Thursday, September 27, 2012

Now There's a Tragic Waste of Brutal Youth - A Reaction to the Snider Saga

Photo courtesy @james_in_to.

It's rare that we get a thoughtfully candid retelling of how a player's relationship to a franchise soured, and rarer still that we get one so soon after the player left. Which is why many of us have spent recent days pouring over minute details in Shi Davidi's three-part story on Travis Snider's departure, and the events that led to it.

I can understand why many fans want to move on, and don't care to rehash the Travis Snider saga any further. For some, Snider's performance here in Toronto doesn't nearly warrant all of the angst that has been displayed by his fans. For others, retracing the steps that led to his exit seems to be more misery than a stressed-out, heartbroken Jays fan can take at this point.

And yet, the curiosity around what really happened to the Jays' former number one prospect is almost impossible to resist. For those of us who have spent the last five years agonizing over Snider,  his progress - or lack thereof - has been a source of frustration and bewilderment. Getting a bit more "dirt" on what many of us have suspected was a strained relationship at the best of times is irresistible.

But we shouldn't mistake the story as just a salacious rehash. What happened with Travis Snider matters going forward, because many of the key figures in this from the Blue Jays' side of the story - Alex Anthopoulos, John Farrell, Paul Beeston - are still actively setting the course for the future of the franchise. Their approach to Snider's development should be scrutinized, as should their self-evaluation for how they believe they did. The story paints a picture of a development plan that was improvised at best, and careless at worst. But for the most part, the Jays brain trust remains mostly unapologetic about their handling of Snider.

This is obviously subjective, but to my reading, no one comes off less sympathetic in the story than Cito Gaston. And while it might seem as though that shouldn't matter, it bothers me that he will continue to have a voice in the Blue Jays' front office so long as Beeston remains ensconced as the team's president. This is the man who ran John Olerud out of town for not being more of a pull hitter; who benched Shawn Green in favour of Ruben Sierra; and ultimately, who helped to diminish the value of Travis Snider.

But he's got his World Series rings, so I guess I should just shut my mouth and smile and love him. I'm sure that's what he'd say.

As a side note, both Cito Gaston and Gene Tenace were 25 years old by the time they reached 500 at bats in the big leagues. Maybe they looked upon Snider as a kid who needed to toughen up and listen up, but they can't even remotely relate to what he was going through in his initial stint with the team. When they were 20 years old, they were farting around the Carolinas or the Florida State League, playing low-A ball and failing miserably. Maybe they could have cut the kid some slack rather than looking upon him as an incomplete player absent their personal imprint.

In a way, it seems as though all involved started to forget soon after his initial call-up that Snider should have been regarded as a valued asset. Back in 2008, you could have made Snider the key piece in a major trade for a star veteran player, but by the time 2012 rolled around, he could only fetch a bullpen arm.

For all of the talk around asset management around the Blue Jays in recent years, they certainly seemed careless with this one. Repeatedly, the Jays took steps to diminish his value with other teams in the league. Whether if it was the ham-handed lefty-lefty platoon in which they placed him with Fred Lewis, or choosing Eric Thames over him this year, the team took decisions that continually eroded his reputation, and lowered him to the level of a replacement-level player.

It doesn't seem as though the coaching staff or front office ever got a decent read of his mental makeup. It could be that they figured it wasn't a concern because he was regarded as "mature" and a "good make up" player from his draft year forward. Or maybe they just didn't care, and figured that he was a man and needed to toughen up. Whatever the case, few responsible for overseeing his development with the team seem prepared to take responsibility for what might have gone wrong.

(And the nagging voice at the back of my head wonders: Are they making the same mistakes with Anthony Gose? Or even Brett Lawrie?)

If there is anyone assuming blame throughout the three-part series, it is Snider. He recognizes that he was perhaps overly-sensitive and too easily affected by outside voices. Moreover, he criticizes his own contributions to the long series of crossed wires between himself and the team. He calls himself "proud" and "hard-headed", and fesses up to the anger and disillusionment that he allowed to overtake his moods and affect his play.

And before you scoff or offer up tough love remedies: He's a kid. Remember that, above all. Snider's a smart kid in his early twenties, and he worries way too much about himself. He's struggling to figure out who the hell he is. He's immature, but he's aware of it. He has trouble with authority and hasn't quite figured out how to master his emotions. Sometimes, he beats himself up because he wishes he could be better, and sometimes, he looks to rationalize his behaviour.

Can any of us say that we were much different at his age?

I've believed for several years that the worst thing the Blue Jays did to Travis Snider was to not allow him the latitude to fail. For a young player who had dominated virtually every level of amateur and affiliated ball in which he played, the shock of finding yourself unable to keep up with the best players in the world can be disconcerting. There were hints throughout the past four seasons that Snider might be struggling with his emotions, and letting the negative thoughts get the better of him, though it is surprising to see the extent to which Snider is willing to reveal his neuroses in this piece.

