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Scenes from Spring Training: Even the phenoms pay their dues

Feb 26, 2011, 12:35 PM EDT

Mike Trout

Last night I was on a radio show, and the host asked me why we don’t tend to see prima donna baseball players making demands on their teams the way we do in the NBA and the NFL.

There are a lot of reasons, of course. For one thing, no one baseball player is as important to a baseball team’s prospects as a single basketball player or skilled NFL player can be to their teams, thus depriving a would-be baseball diva of any real leverage. Another is that, by virtue of college and prep baseball having a very low profile compared to college basketball or football, no one comes to professional baseball already a superstar.

Finally, there’s just the cultural difference: baseball tends to breed and reward conformity and tends to punish non-conformity.  That’s partially for the reasons stated, but partially because that’s just the culture of the game. The upshot: even if you’re the number one prospect in all of baseball, you gotta pay your dues.  And Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels is no different.

Not that he would be if the culture of baseball were different. He seems like a nice young man who is polite to his elders (who is everyone) and respectful of his place in the hierarchy. But even if he were inclined to be a hotshot, outside of a handful of prospect hounds and hardcore Angels fans, there really isn’t anyone telling him (or any other hot prospect) that he’s all that.  It’s quite the contrary, actually, as is readily apparent based on a scan around the Angels’ clubhouse.

When you walk in, you notice a nice spacious area to the left with wide lockers and plenty of room to relax.  In front of those lockers sit Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, Vernon Wells and the other veterans, all in seeming comfort.

Trout’s locker, in contrast, is crammed in a corner where 15 guys share very limited real estate, and some of them even share a locker.  On this morning in Tempe, the limited space was even further limited by the fact that the clubhouse attendants were using the floor in front of rookie corner to stage and fill equipment bags. This despite the fact that there was much more room over in the Hunter/Abreu/Wells section.  As Trout and his fellow youngins sat in preparation of the day’s activities, their arms were drawn in to their sides and their knees were up, much like passengers on an overbooked flight.

The NFL has rookie hazing in training camp. The NBA probably does too.  But I get the distinct impression that young baseball players pay higher social dues over a long period of time.  This doesn’t make baseball any better.  Indeed, this socialization program is what makes ballplayers a lot more boring and cliched than their counterparts in the other sports. It also likely the basis for a system in which the boat is rarely if ever rocked anymore, even if the boat needs a good rocking.  It’s just a different scene with different good and bad points.

After taking in the clubhouse atmosphere a bit I walked over to Trout, climbing over equipment bags in the process.  We engaged in the most cursory of chitchat before he said the most significant thing I imagine he’ll say all spring:  He’s happy to be here. He just wants to help the ballclub. He’s looking forward to learn whatever he can from Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, Bobby Abreu and the other veteran Angels.

What, you were expecting a demand that he be traded to the Knicks?

  1. spudchukar - Feb 26, 2011 at 1:05 PM

    The nature of the game has a built in humbling mechanism. Even the most highly touted hitters know they fail more often than they succeed. They have probably all experienced 0fers. The can’t miss hurlers have been taken deep, couldn’t find the strikezone, and have felt arm pain. Baseball is harder. That’s why we love it. A Prima Dona’s attitude isn’t met with disdain in the Bigs, but laughter.

    • baseballisboring - Feb 26, 2011 at 5:44 PM

      Well said. Baseball is hardly comparable to any other sport when it comes to the sheer difficulty of playing it at a high level. It’s damn near impossible, really.

  2. macjacmccoy - Feb 26, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    Well lets be real the NFL and the NBA are mostly populated by African Americans and the MLB is not. It might sound a lil racist and I dont mean it to be but its the truth. Look at the players that are considered divas in the NFL and NBA not 1 of them are white or latino players. So your are right in the since that its a cultural thing because acting that way is all part of the hip hop black culture and isnt part of the latino and white cultures. Im not saying this bc I have anything against the hip hop culture bc thats the only music I listen to its just the truth. So why do African American athletes act like that who play baseball and football and not baseball. I think it has to do with how many of those guys are in each league. In the NFL and NBA they are the majority so they feel more comfortable acting that way bc its excepted way of acting but in major league baseball they are the minority so acting like a diva would be totally off putting and at odds with the life style of the majority of the players in the league. This is a hard subject to talk about bc the truth is uncomftable to most people and they get angry when they hear someone speak it but if your going to bring up a topic or join in a dicussion about it you should be prepared to hear the truth and accept it or you just shouldnt be involved in the talk at all.

    • naterysavy - Feb 26, 2011 at 3:40 PM

      Brett Favre would roll over in his grave if he heard you say that there weren’t any white divas in the NFL.

