Every July, Major League Baseball players cease to be human beings and become more like stocks. They exist to be bought, sold and traded by people looking for a better tomorrow.
For baseball fans, trade deadline season is awesome. It's a month's worth of madness to obsess over, and it's not exactly a closely-guarded secret that baseball fans like obsessing over things more than other sports fans.
Meanwhile, the players do their best to go about their business. This is easier said than done, as anyone can be traded during deadline season. As in a bad a horror movie, there's no telling who will be next.
Doug Glanville knows this as well as anyone. The former major leaguer, author and current ESPN analyst was traded twice during his nine-year major league career, including once at the trade deadline in 2003.
The stories behind both trades go to show that, no matter how much people want to ignore it, the human element does not conveniently vanish when players are traded.
Christmas, 1997 Brings Hard Tidings for a Young Player
After being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the first round of the 1991 draft, Glanville finally broke through with the big club in 1996 and played in 146 games in 1997. He hit an even .300 with 19 stolen bases, solid numbers for a first full year in the majors. He had officially arrived and staked his claim.
Two days before Christmas on December 23, Glanville got a call from Ed Lynch, then the general manager of the Cubs. He remembers Lynch saying something like this:
“Hey, you did a nice job last year. Good luck, you’re going to Philadelphia.”
Glanville had been traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for Mickey Morandini, a former All-Star second baseman who was approaching the twilight of his career.
For Glanville, going to Philadelphia meant he was going home. He grew up a Phillies' fan, and had gone to college at the University of Pennsylvania, located in Philadelphia.
But he found it hard to be excited. In his mind, he had just made it as a major leaguer, a triumph that was preceded by a grueling struggle through the minor leagues, winter ball and certain challenges such as "total warfare" with a manager while at Triple-A.
He knew that a good opportunity awaited him in Philadelphia, but there was no escaping a certain creeping feeling:
It was a little disappointing. Despite [the fact that] I had been traded to the team I loved growing up and I was going to where I played in college and I was close to home. That still didn’t really make me feel better compared to the rejection side of it: Not getting that chance after years of winter ball and minor leagues with the Cubs.
The trade was hard news for Glanville the baseball player to stomach. It was made worse by the news that Glanville the man had been forced to stomach just a few days prior. Shortly before he found out he had been traded, Glanville received word that his grandfather had passed away. He remembers being in "a fog" upon arriving in Philadelphia.
He then had to worry himself about beating out Lenny Dykstra for the Phillies' starting center field job, a tall order for Glanville the baseball player.
That ended up working out, as Dykstra decided to hang up his spikes for good during spring training in 1998. Glanville went on to have a very productive season, hitting .279 with 23 stolen bases and over 100 runs scored. More productive years followed.
Glanville was 31 by the time the 2002 season rolled around, and he went into that season knowing he was going to be a free agent for the first time in his career. A big season could end up paying off in a lucrative multi-year contract, something that all players covet.
Instead, he struggled. By the end of the year, Glanville was splitting time in center field with Bobby Abreu, Ricky Ledee and Marlon Byrd, who was then one of the organization's young, up-and-coming stars.
The reality of the situation was clearly evident: Glanville was being phased out.
He recalls being anxious for playing time at the end because he was closing in on 1,000 career hits. Even though the Phillies were well out of the race by the time the end of September rolled around, then-manager Larry Bowa was wary about penciling Glanville's name into the lineup. The story goes that he had to be coerced into throwing Glanville a bone.
He ended up collecting his 1,000th career hit on the final day of the season thanks to a three-hit effort.
Once the season was over, he knew what was what.
"It was clear Marlon Byrd was getting ushered in," he said. "I felt like I was marginalized the year before and that [my fate] was not in my hands, so I didn’t want to have a contract based on playing time which I didn’t necessarily have control over."
He ended up signing a one-year contract with the Texas Rangers, who promised to use him as their starting center fielder.
In his mind, he was accepting a better opportunity in going to Texas. He had no way of knowing that his best-laid plans would not work out.
Traded at the Deadline in 2003: Fan Interest vs. Personal Interest
For Glanville, the idea behind going to Texas was simple.
