Beyond the transaction lines: The human dimension of the trade deadline
|07.01.13 at 10:56 pm ET|
Gabe Kapler spent parts of 12 years in the major leagues from 1998-2010, playing for the Tigers (1998-99), Rangers (2000-02), Rockies (2002-03), Red Sox (2003-06 – with a brief interlude in Japan), Brewers (2008) and Rays (2009-10). He also spent a year managing the Red Sox’ Single-A affiliate in Greenville. Follow him on twitter @gabekapler.
I was born on July 31st, 1975. The date has personal significance beyond the suffering it caused me as a youth baseball player who felt the pain of always being the youngest kid in Little League, a sort of freshman for life in a pursuit where the cutoff birthdate was August 1st. After all, the 31st of July, 4:00pm ET, is the annual MLB trade deadline.
I put in some good work in 2001 for the Texas Rangers in the AL West, hitting 17 homers and stealing 23 bases. Our team started to come together in the second half of that year, creating a tangible buzz leading into the offseason. With core guys like Pudge Rodriguez, Mike Young and Alex Rodriguez, it appeared we’d be in a good position to make a run at the playoffs in 2002. Unfortunately, our overall record was not indicative of the flowering the Rangers baseball family knew we had in progress, and Doug Melvin was let go in favor of John Hart.
As expected, Hart had men he coveted to bring to the table. He did so in the off- season, trading for Carl Everett and signing Juan Gonzalez.
My 2002 got off to a rocky start and I began to notice my name thrown about in trade rumors. I understood the landscape: our outfield was crowded and I was in the second year of a three-year contract. Because I wasn’t playing regularly, it didn’t break my heart to hear the whispers in early June. I had actually heard a few of them in the offseason, albeit fainter. My daily routine included checking the newspaper and watching baseball highlight shows wondering if I would get some life-altering news.
I had a two-year-old and a newborn and my wife was anxious. She began to inquire about the implications of being traded. Do you get to go home for a while? What cities might we end up in? Will I have to pack the house up AGAIN? She’d have to deal with leaving her ‘girls’ — her baseball family, if you will. The kids had made friends and they’d once again have to say goodbyes.
I had been traded once before from the Tigers to the Rangers but that particular off-season deal was much more palatable for our family. We had plenty of time to adjust our lives; we were home for the winter, with ample time to prepare for life in a new city.
The rumors began to quiet by mid-July and our family finally started to feel less threatened. My birthday was coming up and Lisa was planning a surprise getaway for just the two of us at a Dallas hotel. She almost never felt comfortable leaving our boys, but she must have had a wild streak because she asked my sister-in-law to watch the boys so that we could get some alone time.
I woke up on July 31st, went to the Ballpark in Arlington for a night game, wasn’t in the lineup but had heard no news. In the clubhouse, I messed around and laughed with Frank Catalanotto, Rusty Greer and Bill Haselman as I did frequently those days. We mused about how we were all safe and staying in Arlington. We were close friends — we had all been traded from the Tigers to the Rangers in the same deal — and thrilled to be spending the rest of the summer together.
I got dressed and started my routine of stretching and pregame activity. Batting practice came and went. I made my way down the hall to grab some food in the kitchen.
Jerry Narron, my friend and our manager, stopped me halfway and gazed at me with sadness in his eyes.
“Gabe, we’ve traded you to the Rockies.”
I didn’t hear a word he said after that. I suddenly felt the painful itch to exit the clubhouse; I was no longer a member of the Rangers and didn’t belong in their sacred space.
My family and I would be in Denver in August and I had somehow been blindsided after being the subject of trade rumors for several months. After shooting Lisa a note to come meet me, I walked out into the parking lot where she was waiting for me in the car. I was shocked, filled with adrenaline and anticipation as I delivered the news. Poor girl had to swallow her excitement about the evening to gauge my mood.
“Happy birthday,” she said to me with a semi-smile.
With the arrival of July, we are now on the clock for the trade deadline. Ricky Nolasco, Matt Garza and countless others are wrestling with a roller coaster of emotions, family dynamics and financial implications daily as we move towards the 31st.
Baseball front offices have an obligation to owners and their clubs to be especially unemotional. GMs act as the equivalent of real estate investors looking at deals as a math equation. They can’t fall in love with the dwelling or the neighborhood, which would put them at risk of straying outside of their boundaries and compromising their criteria.
For fans, baseball players and their teams can represent something much more personal. They might be the common denominator in an otherwise contentious relationship between a father and son or a set of siblings. This of course, is an extreme example. But when regions have almost religious connections to their teams, the roots run deep and fans find themselves wounded by the movement of their favorite players.
A wild range of outcomes exists for the players involved and they have control of the most important element: their perspectives. They can choose to see a spiritual opportunity for growth and the career upside that often is presenting itself. Or they can mope in their personal, self-fulfilling prophecy that they’ve been screwed, that a chance has been once again swiped from their grasp.
As we examine and analyze how potential trades will impact our teams and the pennant races, we can also pull back the curtain and remember that the men in those uniforms are human beings with families. And so, we can offer sympathy to them for the disruption they face, even as we then envy how alive they must feel, knowing that their journey has taken a twist, introducing them to a new and seemingly limitless atmosphere where their former pressures are, for a moment, forgotten.
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