Kobritz: How do baseball players cope with losing 2/3 of their games?
Beyond the Lines
“There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time, I owe him my best.” Joe DiMaggio.
Yankees’ centerfielder Joe DiMaggio was one of the greatest Major League Baseball players of all time and acknowledged as the most graceful ballplayer ever. The quote above, from the April 4, 1951 edition of The Sporting News, was in response to a question asking why he was giving 100% late in the season when the Yankees had already clinched the pennant, rather than taking it easy and resting up for the World Series like most of his teammates.
At least eight Major League Baseball teams are in rebuild mode this season. With a third of the season in the books, four teams were on pace to lose at least 100 games and eight more could lose 90. Players on losing teams are in for a long season. A professional athlete, including baseball players who average over $4 million per year, wants to win every contest, regardless of the stakes or the amount of their paycheck.
So how do they cope with losing two-thirds of their games?
Although athletes are different from the average person - e.g., in speed, strength and dexterity – they do experience typical human emotions. Some are laid back, others are intense; some can let the game go immediately after the last out while others replay every pitch for hours on end. Rookies and younger players may be happy just to be in the big leagues, earning the MLB minimum of $545,000, twenty times the amount earned by the average Triple-A player. Veterans and those at the end of their careers may be hoping for a mid-summer trade to a contender, which would provide a shot at the postseason and the chance to win a ring.
Athletes aren’t the only ones affected by losing. It also hits owners in their pockets and may be even worse for fans. When a team is losing, all but the diehards find other places to go instead of the ballpark. But no one bears the brunt of losing day after day more than the players. It’s tough to show up at the ballpark, put a smile on your face, and maintain an optimistic outlook knowing the odds of winning that day’s game are against you. Over a 162-game season, there are many more lows than highs.
Losing takes a toll on an athlete physically, mentally and emotionally, but being a professional means always giving your best, regardless of the circumstances. Those who do otherwise cheat themselves and the fans who buy a ticket to watch them play.
The Yankees were a powerhouse during DiMaggio’s 13-year career - he played in 10 World Series – so he never experienced the losing that comes with a rebuild. Even if he had, there’s no doubt fans who paid to see him play would have gotten their money’s worth. For the integrity of the game, players on today’s losing teams would do well to emulate DiMaggio.
Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at email@example.com.