In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell does a tremendous job exposing the link between “success” and “opportunity.” Essentially (for those of you who haven’t read it), Gladwell looks at a variety of successful people and makes the point that many of them were given unique opportunities to practice their vocation, gain mastery, and achieve success. Talent alone rarely gets it done.
Of course, opportunity does not ensure success, but it does seem to be a critical component of it. In other words, without opportunity it’s awfully tough sledding.
Which brings us to baseball, and to life, I guess, and guys like Jeremy Hefner and Josh Satin, Juan Lagares and Jordany Valdespin, Zach Wheeler and Ike Davis. Ballplayers, just like everybody else, need opportunities. Real chances.
Unfortunately, opportunity is a rare gift, teams can’t hand them out to just anybody. There are games to win, and choices to make.
Unfairness — if that’s the word — is a fact of life, and it’s a fact of baseball. Begining in Little League on up, the big kid who can hit the ball a mile will continually get shots to succeed, even if he’s an overall unproductive hitter, with a crappy attitude, etc. Why? Because he can hit the ball a mile and you can’t teach that stuff. Same thing with hard-throwers. Try teaching a kid to throw 95 MPH and tell me how it goes.
In the professional ranks, it happens with draft picks. The guy taken in the 2nd Round will get a much longer look (read: opportunity to succeed) than the 12th Rounder. That’s life. It’s not exactly unfair, either, since the kid earned that slot through years of play. With the late draft pick, it’s the opposite; he begins with two proverbial strikes against him, almost no room for failure. That kind of player has to force his way into a team’s plans. The wonderful thing is that some of those late-bloomers develop a tough hide in the process. They compete harder, dig deeper, get tougher. They love proving the experts wrong.
And they are fun to root for, too.
I have always liked Jeremy Hefner . . . as a long man. As a Darren Oliver type. As Mike would say, that’s no insult. I highly value that commodity, probably more than most GMs in the game today, considering that it’s something of a disappearing role in modern baseball. Maybe I just never got over having guys like Don Cardwell and Dick Selma around. Good for a spot start, good for 3-4 innings of relief when needed. Anyway, I never dreamed of the day that Hefner would fill out the bottom of the Mets championship rotation. I was ready to label him and confine him to a box. These days, he’s made a case for a larger role.
The beauty of baseball is that at the end of the day, what we think about a player is meaningless compared against actual performance on the field. After a while, our thoughts need to catch up with reality. It is time to recalibrate.
At the same time, there’s guys like John Buck. He hit .192 last season, and has enjoyed exactly one MLB season when he’s hit above .250. So when Buck was going batshit crazy in the first two weeks of April, it was not yet time to rethink things. It was time to remind ourselves about “small sample size” and wait, and watch, and hope we were wrong (in this case, nope: 33-year-old John Buck failed to magically transform into something other than John Buck).
I believe that almost no matter who you are, you will get a shot. No, not every one gets the same opportunities, not at all, but most of us get a chance to impress the boss, or meet an influential person, or come up with the game on the line (so to speak). Some chances are slimmer than others. Meet Jeremy and Josh (sounds like new Disney recording artists).
After struggling out of the gate, Jeremy Hefner has put up these numbers during his last 5 starts for the Mets: 31 IP, 6 ER, 28 K, 6 BB, 3 WINS, 0 LOSES.
Since his call up to the Mets, Josh Satin has stepped up to the plate 66 times and produced this triple-slash line: .382/.485/.600 for an OPS of 1.085.
And that’s the thing with opportunities: You’ve got to make ‘em count. Even if you aren’t the right age, or your timetable is off, or maybe just nobody ever really believed in you. I’ve mentioned this before, it’s a lesson that keeps coming up for me, so it’s my big takeaway from blogging this season.
Hey, you never know, you never do know.
That’s baseball, that’s life, again and again. We have an idea of how things might turn out, and we plan accordingly, but you constantly have to readjust to the realities. If you are open-minded and alive, you learn that some guys will surprise you in all sorts of ways.
And pardon the interruption, but I’ve got to share this. I’ve got two new children’s books coming out today — it’s pub day! — so check out this 44-second trailer. Maybe you know a kid who should be reading this summer and isn’t quite ready for The Bill James Baseball Abstract.