If you haven’t heard J.P. Arencibia‘s comments on Dirk Hayhurst and Gregg Zaun during the Brady & Lang show on the Fan590, you can hear it here. Scroll up to the 5:32 mark and listen in for yourself. Everybody I’m sure has an opinion on it and here’s mine.
I take some understanding and some exception to what J.P. said. Arencibia made a comment, and I hear this comment a lot lately on all different sports talk stations. It’s along the lines of “if you are not a baseball player, you don’t understand how hard the game is.” It’s tough for me to imagine that most fans of the game of baseball do not have some kind of understanding for the difficulty of it. It’s hard for me to imagine that any player-turned-fan past a Little League level is not aware of how the game only gets more difficult, more complicated, and more competitive.
Not to toot my own horn, but I was fortunate enough to play college level baseball. The major differences between that and high school ball is that at the collegiate level, the learning and playing of the game is much more time consuming and detail oriented (you work on your fundamentals, but you try to expand and improve upon your talents.) I played Division III baseball, so we didn’t have film study sessions (though it’s possible other D-III colleges may have.) We didn’t have scouting reports like more prestigious D-I schools. It was hard work, mostly because the game just got a lot harder to play with better competition. But as Tom Hanks’ character, Jimmy Dugan, said in A League of Their Own, “It’s (baseball) suppose to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.” Any ballplayer had to work harder if they wanted to play ball after the age of 12.
I think when you go from a player/fan to just a fan, you lose sight of the player point of view. I often hear fans say “He’s got a poor work ethic” or “he’s not trying hard” or “he doesn’t care” because a player may be under-performing. This is something J.P. may have been sick of hearing from not just guys like former-players-turned-broadcasters, Zaun and Hayhurst, but from the voice of the fan as well. It’s justifiable.
Whenever somebody does not perform to either their career norms or play up to the expectations placed upon them by fans, it seems like there has always got to be SOME sort of explanation for it. I remember watching the Boston media absolutely tear apart John Lackey‘s personal life because Lackey didn’t perform remotely close to expectations two years ago. Nevermind that Lackey was overweight or maybe had an injury. Oh no! Those explanations were not good enough for the media. They dug into his cell phone text messages! If you know anything about the “Boston Collapse” from two years ago, you know about the chicken and beer. You know about players gaining a lot of weight DURING the season. When you talk about a poor work ethic, the 2011 Boston Red Sox became the epitome of poor work ethic. If you typed into Google “Teams that just don’t care,” the 2012 Boston Red Sox would appear at the top of the list.
That’s not the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays. You can question whether the Blue Jays, as a team, were having issues with focus when you saw the gluttony of errors early in the season. But clearly now, things have changed. You have seen them putting in the work. They have been playing with urgency. The Jays have made adjustments and since making those adjustment, they have much improved. So negative and somewhat misinforming comments from guys like Zaun (who was on the list for use of performance enhancing drugs, which makes him a perceived cop-out) and Hayhurst, both of whom had to work very hard to get to the major league level, are annoying.
Not running hard from the hitter’s box over to first base is a sign of somebody not trying. Staring down a baseball instead of running hard down the baseline for a hit that isn’t decisively a home run is a lack of focus. Throwing a lazy ball from the outfield back to the infield that allows an opposing baserunner to advance 90 feet is a lack of heart and focus. Ricky Romero was getting lit up at every level for the Blue Jays for over the past year. Ask him if his not performing was due to a lack of heart and focus. Actually, if you want to piss him off, just tell him so. Ignorant comments from not just Zaun and Hayhurst, but fans like myself, are comments that are extremely aggravating to players. That’s J.P.’s point. The Blue Jays have miraculously put themselves back into contention and yet the negative comments keep on coming.