You hear athletes talk often about loyalty. About how it’s not fair that they are asked to be loyal to an organization, but the organization doesn’t have to be loyal in return. There is some truth in that, but it’s also an excuse for many professional athletes to act and even perform with their own self interest having been made more important than what’s best for the team. A guy like Brandon Marshall leaps to mind.
Funny, but it’s hard to recall a Colorado Rockies player ever talking about loyalty, or the lack of it from the organization. To be bluntly honest, the Rockies as an organization have been loyal to a fault…which goes a long way toward explaining the current state of the team as the most disheartening season in club history finally, mercifully, comes to an end.
Only in Colorado could a veteran player hit .156 and not have been released a long time ago. The loyalty the Rockies have shown dozens of players over the past decade has been repaid only by a few, and often times only in spurts. A large part of the time, many players, some of them counted on to be key contributors, have failed miserably to return the loyalty shown them by an organization that has bent over backwards to make Colorado a place they should want to play, to live and to retire in.
The late club President Keli McGregor wanted to make the Rockies“a family.” He believed that you could win with talented players of high character, and that you needed to show them that you believed in them to bring out their very best. It should be noted first that in one important sense, that philosophy has worked marvelously. You simply do not hear or read anything about Rockies players getting in trouble away from the ballpark. No DUI’s, no domestic abuse or drug charges. No Rockie has been arrested for toting around a gun in the back seat of his car. Instead, these guys have been good citizens and good role models, which is a feather in the purple caps of the players and the organization.
The problem is that the Rockies have a team made up of these good citizens who are good players who have gotten overly comfortable and become under motivated to excel. It’s like your underachieving youngest son. He’s a good kid and does okay in school, but you can’t get him to push himself to greater heights. What are you going to do, threaten to strip away the comforts of home unless he turns that 3.0 GPA into a 4.0 by next semester? You made his bed, now you have to lie in it.
By trying to build a team with the right kind of men, the Rockies have created an atmosphere of comfort and stability at Coors Field. It’s been awesome and well deserved for the club’s employees, but it’s backfired on the field. There is absolutely no sense of urgency in that clubhouse. When players have all the comforts of home, a nice, secure contract and very little external pressure to excel beyond what they’ve already done, how do you get them to push a little harder?
This is the dilemma facing the Rockies brass as the off-season gets underway a lot sooner than expected. How do you change a culture within the clubhouse to create a sense of urgency among players who have gotten very comfortable with the ways things are? How do you let them know that loyal is a two way street, and that the comfortable ride could now be coming to an end if they don’t step it up?
Rockies ownership is doing the right thing by not extending the contracts of GM Dan O’Dowd and Manager Jim Tracy. Make no mistake, the underachievement of this roster is not their fault. O’Dowd and Tracy can’t wing the bat or make a big pitch in the clutch. This is on the players. Nonetheless, letting the players know that the GM and Manager have been put in a win-at-all-costs mode for 2012 is a great start. Next step is to put the players in the same situation.
There have been hints along the way that the club is seeking to strip away the creature comforts a bit. First it was the release of underachieving Brad Hawpe. Then the trade of Clint Barmes, followed by the trade of Ubaldo Jimenez. In each case, it was a popular player who was not performing as he should who was shown the door. That’s how professional spots normally works, and how the Rockies need to start acting even more often. Next week would be a great time to say goodbye to Ian Stewart and others who have spent the past few seasons underperforming while reaping the considerable benefits of all the Rockies“family” has provided them.
The Rockies brass needs to put everyone on notice: Going through the motions is not going to cut it around here any longer. Patience has been all used up. It’s time to turn up the heat and let whomever is wearing purple pinstripes next season know that taking a European vacation in January instead of getting ready for spring training is no longer any more acceptable than getting a DUI. .