possible ruse. It was very convenient and sounded like something Schilling would do. During his time with the Phillies when he showed up his teammate Mitch Williams in the 1993 post-season by draping a towel over his head, it was an act that shouldn’t have taken place. Was Schilling intentionally playing to the camera? Or did he genuinely not want to watch?

It was probably both.

With all of that, Schilling has been an impossible person to categorize because he has done so many nice things for people with money and time that I get the impression that his acts of kindness—while making him look good—are done because he is a decent man.

As an athlete he left it all out on the field and would’ve done anything for his teammates.

Is Soriano willing to leave it all out on the field? The suggestion that Mariano Rivera will be a calming and positive influence on Soriano is not without merit; but I have concerns about players getting their clubs to sign or acquire friends.

I don’t want players making personnel moves. In fact, the players should have no say whatsoever in the composition of the team.

If an executive is so tone deaf to the clubhouse and its hierarchy, he shouldn’t be running a club in the first place. Any good manager or executive has to know the difference between a divisive force and a player who straddles the line of positive and negative influence to the other players.

As they were phased out as team stars in the late 1980s, Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez both became somewhat embittered by their descending career trajectories and didn’t help the Mets move on into new clubhouse leadership.

It’s a fine line and this is why you’ll see a good front office dispatch veteran players who, while still having something left on the field, aren’t so indispensable that they’re worth the oncoming aggravation. Getting rid of a player at the right time is a risky proposition.

On the one hand, it’s a message: “If we’ll get rid of him, we’ll certainly get rid of you!” On the other hand, making a drastic clubhouse change can blow up something that was working. It’s not to be done for the sake of it and makes nuance an imperative. A good leader has to acknowledge and take steps to counteract these factors.

You can equate this to the new concept of the field manager being a “middle manager” who takes orders from the front office; the public castration has stripped that manager of authority; if the manager doesn’t have clear support from the front office, there are players who will bully and push the envelope with the manager. Not every superstar is Albert Pujols who leads by example and supports his manager. Star players have and will continue to get their coaches/managers fired by one method or another.

The front office must support the manager.

Off-field team camaraderie is not of utmost importance to win. Some of the best clubs in history—the Athletics of the early-1970; the Yankees of the late-1970s—had players who literally hated each other personally. But on the field, if you went after one of them, you went after all of them.

Sometimes a team that gets along too well off the field is indicative of a loser on it. If a season is lost and the passion dissipates, what’s there to fight about? A team united in their disinterest is far worse that players fighting because they care.

This is why we can’t accurately assess everything on a club. We can listen to and read stories such as the Madden piece about Soriano, but until they’re proven accurate in the long term, we don’t know.

With the Rays there was much talk about the aforementioned Upton and the dugout confrontation between him and Evan Longoria after Upton failed to hustle for a ball hit into the gap in a mid-season game against the Diamondbacks.

To imply that to have been the first time someone on the Rays from teammates to coaches to the manager to the front office had confronted Upton about his lackadaisical play is ridiculous. Something like that only goes public when propriety is thrown out the window because co-workers have had enough and aren’t waiting until they’re out of the camera’s eye to let an Upton known that they’ve had enough.

Over the course of a season, these things happen hundreds of times between teammates and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.

The easy answer with a team like the Rays is to blame the manager, but Soriano and Upton would act this way no matter who they played for. When the Rays made the deal for Soriano, they had to have weighed his reputation with the risk/reward of acquiring him. He was expensive ($7.5 million for the 2010 season), but the Rays were only giving up Jesse Chavez to get him and they knew that without an established closer, they’d have trouble competing with the Yankees and Red Sox. Then there was the draft pick they were going to get when he left.

Soriano’s free agent aspirations were a boon and a detriment as he was determined to have a big statistical year, but threw what Madden called a “hissy fit” when asked to do anything more than accumulate a save.

Presumably he won’t behave that way with the Yankees, but you never know. The one thing the Yankees have an advantage with is that manager Joe Girardi has a terrible temper and won’t hesitate to drag Soriano into his office by his shirt collar and let him know that selfishness is not tolerated in his clubhouse.

As far as the off-field stories go, we all hear rumors. Some of the players and people who have great reputations as bastions of their community may not live up to the portrayal. Others who are seen negatively are oftentimes not putting up a pretense for public consumption and that’s not what the employers, image makers and fans want.

They don’t want a human being; they want the idol to worship.

I think that’s worse because when the person falters—as he inevitably does—it jades those that thought the object of their affection was something that he never really was in the first place.

These are not issues to ignore. The only thing a club can do in the case of a Soriano or anyone else is mitigate them with checks on the behaviors. Apart from that, they have to hope it doesn’t tear the clubhouse apart.

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One thought on “Stuff Even I Don’t Know

  1. Hm. I didn’t know any of that either. Thanks for the enlightenment. Perhaps what Soriano needs is a good old fashioned ass-whoopin’. It’s guys like Soriano that make the Gossages and Sutters stand out even more.

    Now THOSE guys were warriors.

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