"I felt Texas was a chance to go get a fresh start and meet a new culture and just sort of do something different and just get a chance to play every day again," he said.
These, of course, were the Alex Rodriguez Texas Rangers. They finished fifth in baseball in runs scored in 2002. Their lineup was a great place for players to come in and put up big numbers. The same goes for their home ballpark, which remains one of baseball's top launching pads.
Glanville actually got a better offer from the Phillies to stay in Philadelphia, but he took a lesser deal and bolted to Texas because it meant a chance to put up big numbers for a year while playing every day, which in turn would give him a shot at landing the multi-year deal he was seeking the following offseason. A course was set.
As promised, he began the season as Texas' starting center fielder. That, unfortunately, is about as far as things went according to plan.
Glanville was injured in the middle of April, and he wasn't able to return to the lineup until early June. It took until July for him to settle into a rhythm, as he found his stroke and hit .394 in 21 games.
And then a new dilemma arose.
"The problem was that we were pretty much already out of it," recalled Glanville. "We were not very good. As we got close to the trade deadline, I was like, 'Uh oh, here we go again.'"
Glanville had value on the trade market for a variety of reasons. He was hot at the plate, and he had a reputation of being an excellent defensive outfielder. His contract was affordable, and whoever traded for him would not be signing up for a long-term commitment. He was a perfect trade target.
Sure enough, Glanville got a call from then-Rangers GM John Hart, who told him that he had been traded to "one of your former two teams."
Immediately, Glanville began dreading a return to Philadelphia:
Here I am at the trade deadline, and I could get traded from a team that made me an inferior offer back to a team that was willing to pay me more and add another year to the contract. That would have been a nightmare.
In addition, there was the Byrd factor. Had Glanville been traded to Philadelphia, he would have settled into a backup role behind Byrd, the very role he was meant to occupy. Seeing as how he was working on a one-year contract and was hoping for a multi-year contract in the offseason, sliding into a backup role would have been a disaster.
But Glanville did not go back to Philadelphia. He went to back to the Cubs instead, a team that was 53-53 and 4.5 games out of first place when it acquired him.
Once again, he found himself disappointed, albeit for a different reason:
I wanted to help, but there I was in Texas hitting nearly .400 in July and finally getting healthy and seeing a chance to play every day. I was going to go back intro free agency with great momentum and have a shot at a career, a multi-year deal.
Everybody on the outside was like, “You’re going from a last-place team to a contender.”
I said, “I’m going from starter to role player.”
The Cubs did end up making the playoffs after acquiring Glanville, but he was barely featured. He was used primarily as a fourth outfielder, hitting just .235 over 55 plate appearances the rest of the way. Thus, he went into the offseason with minimal value as a free agent. No multi-year contract would be forthcoming. In fact, he was hoping just to do better than a Triple-A invite.
He ended up signing with the Phillies that offseason for roughly half the money he had been making in 2003. It's no wonder that he now views free agency as both a gift and a curse.
"It’s a gift to be able to choose your employer provided the market is fair and all these things," he said. "But it’s also a curse that you can bounce around easily and you can be moved just because it’s coming."
Such is the life of a piece of stock.
The Rising Influence of Social Media
One thing Glanville did not have to deal with during his playing days was the influence that social media now has on the game. Free agency negotiations and trade deadline discourse no longer have any chance of staying behind closed doors. If something is uttered in a general manager's office at 3:00 p.m., odds are it's going to end up on Twitter no later than 3:05 p.m.
It was different when Glanville was playing. The one time he can recall hearing his name mentioned in even a remotely rumorish fashion was when an ESPN special mentioned him in conjunction with the 1997 expansion draft. Just a "flash," and then it was gone.
Glanville has been open with his fascination of the ways Twitter has changed baseball. He pointed out in an article for Time that it was thanks to Twitter and other social media platforms that Boston fans were alerted that Kevin Youkilis was playing his final game in a Red Sox uniform in late June.
