In Ball Four, Jim Bouton’s seminal baseball book, the original knuckleballing autobiographer wrote about his days as a marginal pitcher in the twilight of his career trying to crack the expansion Seattle Pilots. During the “mindless grind” of spring training, Bouton would try to gauge his chances of making the club by how the manager greeted him in the morning. If he asks how you’re doing, you’re probably fine; if he offers only a “hello,” you’re on shaky ground; and if all you get is a solemn nod, you’re as good as cut. More than three decades later, little has changed. Baseball players continue to search for meaning in the game’s silent cues. “All the time,” says Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey, laughing. “I looked at everything.” When you’re fighting for a job in any workplace you’re going to look for indicators of your standing relative to others. But in a notoriously codified culture like baseball, everything can become a sign. With whom you hit during batting practice, where you sit in the clubhouse, in what order you’re scheduled to pitch — there is no shortage of status symbols in spring training. Dickey says he fretted over who he was grouped with for fielding practice, who he was running with, even his parking space at the ballpark. “Were you just a number or did you have a name at your parking spot? You’re always looking for something.” Of course, the reigning Cy Young winner doesn’t worry about that stuff anymore.
Players looking for clues as cut-down time approaches
Toronto Star | Mar 7