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Bull Durham and C.J. Wilson

For those of you who do not like references to movies, TV shows, or songs from the 80s or early 90s, please skip this post.



I left last night's game in the top of the 9th inning.  I almost left before the top of the 9th started, because I was feeling too on edge about watching the Rangers try to hold a 1 run lead, and after the Vazquez error, I said, no more, I can't watch any more.  I listened to the winning runs score on the radio.

Really, the point to me where I felt that the Rangers were going to blow the lead came when Kenji Johjima was hit on a 2-2 pitch.  I haven't read through the game day thread, but I have to think the reaction here was much like my reaction at the time...w, t, f.  You just can't hit a terrible hitter in that situation with two strikes on him.

But it also got me thinking about the whole C.J. Wilson situation, and all the sort of ancillary things that have been mentioned in regards to him in the press, and the hostility that has been directed towards the media in the way he's been covered.  The idea is that what C.J. does off the field doesn't have anything to do with his performance on the field, and the media shouldn't be talking about the off-the-field stuff in regards to whether he should be the closer.

And there is merit to that.  Ideally, one shouldn't have anything to do with the other.

But I also think back to that scene where Crash Davis is haranguing Nuke LaLoosh for having fungus on his shower shoe.  Crash says:

Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You'll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you'll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press'll think you're colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.

And I think Ron Shelton (the former minor leaguer who wrote and directed Bull Durham) is reflecting the perception of players within the locker room.  When C.J. Wilson saves 40 games, he can shave his head when he blows a save, be indiscreet in his comments about former teammates in interviews, post his thoughts on the internet, and do all the other things that makes us love having him on our team, and it won't be an issue.  He'll be looked at like, say, Curt Schilling. 

He'll be colorful.

But when he publicly lobbies for the role of the closer, makes it clear he wants the responsibility of having the role that probably has more impact on the psyche of a team than just about any other position on the diamond, and struggles with it, while doing all the things that end up drawing attention to him, I think it runs the risk of raising questions in the clubhouse and among his teammates. 

That's something that isn't so much of an issue if C.J. is just a middle reliever or a setup guy, or if he were just another guy in the rotation.  But I think it is something that has the potential to be a problem, in terms of (and I hate to use the word) team chemistry, when it involves the closer.

And my guess is that, when Evan Grant, for example, writes about issues of perception and questions about where C.J.'s focus and priorities are, some of the reason why he's writing it isn't because of whether he, or the rest of the media, or the fans, think that it is detracting from C.J.'s ability to do the job.  I think that those points end up being made because the writer believes it reflects concerns among the players about whether it detracts from C.J.'s ability to do the job...something that is a lot more germane than what we think.

I've never played pro ball.  Didn't play in college or high school, either.  So I can't speak to this from personal experience.

But it does seem that there tends to be a groupthink mentality among athletes in pro sports.  And I think that's natural...anytime you have a collection of young men who are thrust together in a unique situation and who spend a lot of time with each other, and not so much with outsiders, having such a mentality is normal.  There's a certain level of conformity that is expected amongst your peers.

Breaking out of that conformity isn't necessarily a bad thing.  But it comes with a price, I think.