Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at the-jeff-report.blogspot.com. He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site kingsofkauffman.com as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of throughthephog.com a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.
Jeff Herr: Is Effort Worth the Effort?
by Jeff Herr,posted Jun 4 2012 5:01PM
When I was younger playing youth baseball, awards were given out at the end of every year. There were always trophies or plaque’s presented based on “effort.” The recipient was usually either one of two extremes. They were either the incredibly talented player who was dedicated and obviously had a future in the sport, or the kid that had no future and was lacking in skill but always tried hard and looked like he really wanted to succeed.
As a concept, “effort” can’t be quantified. It is completely subjective in nature and often used as a crutch to support ones argument. Over the past couple of years the Royals have taken a lot of heat when it comes to how they view and value this abstract idea. Buzz words and phrases such as “grit,” “plays the game the right way,” and “he’s a ballplayer,” get thrown around quite frequently. More often than not they come off as though they are merely excuses to justify why management likes a player even though they show no objective reason why they should be playing.
Like any subjective argument in sports, there are both sides to this coin and those that argue for each. Nobody is going to tell you that Babe Ruth was not a good baseball player or that he was overrated. But when it comes to the effort a player puts forth, that is a different story. The fact that it’s subjective only makes it more tenuous as two different people will interpret the same event in wildly different ways. This is due to a lot of factors, one of which may be how many received “effort” awards when they were children.
On Saturday, the Royals lost to the offensively hapless A’s by the score of 9-3. This marked the first time the A’s have scored more than 6 runs since May 11th and only the third time all season. The A’s as a team are batting .209 so far on the season. A number so bad that, if it were to continue for the full season, would be much worse than even the poorest of the poor Royals teams we have seen over the last 20 years.
Such an offensively anemic team is certain to break out at least a few times during the season. Even a historically bad offense is going to put up some solid run totals; such is the law of averages over a 162 game season. Even so, the nine runs they did score was a bit misleading. While the A’s were able to break out slightly against Luke Hochevar, they got some additional from the Royals that could be related to effort.
Hochevar unraveled in the top of the 5th inning as he’s wont to do. Part of the unraveling involved a somewhat suspect play by Jarrod Dyson in that inning. While Hochevar had already done enough damage on his own to be removed in favor of Tim Collins, there was still more damage to be done.
After Yeonis Cespedes reached first base on a single, former Royal fan favorite Kila Ka’aihue laced a double in deep center field. Dyson labored over to the ball, not thinking Cespedes would try to go home, and when he did Dyson botched the transition and another run scored for the A’s.
More came in the top of the eighth inning. After Kurt Suzuki reached on a walk Cliff Pennington hit a hard grounder to second base. Oft beleaguered Yuniesky Betancourt chose to play the ball to his side instead of getting his body in front (sometimes referred to as an “ole” move). Betancourt was not able to field it cleanly and the ball ricocheted off his glove into short right field. No doubt disappointed in himself and thinking that the runners were content with their free bases, he jogged after the ball not even looking at the runners.
The runners chose to advance another base before the ball was retrieved. The very next better hit a line drive single to center field and both of those players ended up scoring. The runs were unearned and likely could have been prevented.
Display’s like this often cause fan outrage and this was most definitely the case in the Royals twitter verse. People lamenting on the lack of effort of some of the Royals players and going further to call their commitment into question by saying they look as though they “don’t even care.” Just as these remarks were being thrown out, the other side of the coin sprang up as well.
The idea being that “effort” and “looking like a player cares” are overrated, in large part due to the subjective nature of how they are measured. Often times a player’s attitude can translate into them looking like they lack effort, regardless of whether or not that appears to be true. As subjective as that topic is, it opens itself up to a lot of biases.
Many people will also bring up the idea that most people don’t give 100% of their job every day. As a result, the idea of effort is overrated and we can’t expect major league baseball players to a higher standard than we hold ourselves in our everyday lives.
Taking a step back, it appears that both sides may be missing the point, if ever so slightly. Obviously effort does matter otherwise there would be no such concept. While it is an important component of a player’s value, it does not overcome a lack of skill. No matter how much effort Chris Getz puts forth he will always be an average second baseman at best. Whereas, Albert Pujols can put forth 75% of his true ability in effort and still be a legitimate all-star.
On the other side, I don’t believe it’s unfair to hold an athlete to a higher standard than we do in our everyday lives. While I don’t know how hard everyone works, it seems that not giving 100% every day of their lives to their jobs is probably an accurate statement. However, if we are to admit that, it also bears mentioning that the majority of us aren’t even close to the best at what we do, and probably get compensated accordingly.
A financial analyst at a local bank will get paid a certain amount. An investment banker at a large investment banking firm, supposedly the elite of that profession, will get paid considerably more. The more “elite” you are from a talent level, the higher your compensation, and the more is expected of you. If Betancourt was playing for an independent league team and making less than $100k I would be less inclined to care about how he runs after his booted ball. Since he is making $2M and plays for the Royals, I care a bit more.
While no trophies are handed out for “effort” at the major league level, there is a reason for that. A high level of effort is expected and paid for. In a hypercompetitive culture like professional sports, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. Effort can’t replace skill but it most certainly means it’s won’t diminish. It’s overrated as a substitute for talent, but is and always will an integral part of a player’s value. It does not define a player, but they often only hurt themselves when they don’t give all that they can. As sports fans, we deserve that much.
I don't have people paying a good chunk of money to come watch me do what I do while at work. No, hardly any of us put 100% into our job 100% of the time, but we're not getting paid millions of dollars and being watched by, in the Royals' case, a few thousand people. Your comparison of ballplayers at "work" vs. us average joes at work is kind of an apples to oranges comaprison in my opinion. As for the deal of every kid playing some kind of sport, or being in some kind of activity, being awarded a participation ribbon at the very least...that's a bad deal. You made the point that no effort awards are handed out at the major-league level. Well, no effort/participation awards are handed out in life, in general, either. If you don't do your job, you become unemployed. Your boss doesn't give you a participation award or does he/she usually compliment your effort either. Point being, this whole thing of handing out end of the season awards or ribbons to each and every kid is just one of many small examples of how we're raising a bunch of kids who feel entitled and have a sense of not having to put forth their best effort in society as a whole.