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August 6, 2012

Baseball Therapy

So You Wanna Be a Manager

by Russell A. Carleton

We know. You could totally do it better than the pros. You'd have brought in a reliever for Pedro. You prove it most nights on your PlayStation. I bet you once played a whole season in MLB: The Show and went 102-60...or at least 35-15 in a shortened season.

I believe you. That's why I'm going to give you the chance to prove how awesome you are at managing a major-league team. Now, of course, you can't actually manage one right now, but I've drawn up a list of things that you'd have to do as a manager and some real-life equivalents.

Please accomplish all of them within the next 72 hours.

1) Welcome to Spring Training. See that guy over there? He's 28 and has never made it to the majors. He's one of those guys who didn't have amazing talent but loves the game of baseball, and he's hung around in the minors for seven years now. He actually listens to the coaches, puts in extra BP and fielding practice, and signs autographs for the kids. He knows that he'll never be a Hall of Famer, but he's hoping for that cup of coffee so he can say he played in the bigs. If anyone ever deserved a shot just on pure #want, it's this guy.

Your job is to tell him that he's being released. The dream is over.

While you're at it, do the same for the 35-year-old veteran guy who's been around for a while and stood up for you in the clubhouse when some of the young players were getting out of hand. He's being cut for a 23-year-old who thinks that he's God's gift to baseball.

When I was in grad school, I taught intro-level classes (mostly Intro to Psych and Intro to Stats) because the department highly suggested that we do so and because I needed the money. After my first quarter of teaching, I had a couple of students who had "earned" F's. For the most part, they had skipped a lot of classes and generally been surly to me when they were there. When I went to enter grades on the university website, I found myself actually hesitating. It's hard to be the one to say "You're a failure," even if the kid deserves it. Now imagine breaking the heart of a kid who's wanted this one thing all his life.

Your assignment: Find someone who has a dream and tell that person that it will never happen.

2) Your second baseman is homesick for the Dominican Republic and doesn't have a lot of friends on the team. Your left fielder has a drinking problem. Your LOOGY is having problems with his wife. You can see that it's affecting their play. Congrats. You just became a Spanish-speaking therapist, a substance abuse counselor, and a couples therapist.

I blame TV for this one. As fans, we see the three hours of actual game time. If we're lucky, we get a five-minute interview with a guy when he's in super-defensive, I'm-not-going-really-going-to-answer-much-of-anything mode. So, what does he do the other 20 hours and 55 minutes of the day? For some reason, there's this odd disconnect between the little blobs running around the TV screen and the fact that they are human beings.

I also blame the odd societal tendency to assume that just because someone has hit age 18, they have stopped growing as a person. (Think about what you were like when you were 18. Changed any?) When you get down to it, a baseball team is a collection of 20-and-30-something-year-old men, and there's a lot of development and a lot of life events that happen during that time. Guys get married, have kids, and wish that they were back home. They try to figure out what they want to be when they grow up and worry about how they'll get there. And yeah, some of them have problems.

Your assignment: Pick a co-worker/fellow student/neighbor who has a lot of problems. Tell that person that you'd really like to help. (Speaking as a former therapist, please, no one actually do this.)

3) What's your favorite type of movie? (Hey, get your mind out of the gutter!) Watch 18 consecutive hours of that type of movie from morning until night. I guarantee you that by the end of the day, you'll be wishing that the cable guy and the bored housewife would just have a nice conversation about the weather. And that's just one day.

I know that you could totally think about baseball all day (and get paid for it!) There's something interesting that happens when you do something that you love for your job. It becomes a job. And there are some days when your job, no matter how cool it is, isn't very interesting. You can walk away from your PlayStation team whenever you want. A manager doesn't have that luxury. Sometimes, guys have bad days, and the manager has to be prepared to help.

Your assignment: Get the DVD player ready.

4) Tonight, when you play your video game, I'll be sending over a couple of guys from BP who are good writers and know the game fairly well. (Colin Wyers also expressed some interest in going.) They will analyze every decision that you made during that game, show it on TV, and write about it. Tomorrow, a legion of guys who have never done your job will talk about what you did the night before on the radio.

Know how you hate performance review time at work? Now imagine that it happened every day. In public.

Your assignment: Invite your boss, several co-workers, and a few people who have no idea what you do for a living to follow you around at work/school/whatever you do. Ask them to occasionally point out all the things that you are doing wrong.

5) Oh by the way, on the video game, please put the difficulty on expert (there aren't any novices in MLB). Also, no spending five minutes getting a sandwich between innings or to think over a pinch-hitting decision in your head. Also, play with the "warmup pitchers" mode enabled.

Also, if you lose, none of that thing where you play another game to knock the taste of losing out of your mouth. Remember, in real baseball, if you lose, you have to go to bed knowing that, and you don't get to redeem yourself until the next day. (And don't do that thing where you're losing by five in the eighth inning, but the system freezes for a moment, and you hit the reset button because the system was obviously going to need it anyway. When you're winning, you wait it out. Cheater.)

Your assignment: Try to play your video game as realistically as the settings will allow. Real pitchers throw once every 20 seconds or so, not at the frenetic five-second pace that the video game pitchers do.

6) It's the ninth inning, and you're up by one. Your top two relievers are Smith and Jones, and both are fresh and available, which is great, because you're in the thick of a tight pennant race and need this game. Smith is generally better than Jones and usually gets the call here. But there's a complication today. Smith has a daughter who has a chronic medical issue. He's a private man and doesn't discuss this with the press, because he wants to keep his family out of the limelight. (Can you blame him?) He got some bad news about his daughter earlier and has been walking around with his head down all day. You've seen him like this before. He'll say he's okay, but he can't concentrate, and his performance suffers to the point where Jones would actually be the better pitcher tonight to nail down that lead.

It's easy to say that you'd go with Jones in this situation. But if you do, there will be 12 reporters in your office after the game. All of them will ask why it is that you didn't go with Smith. Is there a closer controversy? Is Smith injured? When you mumble some made-up BS about "better matchups," they'll go to Smith to ask him how he feels about losing his job as closer to Jones. And Smith definitely does not want to answer those questions tonight. If you tell the truth, but kindly ask the reporters to leave that out of the game story, some idiot will put it on Twitter anyway, because he... gets... to... break... a story! Because America has a right to know!

You could go with Smith, and hurt your team's chance of winning in the middle of a pennant race.  Maybe he blows the lead, you lose, and the team misses the playoffs by a single game. Great. You just sacrificed a great opportunity for the other 24 guys to protect one player from having to answer a couple of questions about his daughter. Maybe he gets the save anyway and you cheat death one more time.

So for whom do you ask on the bullpen phone?

Your assignment: There is no right answer. There's not even a good answer. You must live with this.

7) After the game, go to sleep knowing that one of your 25 charges might just go out, get drunk, and do something that will land him in jail. In the morning, you'll be awoken to those same 12 reporters who want to know all the details, despite the fact that you were sleeping at the time.

Your assignment: Try not to get an ulcer.

Russell A. Carleton is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Russell's other articles. You can contact Russell by clicking here

Related Content:  Managers,  Clubhouse,  Intangibles,  Skippers,  Leadership,  Playstation

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