Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Last Week

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.

15 comments:

Matt D said...

Mr. DePodesta -

I'm a current college student working a couple of jobs within the industry and hope to break into Baseball Operations somewhere within the next few years. I've never posted to you before but I'd like you to know that your honesty and insight have done nothing but strengthen not only my love for baseball but the hundreds of other factors that make up, as you call it, the human element of the game. Best of luck to you and the Padres moving forward Mr. DePodesta, I can assure you I'll be following along.

- Matt in Phoenix

Michael Gonzales said...

1st blog post in a while depo...due to recent news, I now understand why.

I just want to say on behalf of every San Diego fan, and every fan of baseball, thank you.

I've always taken great pride in having KT steer our ship. When you came on board I was stoked. Anyone who follows baseball knows you both are some of the smartest guys in this sport, and it kills me to see you guys go. If I had the money, I'd buy the team and keep you guys.

Good luck in the future. Whatever team scoops you up will be lucky.

Paul DePodesta said...

Michael,

Thanks for the kind words, but you're still stuck with me.

planetjeffy said...

Paul,
Since KT has another year left on his contract (for darn cheap if you ask me), could we have traded him to another team for a starting pitcher or something?

David said...

Well put, Paul.

Your thoughtfulness and time has never been more appreciated.

field39 said...

How are people supposed to buy into the perfectly good caricagture of you, when you spoil it with a thoughtful and empathetic piece like this?

thank you

SammyG said...

Glad they are keeping you Paul, softens the blow of KT leaving. (who I expect to be employed as a GM very shortly).

GM-Carson said...

Mike Adams just finished one of the best seasons for a relief pitcher in the history of the game in terms of ERA and WHIP, yet nobody seems to have noticed.

Link- http://morehardball.blogspot.com/2009/10/mike-adams-historical-season.html

We'd appreciate the plug, and will return the favor.

Andre said...

Paul,

Thanks very much for the update and once again for the blog also. The news of the Pads losing KT, his Hawaiian shirts, affable nature and exceptional sludge-merchantry was pretty disappointing. To me, more than losing a Jake. No players coming back or monies freed up for others and the loss of a guy who has steered a franchise for so long. And he honestly seemed to live and love the part.

I hope he lands a sweet position soon and has great success in all his endeavors that aren't versus the Pads.

And Paul. Gotta say, after the KT firing and your prolonged absence, I was fearing the worst. Glad to see you're still on board and that I don't have to read another team's 'potentially dangerous' blog!

Cheers!

Mike said...

Paul,

Well said. Well done.

Catfight Report said...

This was a good article.

Even with the economic realities as they are, I think the Padres are going to be well positioned in the future.

Not to mention, I think the Padres are positioned to benefit from the economic downturn as you might get players at bargain rates who simply want a starting job.

The human element is always a tough one, but most of the people in baseball seem to be professionals about it.

A high OBP Milton Bradley with a couple of good hitters behind him could make for success in 2010.

Hopefully, the patience at the plate will become contagious as the Pads could use a lot more of it.

I don't think the young pitchers are far behind either. KT was a good one, but in my opinion all is well in San Diego

Itay said...

Paul,

I understand why a new ownership would like to instill its own people (but not necessarily agree with it). Can you evaluate how teams react to such drastic changes? Especially a young team where many players may feel related to the GM that gave them their first opportunity? Is it similar to a regular GM replacement?

Josh Elwell said...

Thanks for the openness, Paul. Any chance you're poking a stick around other front offices to get some of your colleagues into the blogosphere? I wouldn't mind a period of glasnost in the baseball community, ha, and with what you're doing here (and KT has been doing with the media since he started) maybe it's happening.

Also, if you have time, I'd be interested to hear what you have to say about what planetjeffy brought up with trading a GM in the middle of a contract. We've seen it before with Managers (Lou Piniella for Randy Winn) but is this even allowed with GMs?

Paul DePodesta said...

Itay,

That's a good question, and I really don't know the answer as this is the first change like this I've experienced (at least when it wasn't me...). However, though many of our players are young, I'm sure they've already experienced this side of the business with trades, releases, coaching changes, etc.

WebSoulSurfer said...

Paul,

Glad to see you were not part of the Putsch.

After what many were calling his best season ever, it was surprising to see KT let go.

I hope that he signs on with a team with a bigger payroll than the ones he was saddled with for so long in San Diego.

I was also surprised to find out you were not interested in the GM job here. Was that truly the case or were you not considered for the position?