In this case, the tweets allowed Boston fans to get a heads up that Youkilis was heading out the door, even before it was official. They could actually give him his due, pay their respects and thank him for his services. He got his curtain call. He may have even had time to pop some champagne and tour the city one last time, if he felt like it.
When Glanville was traded by the Rangers in 2003, he didn't receive a curtain call. For his part, he said he merely envisioned walking into the Rangers' clubhouse after getting the news to say his goodbyes and pack his bags. He even allowed himself to entertain the notion of a police escort away from the stadium.
Instead, he found his things waiting for him in a cardboard box. The organization had made it easy for him to be on his way.
Had Twitter been around in Glanville's day, he may have gotten a farewell cheer from the Texas faithful. At the very least, he could have gone on Twitter later that day and found his name attached to an "#MLBHugz" hashtag. That would have been better than a cardboard box.
When it comes to how Twitter has changed baseball, the sense of proximity between fans and players is the good stuff. It's an element of fun that your baseball-loving granddad didn't have in his day when baseball was supposedly so much better.
But there's a downside to all this. Players have to deal with more than just sycophantic fans every time they log on. In July, a given player is liable to see his name pop up in trade rumors when he logs onto Twitter, and one rumor will probably be swiftly followed by several more rumors linking him to different teams than the original one.
Obviously, this doesn't help players maintain a low stress level.
"Social media is a valuable tool, but like anything else there’s a drawback," said Glanville. "You might be sitting on these trade rumors for weeks, and worrying about what’s real and what’s imagined and what’s accurate…They’re reporting on you 24 hours a day. It’s pretty hard."
For general managers, the rumors are a blessing and a curse. The sheer wealth of rumors that make their way onto Twitter these days gives GMs a chance to spy on the enemy, carefully picking out which rumors are misinformation and which ones might actually have some legs. All the reporters who make their living breaking trade rumors on Twitter are essentially an army of middle men.
That's the blessing part.
As for the curse part, here's how Glanville summed it up: "You can’t leak anything anymore. Every leak is a flood."
For front office people, Glanville says it's now harder than ever to "regulate what’s truth and fact and not try to influence or tip your hand." For them to use social media to their advantage sounds like a great idea in theory, but in practice it's something that's very, very hard to do.
"You think of Jane Goodall," said Glanville, referencing the famed anthropologist. "Once you start getting involved in the environment you’re meant to observe, or where you’re supposed to be the observer, everything changes."
This goes for GMs and front office people, but it goes for players as well.
Look no further than Ryan Dempster. Rumors started coming out last week from reliable sources that he had been traded to the Atlanta Braves, but it was Dempster himself who put a stop to the madness by taking to Twitter with the following message:
THERE IS NO TRADE dont know where this info came from!— Dempster Foundation (@RyanDempsterFDN) July 23, 2012
This caused all hell to break loose. The next thing anyone knew, all the media outlets that had reported the trade was a done deal immediately reported that the man himself said there was no deal.
This gave rise to reports that Dempster nixed the Atlanta trade because he wanted to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers instead. These were followed by reports that the Dodgers didn't like Dempster as much as he liked them. It wasn't hard to read between the lines and see that Ned Colletti was playing hardball with the Cubs, who seemingly had been robbed of leverage by Dempster's tweet.
Glanville insisted that it's not a given that Dempster actually changed anything with his tweet, but his words ring true: Every leak is a flood.
That's the power of Twitter and social media in general, and Glanville indicated that some organizations understand this better than others:
I think some organizations understand more and more or just embrace it more and more. It’s not something you can ignore. You can say, 'Well, that’s not the way we’re going to communicate with our personnel' or something like that. But it’s another thing to just say, 'This doesn’t have an influence' and just dismiss it. You can’t really dismiss it.
Nor can teams ban Twitter. Keeping players and team personnel off of Twitter every July would be one way for clubs to keep things under control, similar to what Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is doing now in the NFL, but Glanville pointed out that there's no way of achieving total control.
"Torii Hunter’s not tweeting, but his agent’s tweeting and his brother’s tweeting and whatever. How far can you go?" he said.
