There are limits, I think, about how much professional sports and professional athletes can teach us. Sports are ultimately best consumed as entertainment. When sports figures actually try to teach us life lessons, they’re usually in the form of really bad, gimmicky business management or motivational books that are better used as kindling for the fire rather than for the mind.
But they can, on occasion, teach by example. Reader DLF thinks Bobby Cox did so, anyway:
Beyond just missing him in the dugout, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned from him.
In my professional life, I am a director of a business unit with about 200 employees. They don’t pitch, hit or field, but they have a job to do and I manage that team. From Bobby, I’ve learned that downward loyalty creates upward loyalty. I’ve learned that I should praise my team in public, but not do so too much or it will create unrealistic expectations.
I’ve learned that I should criticize only in private where it may lead to constructive growth without public shaming of the miscreant. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to argue with the umpires — in my case the CEO and board of directors — because they don’t always see what really happened.
I’ve learned that personnel and policy decisions should be made slowly and not changed on a whim. I’ve learned that every member of the team has a role to play and that if they don’t want to play that role, they need to be on another team. I’ve learned that rookies can come in and contribute. I’ve learned that people who are purportedly bit players, if placed in the right role, can find ways to really shine and make all of us better.
I’ve learned humility in victory and unfortunately I’ve learned restraint in defeat. Unlike Bobby Cox, I’m not one of the best of all time at what I do, but I’m better at it from learning from him.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.