Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Pavano Principle: At the Very Least, Try

There’s a principle that I believe to be almost as universal as the principle of You Suck Coco Crisp. That would be the principle of Try Your Hardest. It applies to all people everywhere but, as I’ve said before, if someone’s paying you in the millions to do sports for a living, that principle ceases to be a guideline and becomes an actual obligation. However, as affronted as I may be by a multi-million dollar player who doesn’t try his hardest, I am exponentially more offended by a player who doesn’t try at all. You see, in order to live by the principle of Try Your Hardest, you have to try. I’m no logician, but I’m pretty sure that that’s how that works.

When a player signs a four-year, $40 million contract and spends the bulk of that time on the DL with injuries so vague as to seem suspiciously non-existent, I count that as not trying. You have to play to try. And since, as we’ve established, you have to try to try your hardest, Carl Pavano has spent his tenure with the Yankees spitting in the face of one of the principles I value most in life. For this reason, I’m going to say something to Carl Pavano that I rarely say to anyone who isn’t Coco Crisp or Brett Fav-ruh. I’m going to say that you suck. In fact, I’m going to say that it’s not impossible that maybe you suck even more than either of those fools. You’re getting paid double what Farvil was supposed to get paid to do nothing for four years, and you’re actually supposed to be doing something. In the end, Farvil declined the offer because, even though he’s a jackass hell bent on ruining my life, he actually sincerely wanted to play sports. And for the record, it turns out that Farv wasn’t going to just be doing nothing for the $20 million over four years—he was going to be writing a blog. (More on that later.) You’ve been doing nothing since 2005, Carl Pavano, and I don’t see you writing a blog. As for Crisp? He’s got a dumb name and plays for an abominable team. But I am under the impression that he tries.

You, on the other hand, Pavano, you don’t know from trying. Let’s roll through the excuses you have concocted to avoid playing ball since June of ’05. Shoulder injury—seemed fair enough at the time, before we knew you. Strained back—yeah, you and every middle-aged Jewish woman in America. Bruised tush—you are a pitcher and not a bull rider. I fail to see why this matters. Chip in your elbow—and apparently one on your shoulder. Broken ribs from a car accident—you conveniently avoided telling us about this one until you were being pulled from the DL after recovering from elbow surgery. And I actually believe it more likely that you took a hammer to your ribs than that you really got into a car accident. Finally, two starts into the 2007 season, Pavano complains of elbow pain. Rather than opt for a course of rest, as requested by Yankees top brass, he went for Tommy John surgery. I guess I get it. He didn’t want to risk destroying his pitching arm because he might need it some day to—I don’t know—teach his kids to play catch? Fan himself off at the beach? This brings us to today.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know how a love a head case. Give me a player with deeply rooted psychological issues, I’ll give him my undying loyalty and understanding forever. Sure, it might be tempting to give Pavano the benefit of the doubt here, to think maybe the pressure was just too much. Maybe his fear of failure was so great that he simply Munchausened himself into almost four seasons worth of debilitating injuries. Here’s why I can’t sign off on that conclusion. During the offseason, the Yankees asked Pavano to sign a minor league contract in order to make room on their forty-man roster. You know, for a player who was actually going to play. He refused, and in so doing, he ensured his cut of the Yankees hard-earned postseason money. This is how I know that the root cause of all of Pavano’s problems is selfishness. And this is why I can’t forgive him. The irony is, of course, that the Yanks may not live to see the postseason and, in large part, because we could have used help with our pitching. So, joke’s on you, Pavano. You and all the rest of us.

Pavano promised us a midseason return this year. It’s now August. Late August. He’s slated to make his first start this Saturday. I’m sure that, in some sport, that would constitute midseason. In some sport, perhaps, but not in baseball. With all the talk of his impending return, I must admit that I am not particularly focused on how he will perform once he’s back in the lineup because I’m smarter than to think he will ever make it. I’m more curious about what excuse he’s going to give us this time. Avian Bird Flu? Plague? A Crippling case of the Crapelbons? Worst case scenario, Pavano, you can always take a tip from your soul twin, Kevin Brown. I’m pretty sure that if you break your hand punching a wall, that’ll put you out of commission for the duration of the season. Knock on wood.