    • The Baseball Idiot - Feb 26, 2011 at 4:09 PM

      Ever heard of Jeremy Schockey?

    • kinggw - Feb 26, 2011 at 4:16 PM

      Your truth is not a truth but a sweeping generalization based on stereotypes. And yes it was very racist.

      There are divas in every sport, baseball included. Alex Rodriguez is a diva, Miguel Cabrera is a problem, and Josh Hamilton was once strung out on crack, so dont give me the there are no problems with white and latino cultures. Jerks come in every color in the spectrum so I dont know why you feel the need to single out blacks.

      The reason why baseball players seem to have a better success rate is that they along with the NHL have fully functional minor league systems. In the NFL and NBA once your drafted you are in the big time. The way the NFL and NBA are structured doesnt allow for players to mature on and off the field. There is no buffer between the amateur ranks and the highest level. It has absolutely nothing to do with race.

      Your post is just the stereotypical opinion of someone who seems to be taken aback that blacks dominate the landscape in the NFL and NBA. So naturally you glorify the sport where blacks dont have as large a presence. Just because you used the term African American and say you dont have anything against blacks it doesnt excuse the fact that your post is bigoted and devoid of facts. The next time you want to make a bold statement, why dont you make it fact based instead of depending on your ignorant beliefs.

    • baseballisboring - Feb 26, 2011 at 5:57 PM

      FYI…you might as well leave out all the “this might sound racist…” or “not to be racist…” stuff next time, because it never makes a comment any less racist if it is, indeed, racist. I’m sure there are white divas all over every sport, but they don’t get covered by the media as much…I mean, Michael Young? Imagine if Milton Bradley or Matt Kemp threw the same types of hissy fits over having to move positions that he did…they would be crucified in the press.

      In my opinion, most people are more racist than they realize. Even if they don’t openly or consciously hate black people, we’re trained in this country to think in generalities. That’s why I honestly think that the media, even if it’s subconsciously, spends more time attacking the character of black and latino players…it’s just easier. And the inverse of that is when you have guys like Torii Hunter and Curtis Granderson, who are just SUCH great guys and SO articulate. Why do we need to point that every time they speak on camera? Because we expect less from black players. Don’t think in generalities.

    • cur68 - Feb 27, 2011 at 1:23 AM

      Well, it seems I’m piling on at a late date, but I just gotta say something. So as the famous announcer once said; “he is most definitely brunette” and, as such, and having read & re-read your post, propping my mouth shut a few times along the way, I gotta ask; why’d you say all that? I mean do you read these posts? As far as I can tell, most folks read and comment on this particular blog because there is no way to tell who’s who really. For all you know most of us could be “African American” or the like (I’m the like). Fact is we all seem to like it here because we enjoy a nice civilized discussion about why our fellow commentators are dunces and we are brighter. It has nothing to do with what we all look like and everything to do with a sense of time & place and the firing off of a good quip at someone’s expense, and, by and large civility (with a few exceptions but they learn not to get so worked up eventually; guilty!) and, certainly for me, we like it that way. No need to take a simple and rather charming piece by Craig about a nice kid in California who’s lucky enough to play pro sports for a living and turn it into a diatribe against one group or another. Save that stuff for people who do that all the time and get used to small mindedness because I haven’t found much of that here.

  3. spudchukar - Feb 26, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    Do Jayson Williams and Todd Marinovich ring a bell?

  4. Mike Luna - Feb 26, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    To be fair, there are some players that start out their MLB careers valued well above other prospects.

    Sometimes a big time draftee will hold out on signing until he gets a multi-million dollar bonus (Mark Tesh-air-uh, Bryce Harper, etc.) or he’ll just duck out of the process and elect to go to college instead (Matt Purke). Of course, once you get past the 1st Round picks that seems significantly less common.

    Once they’re in the system, nobody seems to give much of a crap if they were a 1st Round pick or a 101st Round pick.

    Being from Dallas, I got to hear all about Dez Bryant refusing to carrying Roy Williams’ pads last year. I’m sure the veterans in MLB would have a lot more to say about a similar incident with a hot shot pitching prospect or center fielder.

  5. poreef - Feb 26, 2011 at 1:40 PM

    Well, MLB players also have actual labor rights. I suspect if NFL players had something resembling guaranteed contracts, they wouldn’t feel a need to go around shouting about how important they are quite so much.

    The closest analog to the baseball minor leagues is probably found in hockey. There, you really pay dues for a long time (it’s a big deal to get into a junior league in high school, people move just like tennis stars) and the culture, let’s say, would look down upon a prima donna.

