Antics like blowing a kiss at a pitcher have caused some to raise questions about phenom Bryce Harper's character.
There is swearing in professional baseball, not to mention fighting, drinking, drugs, cheating, affairs, pornography, gambling, abuse, lying, stealing and just about everything else that would make your mother weep if she found out you were doing it.
I wont presume to tell you that the game is a good place to avoid developing bad habits. Pro baseball is not for the faint of heart, and, like a gang, it has its own jaded sense of values outside those of rational civilization.
Land a hot cleat-chaser, score some street cred. Bean a batter for pimping a home run, then blowing kisses at you, move up in the pack. Drink your way into a no-hitter, the next round is on the team.
We encourage, enable and rationalize some of the worst traits in society. And yet, given our culture’s obsession with sports, forgiveness for any of these sins is only an All-Star team bid away.
It takes a strong mind to stand up to all this, if, indeed, you want to resist it. Some don’t. Some can’t.
For some players, professional baseball is the worst thing to ever happen to them. Their personal issues enter the game and become magnified. Addiction, aggression, immaturity; adolescent struggles are empowered by money and image and become adult juggernauts able to destroy an entire life. What started as a dream ends as a nightmare.
Scouts have tools they use to gauge the propensity for this. They call it “makeup.” It’s a catch-all for stuff that can’t be graded in physical evaluations.
"Makeup" often refers to the character of a player, what kind of off-the-field issues he’s prone to, what his track record is with authority and so on.
It’s an arbitrary term with a definition as varying as the personalities that do the scouting. For example, one scout’s “lack of family support” could be another’s “overcomes internal adversity.”
Also arbitrary is how relevant this information is to a club on the hunt for top-tier talent. History says that high-round phenoms who project as big-league impact players probably aren’t going to get slowed down by red flags in the “makeup” category. In fact, since scouts themselves are competing to find top talent and the rewards it reaps, some of those red flags may not even be reported.
If a scout is going to report makeup issues, what does he report? Makeup is more a matter of opinion than any real, quantifiable scouting.
If a kid has a run-in with the law and alcohol when he’s 18, does that make him a drunk? Does that mean he’s an easy victim of peer pressure? Does that mean he’s a liability for a team?
If a kid’s family life is rough, does that make him violent? Does that make him emotionally imbalanced? Does that mean he’s going to chuck a bat at an umpire?
It’s impossible to say. If scouts wrote off every player who drank or came through adversity, professional baseball would become vacation bible school.
For "makeup" to even have a chance at projecting a player’s reaction to the sketchy side of professional sports, it should be wielded by a scout with first-hand experience in the game itself. But with more non-baseball-pedigreed scouts entering the player development side of things via scouting schools and courses, it seems less likely that this term will become more precise.
An employer can’t be a parent, and yet, knowing about potential issues and not acting seems like a risk, especially when some of the talent with makeup issues will sign for millions of potentially wasted dollars if those issues are not addressed.
Should those who have the power to act do so, or should they turn away until it becomes a problem? Unfortunately in this line of work, when it does become a problem, it becomes a very expensive one full of labels and media scrutiny and angry emails from parents with devastated children.
In the big leagues right now, there are pot smokers who mix pain and sleeping pills with alcohol, and no one says a word.
Why? Because these players are in the Bigs. They produce when it matters. And production says to all watching that they know how to handle themselves. Sure, their personal lives may be a wreck, but, since our culture is often guilty of mindlessly associating stability with production, no questions are ever raised. We’re happy not knowing the answer, at least not until something breaks.
By then, it’s easy to point the finger at the player and not at the people who might have been able to stop the problem before it came to an explosive end.
Dirk Hayhurst is a pitcher in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, currently playing for the Triple-A Durham Bulls, and has appeared in the major leagues with the San Diego Padres and Toronto Blue Jays. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran. Follow him on Twitter: @TheGarfoose