Baseball is a game of failure.
It’s a tired axiom, but one that refuses to go to sleep because it will never stop being true. It’s also been drinking from the green coffee pot, which Joe Morgan thinks is just fine. Esoteric analogies and personal digs aside, success in baseball comes from simply not failing as much as the next guy.
Well, until that next guy to whom you’re being compared is the man staring back at you in the mirror. Or the one circumstances dictate needs a spot more than you. That’s when things get even more dicey from a psychological standpoint than they already are.
But before we get into any of those specifics, let’s dispense with the foolish notion that money is a guarantee of either contentment or performance. I’d wager that everyone reading this — except for you, Warren Buffet and Brett Taylor — would be ecstatic if they were earning even a rookie wage for a year, let alone two or three. And to get $21 million? Shoo, son.
What you have to keep in mind, however, is that the salary is all relative. Earning large sums of money to play a game might sound like a dream to anyone else, but that’s just a fact of the matter for the guys who are actually playing. Having extra zeroes on your check doesn’t suddenly increase serotonin production or inoculate you against the inherent issues of being human.
You know what else an athlete making a lot of money doesn’t do? Give meatballs free rein to attack them via social media. Twitter is a particularly toxic platform when it comes to unscrupulous jerks venting their misplaced rage, given that they can easily spit vitriolic tripe in the direction of a player who has the audacity to fall short of their expectations.
That’s been the case with Yu Darvish, who went from being a Twitter darling this winter with his witty comebacks and honest assessment of his free agency to being a target for idiots. And yes, if you have tweeted nasty things at Darvish — or any player based on their on-field performance — I’m calling you an idiot.
“He reads Twitter. He reads all that stuff,” Chris Gimenez said of his teammate and friend in a one-on-one with Steve Greenberg of the Sun-Times. “We all do. Honestly, I know it upsets him, and rightfully so.”
“I think he thinks that Chicago hates him for going on the DL a couple of times,” Gimenez added. “I’ve tried to portray to him, ‘Listen, they’re going to love you when we get to October and we’re doing the things that we all want to do here, you’re the main reason we’re doing it and we’re riding you all the way through it.
“So don’t worry about them getting mad at you on Twitter in May. Worry about when we get to September, October and they’re chanting your name.”
Of course, the fans are only part of the issue. While they have run with it, they didn’t create the narrative that Darvish is mentally weak. The media, then, must bear the brunt of the blame for that aspect of this whole mess. And the portrayal of a guy who shies from the limelight established a confirmation bias that is reinforced each time Darvish has a poor outing or goes to the DL.
“I’m not so sure Yu has quite the same approach and, again, I think it’s self esteem,” Peter Gammons told 670 The Score’s Mully and Hanley recently. “There are times when he pitches, to me, as if he doesn’t want to let people down.”
Different people will read that and apply their own euphemisms and pejoratives to “self esteem,” but I think it’s just fine to take Gammons’ words at face value and understand that Darvish is — gasp — a real person with thoughts and feelings. Maybe he’s a little more cognizant of and sensitive to what people are saying about him than other elite athletes are, characteristics that would leave him that much more susceptible to pressing both mentally and physically.
But, again, don’t take that for weakness.
“He is champing at the bit to come back and show everybody what he can do,” Gimenez said. “He didn’t do what his team needed him to do at the end of the year, and he feels the weight of that burden on him and really wants to get out there and prove to everybody that he can be the man.”
It’s no surprise that Gimenez is serving as something of a mouthpiece for Darvish, given their friendship and history together. That’s a big part of the reason I had thought Gimenez would get the nod to break camp on the 25-man roster and it’s why his promotion was about more than just a contract clause that required he be called up or released by June 1.
While the technicalities matter, the Cubs are certainly aware of the psychological impact a catcher can have on his teammates. In that, there could be a little Grandpa Rossy in Gimenez, particularly as far as Darvish is concerned. But nothing comes free and the cost for bringing the veteran backstop to Chicago was sending Victor Caratini back to Iowa.
“It’s tough,” Caratini told the Des Moines Register’s Tommy Birch earlier this week. “You work for that, you work (to be) in the big leagues. I’m not happy with the decision, but it’s just part of baseball and you keep going.
“Didn’t expect [to be demoted],” Caratini admitted. “I did my job. I did 100 percent in the big leagues and that’s not my decision. It’s the (front) office’s decision.”
Though he didn’t light the world on fire, or even so much as spark a little kindling, Caratini had a .262 average and was exactly at replacement level over 69 plate appearances this year. As nice as that is, baseball is usually anything but when it comes to roster decisions.
So when it came to accommodating players and maximizing the 25 spots on their roster, the Cubs opted to carry the catcher whose intangibles offer the most upside. We’ll have to wait a while to see whether Gimenez’s arrival really does help Darvish, as the righty will miss at least one more turn in the rotation with that inflammation in his right triceps.
After showing improvement during his two starts following that first DL stint, there’s reason to believe Darvish was beginning to settle in and find his comfort level with the Cubs. Gimenez can only help that, though it’s not as simple as having that one familiar voice or solid outing. It’s not about manning up or gutting it out or whatever, either, not when you’re talking about the mental side of the game.
So you can call Darvish soft if you want, you can tweet nasty things at him. Just know that you’re not doing him or the Cubs any favors with that garbage. Also know that you might well have it all jammed down your throat when Darvish does come back around in the second half.