Then the rift happened. Frank Wren refused to give Smoltz what Smoltz thought he deserved, but it was pretty easy to dismiss him. Smoltz was known for his competitive fire, but he could also be stubborn. You could love Smoltz like a brother, but you knew the parents were making the right decision by not giving him everything he wanted.
Glavine was a bit harder, though. He was always the consummate professional, always polite, and wasn’t asking for the moon. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury during Spring Training that kept him out of the starting rotation, and when Tommy Hanson blew through AAA hitters, the Braves had to make a decision—put Glavine in the rotation or let the rookie begin his career. The Braves chose Hanson. Glavine was understandably upset, and I had no idea how to feel. On one hand, Glavine wasn’t the best choice for the rotation, but on the other, this seemed disrespectful. Didn’t Glavine deserve one more chance? Would two or three starts hurt the Braves that much? But I knew the Braves made the right decision.
And you knew it pained the Braves to make that move as well. We often see front offices as the unemotional tyrants of the franchise, but I see them more as parents. They want the best for their children, but they know they also have the responsibility of making the decision, some of which require tough love. While the Braves may not have handled the situation perfectly, they handled it the best they believed they could. I imagine the Braves liked Glavine as a person, and they didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I imagine they wanted to do right by him. And I imagine they also knew that, no matter what, the end wasn’t going to be pretty.
Because in the end, it’s up to the player for things to end well. That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a player, but it’s true. Players are competitive by nature. It’s that drive that made them better than 99.99999% of the people they faced. It’s that drive that got them to the majors. It’s that drive that made them successful major-league players. We cheer them on and laud them for this while they are playing well, but we often forget the side effect—that drive makes it harder to walk away. Smoltz wore those emotions on his sleeve, and as he kept pushing to pitch in the majors, you knew he wouldn’t stop until both of his arms literally fell off. Glavine was less overt about it, but you knew it was there. When the Braves had to tell both of these players “no”, it was going to end one way or the other, but it was up to the players.
Player thrive on doing the improbable, and when they are told they are aging/declining, it seems like just one more hurdle to jump. They don’t feel much different than the past year or the year before, but they’ve long forgotten the energy of their youth. And when baseball is the one thing you’ve always done, it’s hard to imagine your life without it. And when you’ve always been told you’re the best, it’s hard to be told that you’re not for the first time. Anger and frustration are really the only rational emotional reactions to this. It’s actually somewhat surprising when someone has a “rational” reaction to this because it’s not rational. The goal these people have been working toward their entire life is over. It’s acceptable to scream.
So when episodes like the Posada situation come up, I’m not sure it’s right to blame anyone. Posada is having the response we should expect. We know it’s somewhat “irrational”, but that’s also because we are so far removed from the situation. Teams know and love the players, and they understand the situation will be difficult. But how do they handle it? Is there a way to explain the situation and have the player respond in a calm manner? Because when it comes down to it, it’s all about how the player responds. It’s only when he responds negatively that it becomes news. Then, we struggle against our affection for the player and team. It’s not a good situation. It’s certainly not an easy situation. Sometimes, we run up against situations that are just … difficult. There’s really nothing we can do except try to understand where the sides are coming from. There really isn’t a great way to handle it.