What I hate—indeed, what I have always hated—about this level of play is how players get stripped of their humanity and become subject to whatever assume, from the outside, with no true knowledge or understanding of the player’s plight.
Today, while getting my notes together for Baseball Central, I listened to a caller on the Jeff Blair Show talk about how Ricky gave the appearance of not having a fire in his belly, like, say, Maddux or Halladay. This, said the caller, what how you knew Ricky was not going to recover.
Those personalities couldn’t be less comparable. Maddux was a fighter, to be sure, but he also screwed around more than most pitchers I’d ever known. He was the quintessential dirt ball, peeing on people in the shower and wiping his ass with towels and discarding them in to rookies lockers. (read my second book for more on that).
Halladay, on the other hand, was boarder line obsessive compulsive. A true workaholic that marched around the locker room like the Terminator. He was scary, to be honest. Frighteningly committed in a way that you respected, but, at the same time, wondered if he even enjoyed himself with the amount of work he put it. Was it pleasure, or was it obsession? (read my third book for more on that).
Ricky is dealing with his own struggles and issues, and he is dealing with them with his own set of unique variables specific to his make up. There is no archetype of success, mentally or physically. Why? Because players are not static physical mechanisms you can compare. They are people, and they handle stressors differently. Some clamp down on the issues like a dog and refuse to let them go. Some have to fuck around near constantly to distract themselves from the issue at hand. And some get stuck in the middle, in the swirling mess of internal expectation, external expectation, result, failure, identity, and the simple concept of being able to enjoy life.
I’ve been in Ricky’s shoes. I know what it’s like when your body abandons you, your mind betrays you, and your confidence lies in shambles. I’ve been called to the hill in fear of the result, hoping I will get lucky and do my job just so I can feel good about myself for a change. I know what it’s like to be loved by a fan base, then hated by it when you fail, as if someone has rewritten history to turn you from hero to villain.
I don’t protect players when they don’t do their job. Though I’m a former player, I try to be unbiased. Ricky didn’t do his job, that is obvious, and something will have to be done because of the results he has generated can’t continue. But, to assume that he’s not trying to fix what plagues him this year is foolish. To think that, from a vantage point so far removed as the bleachers, you can see what is truly happening underneath his jersey is a joke.
JP Arencibia came out of last night’s game with an injury to his hand, but Ricky came out with an injury to his mind, and he’s been pitching with that injury all year. He’s been taking the mound with a burden on his shoulders, the forces of hope and fear battling in his head, trading blows on every pitch. Fans say he has to work harder, that his easy countenance is him not wanting to improve bad enough and not being coachable. Wrong. The smile, the laughter: that’s a man trying to convince him self that there is no dark issue following him every where he goes. That’s Ricky trying to remind himself his soul is not a prison, and that the poison of failure does not course through his veins. That’s him facing the day as if it started with him looking into the morning mirror and seeing hope instead of doubt.