The question I think a lot of us our left with after reading the piece is: "Why would he come out now and say this?" It seems as though there's not a lot of good that can come from publicly airing out your grievances with a former employer.

I suspect that there's something therapeutic for Snider in unloading the past like this. He seems like a thoughtful player, and someone who spends a lot of time - probably too much time - in his own head. On subsequent readings of the full three-part saga, I felt as though Snider was taking on much more blame for his situation than he was doling out towards others. The process of talking through the past few years wasn't an angry one focused on slamming those who had done him wrong. It's a level of self-analysis that isn't often shared by athletes.

It strikes me that the best thing that Travis Snider could have done for himself was to forego pro ball in favour of college. There are aspects of his personal growth he could have dealt with and worked out while on campus, and it strikes me that spending some contemplative time in a classroom here or there would have helped him tremendously, and prepared him mentally to move into what passes for the "grown up world" of Major League Baseball.

Ultimately, Travis Snider is going to be judged by his output on the field, and as of yet, he hasn't nearly reached his promise. Watching him over the years, it always seemed to me that he had the physical skills to play the game at the top level. If he can stay healthy and keep his head together for an extended period of time, he might just be a really good ballplayer yet.

Whenever, wherever or if ever that happens, I'll continue to root for his success.


@NorthYorkJays said...

Really enjoyed this post, it's excellent.

I'd like to see Gose dominate a minor league level before they bring him up for good. The defense and speed will mean he has automatic value over his pre-FA career, but that bat doesn't look anywhere close to ready and I'm worried that things can snowball out of control like they did with Snider.

George said...

Thanks for this.

George said...

Thanks for this.

King Cat said...

I feel like those who say that Snider didn't do himself any favours by being so candid are missing the point of the piece. This is about Snider coming to terms with his own failings and coming clean about his personal state of mind and hopefully turning the page. He's just being very honest about how he reacted to certain situations. Never do I sense he's trying to justify those reactions. He's just being very honest about what those reactions were. Yes you could say he's exposing his weaknesses a bit too candidly but he seems very committed to becoming stronger mentally and if coming clean about the past is part of that than i can only be a good thing.

Hopefully, Snider can get out of his head enough to fulfill some of his initial promise but it's also possible that he's just not "dumb" enough to be a successful pro athlete. Maybe like a certain former top prospect who was drafted out of high school but always regretted not going to college, he will become one of the game's great intellectuals.

David said...

I think that all those who are complaining about the Jays' treatment of Snider are missing one important point -- injuries. Sure, he was treated poorly by Cito and sent back to the minors on several occasions. But how many times, when he was in the minors, was there an opening with the Jays and he couldn't be called up because he was injured? For that matter, how much was his development slowed down because he was injured? I think that injuries have as much, if not more, to do with slowing his development than anything the Jays did. The fact is, Snider is injury-prone and, because of this, I doubt he would ever have reached the potential everyone said he had.

Anonymous said...

Travis needed a change of scenery. I think one of the biggest problems he had was trying so hard to meet the expectations of a highly touted prospect. He probably felt like he let his fans and the Jays down, and I think his expectations of himself outweighed his ability and it spiraled downhill from there.

None of us can pretend to comprehend the psychological aspect of playing a professional sport, and while I, like many others, am disappointed that Snider never blossomed into the superstar we all thought/hoped he would as a Blue Jay, the searing reality is, he wasn't ever going to.

I am sure that a large amount of stress has been lifted from his shoulders, and I am sure that the Jays feel moving him was in the best interest of both parties.

I hold no malice or ill will towards the Jays organization or Travis Snider, but the simple fact is, whether he was mismanaged, screwed over or whatever else convoluted explanation/excuse you want to insert here... the issue was, Travis never performed at the ML level. Period.

Here's to hoping he resurrects his career in Pittsburgh.

plain_g said...

great comment about freedom to fail.
anyone considered successful will attest that failure is a critical ingredient to success.

Kevin said...

I have read a number of reviews and opinions based on Davidi's article on Snider but the one detail that seldom gets mentioned is that much of this happened AFTER he turned down the 'team friendly' contract extension.

I wonder at times whether AA effectively screwed him over just to make a bit of a point. Perhaps the next rising prospect who is offered an extension will think twice. Perhaps.

Anonymous said...

Travis Snider defenders to the end. Sigh. He's not a bad guy, but Tao and others have been writing his hagiography for 4 years and can't stop, even after Davidi's piece. Which, by any even reading of it, shows Snider to be overly senstive and tough to coach. Was Cito a dick? Sure. But Snider wasn't a "kid," he was twenty. You know, when most of us have jobs and vote and shit. Point is it wouldn't matter what Davidi wrote, or what the truth is because Snider apologists just can't let him go.