  6. metalhead65 - Feb 26, 2011 at 1:52 PM

    poreef, excuse me if I do not feel sorry for nfl players contracts not being guaranteed. they get thier money when they sign thier contract whether they do anything after they sign it or not,see j russell for a prime example.then they whine when somebody else makes more than them a year because that player took less of a bonus.

    • poreef - Feb 26, 2011 at 1:56 PM

      “they get thier money when they sign thier contract whether they do anything after they sign it or not”

      I don’t think you understand what “contract not being guaranteed” means.

      • poreef - Feb 26, 2011 at 2:01 PM

        Well, Joe Dimaggio actually was a prima donna, but you get the point.

        http://joyofsox.blogspot.com/2007/11/joe-dimaggio-on-his-1938-holdout.html

        Because their contracts aren’t guaranteed, they have to renegotiate contracts (through “prima donna” behavior like a holdout) so that the next year actually pays them something they can live on for the next 40. Because there may not be a paycheck the year after next no matter their performance.

  7. crankyfrankie - Feb 26, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    Watching rookie pitchers no matter how talented carry out the bag of snacks in a hello kitty backpack or victorias secret shopping bag during the entire season is the not so subtle way MLB players to not get too cocky.

  8. ta192 - Feb 26, 2011 at 5:24 PM

    Serious question: Is there any way that Macjac… could have made his point and not been considered racist? It IS a truthful observation that basketball and football are dominated by blacks, hockey by whites, and baseball by whites and latinos. Why can’t anyone mention cultural differences and biases without being characterized as racist? How can you talk about the different cultures in different leagues without raising this flag?

    • scatterbrian - Feb 26, 2011 at 6:39 PM

      Because culture and race aren’t the same thing.

      • ta192 - Feb 26, 2011 at 7:07 PM

        Does that mean you can’t discuss the racial component of culture?

      • scatterbrian - Feb 26, 2011 at 7:38 PM

        I’m not telling anyone what they can or can’t discuss. But discussing the racial component of a culture is, by definition, racist.

      • ta192 - Feb 26, 2011 at 8:46 PM

        That’s just PC carried to absurdity.

    • cur68 - Feb 27, 2011 at 1:41 AM

      ta192; was it even a point that needed making here? Seriously, the guy’s entitled to his opinion an all, but was that opinion really something worth putting out there much less worth defending by you? It’s basically a reductive series of statements with no sense of deeper thought, context or even much sense of the very different grooming aspects of the rookie cultures across professional sports. This is very unlike Craig’s article which took the trouble to point why differences might exist and a flat out admission that its complex, which is true. It is complex and not easy to explain and most of us don’t really want it reduced to “they look like that; that’s why” type arguments. Lets face it, that crap is hurtful. If you’re halfway bright you have a sense of it, but if you’re not you’ll do something like this. I think, with the possible exception of you and a few others, old Macjac misjudged his audience.

      • ta192 - Feb 27, 2011 at 2:11 AM

        Just asked a question, which nobody has yet answered directly…I think Scatterbrain was trying to say “no, there is no way to bring up such without being painted a racist”, but he didn’t. And now, you accuse me of being a racist without apparently understanding my original question. I think that’s PC run amok…

      • cur68 - Feb 27, 2011 at 2:43 AM

        ta192; nah, that’s just me up late after a long day then reading that crap. I really can’t tell which way you lean beyond you seem to think he has a right to say whatever he likes and there is no way for him to have said what he said without being perceived as he’s been. Trouble is what he said was relatively racist. There’s probably worse things said by worse people ( I don’t know the guy and some of his other comments have been ok; he can’t be all bad – few are). You ask how could he have made his point without the racist tag being hung on him? Well just like Craig did, I imagine. With some thought, some consideration of the differences involved, with some understanding of context, and shades of distinction and historical perspective. What he did was reduce history, culture, environment, individual personality, basic human dignity, socio-economic and ecologic influences to a series of sweeping statements with a simple conclusion. It showed bias, lack of thought and ridiculously naive belief that he had some right to say these things. Unless he walks a mile in my shoes how dare he think he can explain me? By what right does have to reduce the circumstances of so many people with such simple statements? I’ve always thought that the privilege of free speech implied some thought first. Clearly other’s feel different.

      • ta192 - Feb 27, 2011 at 2:19 PM

        OK, I’ll exit this discussion with one further thought. I think it is dangerous and counterproductive for a society to forbid the discussion and examination of any idea or concept. I am not like some, I do not believe that censorship exists ONLY in the form of prior restraint. Immediately attacking anyone that voices a controversial or unpopular opinion with labels such as “racist”, “communist”, “fascist”, etc is a form of censorship and smothers the debate by turning it into a grad school name calling contest. If you wish to make sure someone is a racist, let them talk…they’re their own worst enemy.

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