Emotions are intense in the final week of the regular season. Teams vie for playoff spots, some veterans may be playing their last games, and young September callups are doing everything they can to make an impression. Off the field, however, emotions can run even deeper.
This is an incredibly competitive industry, one in which we get graded with a win or a loss 162 times a year and a team's merits or failures get debated via many media. That creates a stressful environment, but it also creates a very close bond with both our colleagues and our competitors. Because we're all fighting for the same prize, traveling to the same remote sandlots, and staying in the same roadside hotels, we all can empathize with the sacrifices, the joys, and the disappointments. Despite the intense competition, this empathy makes baseball a distinctly human industry.
When I first got the job with the Dodgers, I received many congratulatory calls from people around the league, most of which were filled with encouragement and advice. The call from Bill Bavasi, then GM of the Seattle Mariners, was different. Bill's father, Buzzie, had been the Dodgers' GM in both Brooklyn and Los Angeles, and Bill had been the GM of both the Angels and the Mariners, so I actively sought his advice. I told him that the reality of being the Dodger GM hadn't sunk in yet, and I was having trouble putting it into perspective. Bill's great sense of humor never failed him, and he responded, "Relax. We all have two press conferences in these jobs. The second one just isn't scheduled yet." I couldn't help but laugh.
During the final week of the season every year, though, it's difficult to laugh. Every year there are dozens of people let go by teams: scouts, player development staff, managers, Major League coaches, and GM's. Behind every one of those people are parents, kids, and spouses who can't imagine that anyone thinks their son/dad/husband didn't do a great job. There are also the competitors from other teams, who in these moments, are reduced simply to friends.
When I was let go by the Dodgers, I received more calls than when I was hired. The outpouring blew me away and continues to be one of the most cherished memories in my career. Though this is a tough business, it really is a deeply personal one.
KT's departure is an excellent example of this. His contributions to this organization are too lengthy to list, and the respect for him comes from all directions. Though these situations are always difficult, this one has been as gracious as any I can remember - partly because of the manner in which it has been handled by ownership and partly because of the person KT is.
One of my close friends turns to Hyman Roth every year at this time and simply says, "This is the business we chose." Not to over-dramatize it, but it's true. We all know the rules when we sign on. That reality, however, does not take away from the personal relationships, relationships that run far deeper than any job.
As difficult as this week is for many people around the game, the good news is that we'll be rooting for other past colleagues, friends and peers in the coming weeks as they chase that feeling of high achievement. The part of us that empathizes with the sadness this week will also be able to relish in the glee later this month, and that humanity makes this a great game.