Former MLB catcher Brent Mayne writes a weekly catching tip on his blog dealing with different parts of the game, but mainly catching. Last week’s tip was called Anticipation. As a catcher, Brent explains that anyone can strap on the catching gear and get behind the plate. But if you, as a catcher, don’t know where the ball is going, if you can’t anticipate its path from pitcher’s fingers to ultimate destination (hopefully not over the centerfield wall), you’re not going to catch the ball. He writes that if you know where a pitcher misses with his 1-2 breaking ball most often, you can cheat toward that spot behind the plate. “Half the battle is over.”
Baseball really is a game about anticipating. Yes, it’s great if your outfield coach knows where to position Torii Hunter when Joe Mauer is at the plate, based upon the tendencies of where Mauer usually hits balls off certain pitchers in certain game situations. It’s important for a manager to anticipate what another manager will do if he brings in a lefty to face a lefty late in the game. Will there be a counter-move? What move should be made to counter the counter-move? On the field, knowing what’s going to happen before it happens can set one team apart from the others.
It’s the same off the field from both a team and player perspective. No decision is made by a baseball team without first thinking about the corresponding reaction to a certain initial action. Think of when a team trades for a player just to keep that player from getting traded to a rival. Don’t make the trade and the rival gets the player and beats you senseless down the stretch in September. Making the trade certainly keeps the player away from hurting you, but what about the players you traded? Will you pay the price down the line for giving up too much too soon?
Beyond that, there are other decisions a team makes where they should anticipate. Think about public relations. In his glory days, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner would fire off statements to the press about the performance of a team or a manager. Steinbrenner knew it would create headlines and stories. But he also knew that, in most cases, it would cause a certain reaction from the player or manager, presumably a reaction to help the team win more games. It was Steinbrenner’s anticipation of how a situation would play out that would determine what he said in his statement and when it was said. It didn’t always work in Steinbrenner’s favor, but his words weren’t created and spread in a vacuum.
If only the New York Mets had watched the way Steinbrenner used to work. While in the same town as the Yankees, you can understand how different these two organizations are just by the events of the past week. Scathing articles comes out about someone in the front office. GM responds publicly, but speaks poorly (and shows up an hour late for the press conference). After more negative stories break, the team fires the front office exec but fails with the message by lashing out at the reporter who broke the story that started the whole mess. The story gets bigger rather than smaller. Now not only does the GM look bad but ownership appears weak and petty. The team disappoints on the field and it seems to travel throughout the entire organization on an upward slope. All while the Yankees go 9 and 1 on their most recent homestand, expanding a first-place lead in the AL East.
The problem with the Mets was their failure to properly anticipate. By showing up late and appearing to not be prepared, by letting emotion dictate responses to questions rather than coming in with prepared answers to anticipated questions, Mets GM Omar Minaya looked bad. Never considered a great public speaker, his reputation in that realm took another negative hit. And then, in the press conference announcing the firing of the front office executive, Tony Bernazard, the Mets didn’t anticipate what the reaction would be to the personal attack on the writer who broke the story. They didn’t realize how vindictive they’d look. They didn’t realize how the media would rally around their counterpart and attack the organization with all of their might. The Mets found themselves with a surprising 3-game winning streak on the field but a 1-week losing streak off of it.
Players make the same mistakes. Did Alex Rodriguez and “his people” properly anticipate the reaction to his admission to not one, but three years of steroid use and then his subsequent attack on Selena Roberts after she broke the story? Did Wade Boggs, back in the 1980s, anticipate when he started having an affair on his wife that the girlfriend would go public? Did Darryl Strawberry anticipate his life falling apart and out of control by signing with the Dodgers in 1991 instead of staying in New York with the Mets? Was Randy Johnson using his skills of anticipation when demanding a trade to the Yankees from Arizona earlier this decade?
If you see Johnson was traded back to Arizona almost exactly 2 years to the day later, the answer is a resounding No. If you know Strawberry found himself released by the Dodgers within 3 years and the Giants less than a year after that, the answer is No. If you remember Boggs going to court after getting sued by his former paramour for not paying her for the four years she traveled with him on the road, then we know Boggs thought with one part of his body when that whole thing started, and it wasn’t his brain. If you remember Thurman Munson and Cory Lidle dying in plane crashes, crashes where they were at the controls of the planes, you wonder if they ignored what others anticipated happening. Did Bret Saberhagen think about public reaction before throwing bleach at reporters or firecrackers at the feet of fans? Did former pitcher and current announcer Rick Sutcliffe anticipate the public apologies that had to be made by his employer after appearing drunk on camera? Lack of anticipation behind the plate is the same as in front of it. If you don’t think about where the ball, or your life, is heading, your battle can get even harder.
The game is all about knowing what’s going to happen next. Some of it is common sense. If you cheat, on the field or off, you’ll likely get caught sometime. How do you keep from getting caught? Better yet, how do you respond when the inevitable occurs? Anticipation can solve much of that future emotional distress. Whether you’re in the front office, in the bedroom, or hugging the third base line in a close September ballgame anticipating the next play, your next move is paramount to succeeding in the Big League Life. Because if you don’t, you can lose a lot more than baseball games.
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