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Monday, December 10, 2012

THE 21ST CENTURY BASEBALL PLAYER: IN A LEAGUE OF HIS OWN

After reading Casey's post WE DON'T NEED SUPERSTARS, WE NEED BELIEVERS, I started thinking: “What does the 21st Century Baseball Player look like?”  I mean, what are his characteristics, what’s in his core? What makes him tick?  Are these players deeply connected to their team?  Are they creative thinkers?  Are they respectful and ethical?
Well, let’s take the first question: “Are they deeply connected to their team?”  My initial response, is “No, they aren’t.”  The end.  Well, there is more to that actually.  With the way contracts are written today, it is very rare that a player who signs with a particular team stays with that team throughout his career.  He will more than likely test the free agency market and leave his old team behind.  I will be honest they broke the mold when they made Derek Jeter, for he is one of the few exceptions to this trend. 

“In order to beat the Yankees, teams will have to excel at finding international talent, continue to scout domestic players well and sign the right free agents. It takes money to do this, of course, but it also takes smarts,” according to ESPN’s article Baseball in the 21st century. And money they are pledging, have you looked at the contracts being signed this off-season?  Toronto Blue Jays, Red Sox, Pittsburgh- making big offers to okay players.  The Marlins sold off their entire team for God’s sake.  So, in many ways, it is not entirely the players’ fault that they are not as connected or vested in their team because they don’t know how long they will stick around.  Baseball is big business and in the 21st century world of buying and selling, baseball fits right in with today’s Fortune 500.  But just like the trend of downsizing or rightsizing, players are expendable and can’t always stay with the same company.  Perhaps they are jaded by that notion.
Next, “Are they creative thinkers?”  My impulse answer is “Yes!”  Joe DiMaggio once said (HERE), "I'm just a ballplayer with one ambition, and that is to give all I've got to help my ball club win. I've never played any other way." But what about today’s player? Does he have the creative ambition to give it all, think it through and do what’s best for the team? “Aside from differences in batting stances or pitching motions, baseball is a game of repetition—of executing learned mechanics exactly, so that the ball does what it should every single time. Through the minors, the goal is teaching the proper way to perform, not to encourage uniqueness,” according to the Wall Street Journal article These Moves Have a Trademark.  No, no, I mean creatively problem-solving, thinking it through, doing something different on the field.  Well, Mark Teixeira slid into first at the end of the Orioles series in early September.  That was an instantaneous decision, not necessarily a good one since it rendered him inactive until the end of season.  We’ve seen sliding catches by Curtis Granderson in center field, key running decisions to put players in scoring position, but these moves don’t supersede what was always done in baseball and frankly players of the 20th century took more risks.
I will never forget the diving third baseman Graig Nettles engulfing base hits and transforming them into outs or Ozzie Smith’s signature “Wizard of Oz” heroic plays at short stop and then there was the incredible energy of the Gator or Louisiana Lightning as he struck out the side, sprinting mightily off the mound to let his team’s offense take over.  Ahh, those were some creative guys- they kept the game interesting.  Remember it was Guidry who inspired fans to begin furiously clapping for the third strike and third out of the inning!  We still do this today!
Finally, what can we say today about baseball players’ ethical practices?  "As one NBC sports commentator, Mike Celizic, asked a few years back, 'If amphetamines were okay, if cutting the ball was OK, if stealing signs was OK, if throwing spitters was OK, why were steroids not OK?'" (HERE) We live in an era where performance enhancing drugs are commonplace in sports.  Look at Lance Armstrong who is paying a pretty price for his doping, Alex Rodriguez who is certainly paying for his use with his second hip surgery scheduled, and Barry Bonds, up for the Hall of Fame this year, will always have a cloud of inquiry around him.  Ethics don’t only include steroids, but sneaky tactics and these have been around for as long as baseball has been played.  From corked bats to pine tar, baseball players have been “creatively” blurring the line between unethical behavior to just playing the game.  Even the ‘ol retaliation between pitcher and batter is an ethical matter.  So, today’s player may not be any different than what was always done in the years before his debut.  Ethics have always been questioned. 

So, we looked at today’s baseball player in terms of connection to the team, creative thinking and ethics and the final score here is D, C, B respectively with an overall grade of C.  Any way you look at it, today’s baseball player is not perfect, but he certainly keeps the game interesting. And I for one am always on the lookout for something unique, somebody who does something remarkable- that pie in the face, walk off, dominating move, play or ambitious energy that keeps the game electric.  It’s there, you just have to focus and not compare today’s game to yesterday’s- there just is no comparison; the 21st Century Player is in a league of his own. 


--Suzie Pinstripe, BYB Opinion Columnist
Twitter: @suzieprof




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