The impact social media has had on the everyday operations of Major League Baseball is still something of a new quandary. The league is still figuring out how to coexist with it. For the time being, everyone is a canary in the same coalmine, from owners to general managers to coaches to players.
And indeed, from older players down on to younger players. Perhaps it will be them, the Mike Trouts and Bryce Harpers of Major League Baseball, who solve the baseball and social media quandary.
Not that baseball's premier youngsters don't already have enough to worry about, of course. There's more pressure on younger players now than ever before. That means they need help more than ever before.
Fortunately, this is a reality that plays into a dynamic of baseball that hasn't changed much over the years.
On the Mentoring of Younger Players and Its Perpetual Cycle
Things are different now than they were when Glanville was trying to establish a career for himself in baseball. Though he was the 12th overall pick in the draft in 1991, it took him five years to reach the major leagues.
Clubs are now in more of a hurry to get their top picks to the major league level, and for good reason. Even with the new bonus pool system, clubs are still spending millions of dollars on top draft picks. It's in their interest to see what they can get for their millions. Trout and Harper are two perfect examples, as both of them broke into the big leagues at the age of 19.
"They have to make it," said Glanville of baseball's well-paid youngsters. "You don’t pay someone $4 million and wish them luck getting out of Double-A. They’re going to make sure they have every opportunity to get there, and often very quickly."
The danger is that such quick ascensions to the big leagues mean bypassing valuable lessons that one can learn from everyday life down on the farm. This puts pressure on veteran players to fill in the gaps.
If a veteran player wants to have a team that’s successful, they need to invest in these players. They probably are capable, but they just need to learn certain things. Things that you learn over time in the minor leagues or by just playing the game.
Luckily, this is a part of the game that hasn't changed. Older ballplayers have a strong track record of being Yoda-like mentors, and they still are.
"It’s part of the culture," Glanville said of mentoring. "It’s sort of passed on. A lot of those lessons are not just, 'Hey you’re really good. Let me make you better.' It’s more like, 'This is how we play the game.'”
He recalls taking cues from Shawon Dunston earlier in his career. He vividly remembers seeing Dunston bust it out of the box on a pop-up over second base, giving his all despite the fact he was in his mid-30s and dealing with a bad back. That left an impression.
In time, Glanville himself came to take on a mentoring role. The player he took under his wing was none other than Byrd, the man who would be his replacement on the Phillies in the early 2000s. Glanville went out of his way to groom Byrd.
Glanville wrote about his relationship with Byrd at length for ESPN.com earlier this season after Byrd was hit with a 50-game suspension for a positive PED test, saying that he didn't mind sharing what he knew with Byrd in the slightest, even if Byrd was vying for his job:
Once he did arrive, I held nothing back. I opened up my book and read aloud all of the chapters of the game. At that point, I was an established regular and realized that even if he would take my job after I had a slow month, I could still find work. Once you break through and become a productive starter, you can hang around the game a long time, Byrd or not. Maybe not in Philly like I would have hoped, but somewhere.
Glanville was able to send the message because he had gotten the message himself a few years earlier. "You understand that you have to pass it on because, after all, it was passed on to you," he wrote.
The mentoring cycle obviously has its uses as a player-to-player dynamic, but it's also something that can help a team as well. If older players can send a clear message that everyone is in the same boat, the young guys will settle in and do their part.
Young guys who come up and see someone reaching out and then end up doing really well will respect [the outreach]. It’s more than your batting average. It’s more than your numbers. To win, you have to buy into something that’s collective.
The trade deadline is not going anywhere. Nor is free agency. Social media is also here to stay, and it's only becoming clearer that Major League Baseball has a lot of work to do to adapt to the presence of social media and the influence it has on the everyday comings and goings of the game.
But in the grand scheme of things, players haven't changed all that much. For them, Glanville's words go to show that it's about balancing personal goals with team goals, and about finding a way to do the altruistic thing when the two personal goals and team goals clash with one another.
Every player is equal parts businessman and ballplayer. It's nice to know that the ballplayer half still holds greater sway.
Follow Doug Glanville on Twitter: @dougglanville
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