While there can be no doubt that a player like Pavano is not an asset to any team, his situation raises an interesting question. If you’re top brass at a sports franchise, what do you want more—a pitcher you are overpaying to do nothing, who neither helps nor hurts you, or a pitcher you are overpaying to underperform? This bring us to yet another principle, in which I believe deeply (I’m a very principled person)—the principle of Don’t Suck if You’re Overpaid. So simple and, yet, look at Barry Zito.

In December of 2006, Barry Zito signed with the Giants for $126 million over seven years. Immediately after, the craziest thing happened. He started to suck. Last year he only regular sucked with a win-loss record of 11-13 and an ERA of 4.53. This year, notwithstanding last night’s anomalous performance, he decided to go for the gold in the sucking department, and boy did her ever succeed. He’s 7-15 with an ERA of 5.43. Prior to signing with the Giants, Zito’s ERA had only ever gone above 4.0 once before. It seems funny to me that, just as he starts making a whole lot more, he should also start sucking a whole lot more. He is obviously in direct defiance of the principle of Don’t Suck if You’re Overpaid. However, it also begs the question: How invested is Zito in the principle of Always Try Your Hardest? This is not to say that I doubt that Zito is upset with his performance. He once said, “I'm not trying to be cocky, but I set such a high standard for myself. I'm not happy when I pitch seven innings and give up two runs and get a win.” If that’s true, I can’t imagine how bummed he must be this year. And by the way, Zito, you’re not TRYING to be cocky. You sound cocky because you ARE cocky.

Meanwhile, there are two pitchers making headlines these days who have lived their pitching careers without ever having strayed from the principles I have set forth. One of them is Tom Glavine—a five-time twenty-game winner and two-time Cy Young Award winner, who is one of only twenty-three pitchers to have won 300 career starts. Numbers don’t lie. (Except maybe A-Rod’s.) No one could ever say that Glavine had failed to try this hardest or achieve his maximum potential. After twenty-one years in the game, our 300+ starter finds himself with an elbow injury that will likely see him into retirement. If this is the case, he will be missed, and for more than just his accomplishments on the field. Over the past several years, Glavine has acted as a player representative, helped Hurricane Katrina victims, and worked to cure childhood cancer.

Zito, to his credit, is also something of a philanthropist. But, more importantly, he can relate to anyone. We know this because he told us so. “I can hang out with stoners, skaters, surfers, stockbrokers, lawyers, athletes, rappers. I feel I can hang out with any group of people and find common ground to talk with them.” If I was a Giants fan, I would take solace in this discovery. If your most overpaid starting pitcher is going to suck on the mound, you at least want him to be able to “hang out” with stoners and stockbrokers alike. Good for you, Zito, for being so open minded. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that you got exposure to so many different kinds of people when you were hanging out in Starbucks writing poetry. Pavano, for the record, can’t relate to just anyone, but he can fake just about any illness.

Moving back to players that matter, Greg Maddux is also making headlines these days. It looks like the 353 win player will be heading back to Los Angeles to see if he can’t help them find their way to October. Maddux, who won the Cy Young for four consecutive years, continues to be solid, if not the same pitcher he was ten years ago. And let’s face it. What pitcher is? But with seventeen consecutive fifteen-win seasons, it can’t be said of Maddux that he hasn’t earned his right to a big league salary. When you think about guys like Maddux and Glavine, you can’t help but wonder how, after only a few years of proving their worth, guys like Pavano and Zito feel entitled to the big contract without feeling obliged to perform for it. I don’t know. But maybe until they do, they should do what Farv was meant to have done and start a blog. Something to prove that they're earning their keep.

And while we’re on the subject, yes, it’s true. Yesterday, my reader Koala brought it to my attention that, if all had gone according to the Packers’ plan, you could have been reading Fav-ruh’s blog instead of mine. It was part of the $20 million over four years agreement that they had offered him. Is anyone else as sad as I am that this didn’t end up happening? Apparently, however, not all hope is lost. The Packers plan to offer Farvil a similar deal as soon as he decides to actually retire. (Projected date: 2073.) Until then, Farv has promised to keep us apprised of all his movements via text message to ESPN. Can’t w8.


alex said...

Pavano's start on Saturday is in jeopardy after he experienced "neck stiffness."

Melanie Greenberg said...

how disappointing. i would have thought he would have been more creative than that.