Is Bud Norris’ treatment of young players a positive or a negative for the Blue Jays?
"Obviously I’m not going to change, I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle,’ and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen. That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am."
Item: Bryce Harper (another outstanding talent) is benched for lack of hustle and is criticized for failing to run out two ground balls.
Item: Bud Norris is criticized for “bullying” and “harrassing” rookies, to the point where authors are saying that he is “bad for baseball” and that the Jays must have signed him “to help bully rookies“.
Strong words. But are they really appropriate in this case?
First, a bit of context. Jordan Hicks is a 22 year old rookie reliever with the St. Louis Cardinals. Although he had never pitched above A ball, he was invited to 2018 spring training on the back of his 105 mph (!) fastball. But Hicks had trouble fitting in. He was regularly late for team meetings, to the point where:
"Teammates taped the schedule to his locker. One took to social media to publicly chide Hicks for not being on time. He arrived one day to find his things packed and relocated to the minor-league side."
The Cards sent him down to the minors after Spring Training, but 105 mph fastballs do not grow on trees and they were forced to recall him early in the season.
That is when Norris stepped in.
As a (much maligned) “old school” player, he felt that it was his duty to help Hicks by calling him out on his unprofessional and selfish conduct. Not out of megalomania, or a desire to be abusive, but in the best interests of the team and (as Hicks acknowledged) for Hicks himself. Hicks acknowledged that the veteran ‘has best intentions for me‘, even though Norris’ criticism was not much fun at the time.
Some have accused Norris of doing the right thing, but in a demeaning or abusive way. I am not sure I agree. Here is one example of Norris’ intervention.
"A few hours before a game in the Cardinals’ previous home stand, the team’s relievers filtered into the clubhouse and, with a quick twist of one wrist, the music started thumping.Bud Norris, the team’s unexpected closer and veteran presence, walked over to the speaker and turned the music down — not off, just down — and returned to his locker. Jordan Hicks, the heat-seeking rookie, heard the music soften and walked over and turned it back up. This do-si-do happened twice more: The music turned down and the music cranked up, until Norris flipped the music off and suggested Hicks put on some headphones."
I find it difficult to see Norris’ conduct in this case as unprofessional or abusive. In fact, I am surprised that a rookie would keep turning the music up when Norris’ message was so clear.
The bottom line
It is sometimes hard to draw the line between “bullying” and “tough love”. In this case, based on the limited information available and on Hicks’ own comments, I am inclined to see Norris’ conduct as the latter.
Personally, I see it as a sign of leadership when veterans go out of their way to show rookies the ropes. Remember when Mark Buehrle used to buy suits for the rookies, and how Kendrys Morales is making a special effort to help the Latin players in the current camp?
And I think this kind of help could be critical in the upcoming years, with so many young players due to join the major league team. Do we really want to see Vladdy Jr. become another Machado, who boasts about his lack of hustle? And do we want the Jays to continue to lead the league in “flubs”? Done the right way , this kind of guidance is, in my view, not only acceptable but essential.
Welcome to Toronto, Bud Norris. Glad to have you.