Managers talk about it all the time. They’ll say things like, “The whole team is pressing right now”. Or on the flip side, “This team is really loose and the guys are having fun”. Usually, the former is said about a team in the midst of a losing streak where no one can seem to remember how to hit, pitch, or catch…….and where if anything can go wrong – it will.
These things are usually temporary and just a part of a long baseball season. And they are always wrapped up in this thing we call the mental side of baseball (see previous post). In any event, these are the times when a manager earns his money and a team captain needs to step up. Because yes you’re still getting that big paycheck and yes you’re guaranteed to make even more money next year…….but something is missing.
What’s missing is that intangible…….having fun. Do you think the Royals who are mired in a month long slump are looking forward to coming to the ballpark to play their next game …..or the disappointing Astros? How about Matt Cain of the Giants (0-6 to begin the season)…..bet he can’t wait for his next start…..not likely.
But it’s not only about the fact that they are currently failing. Instead, maybe it’s tied more to this question…..are they not having fun because they are losing……or are they losing because they are not having fun?
Is that the proverbial chicken or the egg question? I’m not convinced it is and here’s why……
No doubt, the Mets are considered a talented team who should ease into the playoffs again this year. But as we know, translating talent into wins is not an easy game. Just ask the Nationals what talent did for them last year.
But everything I needed to know about the Mets this year, I saw last Sunday when Bartolo Colon became the oldest player to hit his first home run …….. (view video here) and while he was chugging around the bases (it took 17 seconds for him to reach home), the entire team disappeared into the clubhouse leaving him to return to an empty dugout…….baseball’s version of the cold shoulder.
This could hardly have been choreographed given Colon’s woeful career with a bat in his hands. No, it was a spontaneous act by the entire team that showed that they were having (simply) a grand ole time at the ballpark that day…..and every day. The boys of summer.
It’s not like things have been easy for the Mets this year. Harvey hasn’t been Harvey, Wright hasn’t been “right”, and Granderson has been hardly “grand”. They’re also meeting a serious threat from the Nationals…….and down the road hopefully an even more serious one from the Cubs in order to get to the World Series.
And speaking of the Cubbies, here’s another team that knows how to have fun. Referring to the team’s dress code, manager Joe Maddon told his team, “If you think you look hot in it, wear it!” And so, they did as seen in this photo of grown men (having fun) dressed as princesses. Here’ another photo of the team at the end of last year (below). They’re loose for sure and they’ve also jumped off to the best record in baseball since the Tigers in 1984. Is that a coincidence? Don’t think so.
It all stems from the manager and in this respect both the Cubs and Mets are blessed with outstanding ones who inevitably will be competing with one another for this year’s Manager of the Year award. You bring 25 men into a relatively small room from all corners of the world for six straight months…….25 men with a built in competive nature, many with bulging egos to begin with…..and you hope that they will magically gel together as a team.
That is a unreal expectation. They need to be nurtured, challenged, and yes sometimes kicked in the butt. As a manager though, your challenge is how you do it. Billy Martin successfully did it by putting the fear of God in his players. Casey Stengel deflected attention from underperforming players with humor .But neither strategy would (I’m afraid) work today. Joe Torre set the current standard for managers today with a mantra that preached “Speak softly and carry a small stick”. Both Terry Collins and Joe Maddon have bought into it.
Not surprisingly, their teams are not only winning but they’re eagerly coming to the ballpark every day……and having fun doing it.