On "Nats Talk" on MASN last Saturday morning, Mike Wallace and I were joined by Ron Rizzi, the recently-hired special assistant to general manager Mike Rizzo. Ron was extremely informative regarding the whole scouting process, and spent quite a bit of time talking about scouting in Venezuela, where he found a number of players for his former employer, the Los Angeles Dodgers,
We always receive a lot of emails on the show, and try to respond to as many as possible. That's the thing about baseball: because almost everyone has played it on some level, everyone has an idea on how to make things better with the Nationals or just the game in general. Rizzi, at one point, said how much he enjoys hearing what the fans have to say, and also explained why so many fan suggestions are never addressed by the teams. "To quote Bobby Knight," he said, "when you start listening to the fans, pretty soon you're sitting with them."
It's true. After more than 30 years in this business and countless hours spent with major league managers and executives, it's rare when one mentions something he heard a fan say on a talk show; though it does happen; Davey Johnson told me he listens to the Nationals' radio postgame call-in show a lot. But in general, do you ever recall anyone saying they did something because they heard a fan suggest it? They'll say "we did it for our fans" but not "we did it because a fan suggested it."
There's a tendency to believe that because it's baseball, it's not brain surgery. To the folks who make their living in the game, however, that's exactly what it is. Over the years I've had dozens of people describe major league baseball as "a bunch of grown men playing a little boy's game ..." Really? Is your local police department "a bunch of grown men playing cops and robbers?"
The advent of big money in baseball has numbed many fans to the number of zeros in a player's contract. How often, when talking about signing a particular free agent, or re-signing a popular home-grown veteran, we hear people say, (or write) "Oh, just give him the money," as if there's a bottomless pit full of it.
The word "fan" is, of course, derived from the word "fanatic." A hundred years ago fans were frequently referred to as "cranks," and it's safe to say there are a lot of cranky fans around today. It's a crankiness for which there's no cure, since, regardless of a team's success, there will always be some who believe they could've done better. Just check out a Cardinals' message board, for instance. A World Series title in seven games? They should've swept.
Rizzi made a point of talking about the importance of a player's "makeup," going so far as to say that makeup frequently is more important than actual talent. It's the aspect of the game that fans have the most difficulty relating to. Today, many fans' "makeup" has them more concerned with pure numbers than anything else. Many of them don't bother to watch the game itself, just give them the numbers it generated. That's not likely to change.
So, keep those ideas and suggestions pouring in, folks. It's a big part of what makes the game so fun and compelling.