Thursday, February 2, 2012

SMALLS TALK: On-Field Composure

We get it - you're mad. You struck out in a big spot, blew a lead, didn't drive the run in, served up a walk-off, went 0 for 5, got pulled in the second inning, or achieved any number of on-field failures - who wouldn't be mad? Ohh, but you're throwing equipment... you must be really mad.

Give me a break. For us hitters, baseball is a game of failure - more often than not, you're not going to get the job done. It's just a fact of the game, something that every player needs to acknowledge and overcome. It's a frustrating sport, one that ranges from incredibly easy to nearly impossible in the span of an at-bat. A series of one-on-one matchups, the game can never be mastered - perfection is unattainable.

So why do guys insist on making a spectacle of themselves when something goes wrong? I understand people deal with failure and anger in all types of ways, but there are few things that bother me more than an on-field meltdown. Sure, sometimes they're fun to watch, but nothing makes my blood boil like a teammate freaking out in the dugout. Breaking bats, throwing gloves, flipping coolers, breaking lights - you name it, I've seen it, and each time I roll my eyes and think to myself, "grow the f*** up."

Don't get me wrong, I've been there - been in slumps you wouldn't believe, made costly errors, struck out with the tying run on third - I've failed with the best of them. But you know who was to blame for all those things? Me. They were my fault - I let the team down. I've felt upset, angry, and hopeless on the baseball field more times than I care to remember, but I would never let my problems go public. My teammates don't need to see me breaking the bat rack to know I care, just like I don't need to see my starting pitcher chuck his glove at the Gatorade cooler to know he's upset about only going 1 1/3 innings.

We all care - we wouldn't play if we didn't. It's an infuriating game, you're allowed to be angry, but you can't let the game break you - because if you let it, it will. I have never in my life seen a guy freak out early in a game then turn around and do anything productive in the following innings. A meltdown might as well be a giant white flag, waving from the dugout informing the other team that you are officially checked out mentally. They no longer have to worry about you - you're already beat. The game of baseball has worn you down - your day is done.

When players have a reputation for being a hot-head, I don't think fans truly appreciate how annoying it is to be their teammate. When Carlos Zambrano takes the mound, you better believe the guy who has the locker next to him in the clubhouse is praying he has a good outing. In fact, I'm sure all the guys in the dugout are crossing their fingers as well. Sure, a good performance by Zambrano will help the ball club, but mainly they just don't want to deal with his antics. Because when Carlos has a problem, he becomes everyone else's problem.

The same can be said about Kevin Youkilis. There are few guys I respect more as a hitter than Youk, but I've never seen someone lose their cool over a first-inning strike out worse than him. It's embarrassing. It's no coincidence that the guys getting in dugout skirmishes with teammates are usually the ones blowing a gasket over every little miscue. Eventually teammates get sick of their childish behavior and confront them - they reach a boiling point.

I can't tell you how much I respect guys who don't show their frustration. God knows ageless knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield has experienced his fair share of ups and downs, but you would never be able to differentiate the two based on his demeanor. Derek Jeter's the same way - never down on himself, always looking to the next play.

I look at keeping your composure as a way of respecting the game. Baseball is hard - it's going to deal you some bad hands. Deal with it. You're a professional, you get paid handsomely to play a game that you love - show it some respect. Baseball doesn't owe any of us a thing. It gives us opportunities, challenges, entertainment, and a lifetime of enjoyment - so what if there's some heartbreak thrown in there once in a while. It's part of the package - it's the reason why the successes feel so darn good.

Baseball is for the mentally tough. Sure you could argue that the guys I mentioned are making millions of dollars and seem to be doing alright for themselves, but could they be better? Or better yet, how many hot-heads with Big League talent are out there that we've never even heard of? When things don't go your way, you don't have to prove to us how angry you are; we know - just go back and do it better the next time. TV Networks may be disappointed, but your teammates will thank you.

When did "Can I have your autograph" turn into "Give me a ball"?
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  1. "Look at me! I'm throwing stuff, I'm mad, I care so much! By my anger you can tell that I'm usually a great player and thus am disgusted by this unusual failure I have come across! Also, it was not my fault!"

  2. Smalls (and/or Chet), what's your take on guys going down the tunnel and throwing tantrums? is your problem more with the act itself or the public display?

  3. I'm all for walking down the tunnel or hopping in the dugout bathroom for a minute to blow off some steam - that was always my outlet whenever I was about to go over the edge. It's a frustrating game, sometimes you need to let it out - my problem is when letting it out becomes a public spectacle.

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