The Toughest Time of the Year
It’s August 14th and you can’t blame PawSox manager Ron Johnson if he’s daydreaming about getting home to Tennessee to see his wife, kids, and trusty horse Peanut (the following photo hangs in RJ’s office at McCoy Stadium).
The PawSox have played 126 games (in 134 days) and are not in the thick of the playoff chase. In recent weeks there have been non-stop roster changes that disrupt team chemistry. In short, they’re called the “dog days of August” for a variety of reasons.
“When you get to this time, there’s a lot of stuff that starts going through guys’ minds,” RJ told me. “Some guys are looking at possible September call-ups, while guys that have had tough years are thinking, ‘Man, I’ve got to do something to make my self marketable next year.’ So there are a lot of issues that come about.”
And none tougher than telling a guy he’s being released.
In the last month, RJ has had to deliver that news to Paul McAnulty, Freddy Guzman, Carlos Maldonado, and Rocky Cherry and he may have to release other players in the final 3 ˝ weeks of the season.
“There’s no good way to do it,” Johnson said. “You get right to the point and fortunately at this level they know it’s a business. I can remember those days when I managed at the lower levels and you’d have to call a kid in who might be a year or two years out of school and you’d have to bring him in and tell him the dream is over – or at least it’s over with this organization. At this level, as difficult as it is, most of the time you’re dealing with guys that have multiple years of experience and they know it’s a business and it doesn’t come out of the blue. It’s always hard, but it’s part of the job.”
Fortunately, McAnulty and Guzman have had already joined other teams, and Maldonado should have no trouble finding an organization that could use a veteran catcher. But a playing career goes by quickly for most pro athletes, and RJ will never forget being released for the third and final time.
“I remember all of them,” Johnson recalled. “I was one of those veteran guys who had been kicking around and I was with Detroit. Gordie McKenzie was the manager and I had a feeling it was going to happen anyway because I wasn’t getting any hits, and he called me up in a hotel in Nashville and said, ‘Listen, come up and see me.’ And I said, ‘Hey Gordie, am I done?’ And he said, ‘Yea, we’re going to make a move.’ When you’re older and a veteran you kind of anticipate that something might happen.”
On the flip side, with September approaching, the PawSox manager is also going to tell several players that they’re heading to Boston for the final month of the season.
In baseball, there’s nothing quite like getting the news that you’re going to the big leagues for the first time, although in RJ’s case, there wasn’t much of a conversation.
“When I made the team in 1983 and boarded the plane at the end of spring training with the Kansas City Royals – I was one of the 25 – Dick Howser never really said a thing,” RJ told me. “I ended up loving him immensely, but he was an old school guy and he talked to George Brett, Amos Otis, Dennis Leonard . . . those guys. If you were a young guy, you basically stayed in your place. So Dick never said a thing to me all spring – he never told me I made the team. It was the last day and I started counting the numbers and there were 25 left and I was one of them. Just before the last game of spring training, I was in the bullpen and he comes walking down and he didn’t look but he said, ‘I bet you feel pretty good today,’ and he just kept walking. That was the speech. I said, ‘Very good sir,’ and that was it.
* * * * *
The PawSox final long road trip of the year has reached the midway point. After splitting a 4-game series at Charlotte, Pawtucket opens a 4-game set against the Gwinnett Braves on Friday night at 7:00.
I hope you’ll join us for the radio call beginning with the pre-game show at 6:45 on the PawSox radio network and PawSox.com.
I’d love to hear from you. The address is email@example.com.
And if you’re part of the Twitter world, you can follow my tweets at @dan_hoard on Twitter.com.