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July 15, 2004

Breaking Balls

The Five Stages of General Manager Grief

by Derek Zumsteg

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  • One: The team isn't playing that badly. They're unlucky, not untalented. They're hitting the ball hard, but right at people. It'll turn around. We put together a competitive team, but losing streaks happen to even the best teams. We have all the pieces. See, Monday we had pitching, and Tuesday our bats came up big, and on Wednesday we played solid defense. It's just that we can't put it all together. You can see that once we're firing on all cylinders, we're going to win a lot of games.

    I look at the other teams out there, and we match up with any team in the division, any team in the league. These players have a long history of production and winning, and this isn't how the rest of the season will go. There's no way that a team we spent so much time putting together is this bad. It can't be this bad. It can't be.

  • Two: These players aren't trying. How was I supposed to know they were a bunch of quitters, all conspiring to make me look bad? Why didn't that show up on the scouting reports those idiots gave me? I'll show them what I do to lollygaggers and whiners. Someone's going to pay for this, and it's not going to be me. Other general managers sign veterans and they don't suddenly turn into guys who look at their bats with a confused puppy-dog expression like they don't understand who Mizuno is and why they're holding their bat. Other guys pick veterans off the scrap heap, give them a million dollars, and they're okay.

    How is it that all of these guys I signed are worse than what I had? Why should I have such bad luck while these other teams go on to the playoffs? Don't I deserve a wild card slot, too? I've been a good person, more or less, sort of--better than most, anyway. I've paid my dues, worked my way to this position. What am I supposed to do with this bunch of overpaid losers? Do they want more money to play well?

  • Three: No, really, do they want more money to play well? Because we can come up with more money if that's what it takes. There has to be something I can do. I understand that I made some mistakes, but it's not my fault. I brought in the left-handed power the club needed. The scouts told me he had gap power that would play well in this park. At least it's sort of worked out, right? He's not terrible. And the kid? No one liked the kid here, they said he was a bad influence, didn't fit in. I know maybe we should have kept him, but what can I do about it now?

    I know maybe the veterans were a little old, but no one could have seen them all going downhill. Not together, not like this. I have to believe they'll play better than this. Not as well as I'd expected, I can accept that, but they have to be a little better, right? Just a little better? What if we bring up a right hander to take the corner infielder spot, have him start once, twice a week? Will our first baseman hit if he's rested against lefties? What if we call up one of the kids and let him handle set-up duties against right handers, shake up the roles a little bit?

  • Four: I don't even go to the park anymore. My phone rings and it's other general managers calling. They want my players. I sat there watching the game tonight at home in the dark with the blinds closed, working my way through a fifth of Sauza Hornitos, cutting the tequila with Squirt. My phone on the coffee table kept buzzing until I kicked it off. The game was hard to watch. We can't do anything right. We can't hit, we can't pitch, we can't field. Wait, there's one thing we can do. We can lose, we can do that right. We'll show you twenty different ways to lose a game in a month. Drink a shot with every mistake this team makes and before the seventh inning stretch you'll be in the bathroom, working on bringing back the Hot Pocket you microwaved at the office.

    We give up home runs to hitters too short to ride Space Mountain. They stand there blinking, not trying to show anyone up, but they can't believe they hit one out either. Every player I gave up on in spring training is helping someone else win, while we lose. The only guys playing for us at all are the guys we brought in to fill out the 25-man at the end of spring training. I didn't even know who they are. The kids that are playing well, I thought they wouldn't be ready for two, three years. I'm the worst general manager in the game. They're going to fire me, and I won't argue with them. Maybe I can't run a team, or evaluate players, or whatever else a GM does. But I know how much tequila and Squirt go in each glass.

  • Five: It's okay. I'm going to be fine. We blew this season, I realize that. It's lost, it's not coming back. We had a chance to build a good team, and instead we built a terrible one. There's nothing I can do about that now. I admit that I was responsible, even for the errors I didn't make. I look at the team and I see the potential now. Even if I can't get rid of the mistakes, there are things I can do to get something out of this season. We can see if some of these PCL guys can play in the majors, and if they don't, no big loss. And next season, we get another crack at this.

    It's going to be hard, recovering from this. I might be fired before the recovery's complete. That's okay. I can move forward now and start work on the future, even if I'm not going to be around to see it. I'll learn from my mistakes. This time I'll pick better veterans. If they're not in free agency, I'll trade some of these kids to get them. We're going to look even harder for guys who fit into our system, who won't quit. Real gamers, dirt dogs, like we used to have. We're going to be aggressive, and before you know it, we'll be at the top of our division. We've faced this season and come out of it stronger, and more committed.

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