About a week ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Chin-Hui Tsao to a minor league contract. This is the kind of item one sees in the agate type section of the sports page every day; you read over it and figure that the odds are you will never hear anything from or about this guy again. However, Chin-Hui Tsao has a backstory…
He is Taiwanese and has been in MLB in the past. He is 32 years old and made his major league debut in 2003. After an undistinguished time in MLB with several teams, he went to play in the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan in 2009. That is where the backstory gets “verrry interesting” [/Arte Johnson]. The Taiwanese equivalent of a District Attorney’s office said in 2010 that Tsao had accepted “improper benefits” from gamblers and had agreed to throw two games for their benefit during the 2009 season. He never actually threw the games because they did not take place for various reasons. So, he was never tried and convicted but his Taiwanese team – the Brother Elephants – parted company with him.
Believe me; I do understand the precept of “innocent until proven guilty” and have a sense of what the concept of “due process” entails. However, I have to wonder what might have gone through the minds of the folks who run the LA Dodgers when it came time to make the decision to offer this guy a minor league contract. Over the course of 4 seasons between 2003 and 2007, Tsao threw a total of 88 innings with an ERA of 5.40 and a WHIP of 1.392. Those are not eye-popping stats; the guy is 32 years old; he has a whiff of “game-fixing” around him. What made the Dodgers’ front office think this was a good PR move?
Can you imagine the conversation in the Celestial Starbucks between Kennesaw Mountain Landis and A. Bartlett Giamatti if this guy makes it back to MLB?
TMZ Sports has a report from yesterday saying that some bar patrons threw drinks at Johnny Manziel in a Houston club earlier this week. According to TMZ, some fans were shouting at Manziel and “aggressively trying to take pics” which led to Manziel flipping off one of the patrons and then “drinks started to fly”. Some folks might be tempted to use this report to reinforce their thinking that Johnny Manziel has “character issues” and that the Browns never should have drafted him because of those “character issues”. I prefer to interpret this incident – in the context of other reports of Manziel’s behaviors – a bit differently.
I cannot recall any reports regarding Manziel that would lead me to believe he is an evil person; I do not think he is a nascent serial killer or a totally amoral sociopath. I am, however, convinced that he is very immature and has a heightened sense of entitlement. And it is for those reasons that I believe that the Browns never should have drafted him and it is for those reasons that I believe he is not going to achieve the level of success one would hope for from a first round quarterback selection. Like most team sports, football has a large mental component and for a quarterback, the mental component is as important as the physical component. There have been a few “quarterback prodigies” – guys who excelled at the position despite their neglect for things like preparation or conditioning. Bobby Layne, Joe Namath and Ken Stabler come to mind here. However, most of the guys who neglect preparation have brief and undistinguished careers.
I know that Johnny Manziel is only 22 years old and that he does have time to grow up and to behave like an adult. Nonetheless, I have not seen any reports that would lead me to believe that he recognizes that “maturation” is something he needs to put high on his list of “Things To Do”. Until someone realizes that importance, becoming a responsible adult does not happen; one becomes merely a chronological adult.
I mention this because teams talk about “character” when they draft players and I think in many cases that is not what they should focus on. Yes, if a potential draftee at the age of 21 already has 9 arrests for violent behaviors along with stories that he belongs to a Satanic Cult that sacrifices kittens weekly, a team should play the “character issues card” and pass on him. However, the more prevalent problem is “maturity” and not “character”. What teams need to figure out how to measure is the degree to which a potential draftee – actually a physically large and gifted man-child in most cases – has internalized concepts such as responsibility and/or logical consequences of one’s actions and/or self-control.
Johnny Manziel is an example in football of a young player who does not seem to have a great awareness of those sorts of characteristics of maturity. The NBA faces the same problem with its yearly influx of “one-and-dones”. Kids – and I use that term here very purposefully – come into the NBA after one gaudy year of college basketball and often fade into mediocrity. For some, it is because they are boys playing against men and need to catch up physically to players who have had years of physical training to build themselves up. Others fade into mediocrity because they do not recognize that what they have to do to continue to excel goes beyond merely showing up sufficiently before game time that the coach does not suspend you for being late.
Self-awareness leads to a dedication to one’s craft and that leads to development as a player and as a person. That is what teams need to focus on; maturity versus immaturity is a far more common issue than is the good guy/bad guy dichotomy. Maybe what teams need to do with potential draftees is to give them another test after the Wonderlic:
Make the potential draftee watch the movie Bull Durham and then talk to the potential draftee about Nuke LaLoosh and what they think about his future in MLB.
Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times recently dealing with a young player who might have “character issues” or “maturity issues” or perhaps both:
“Police in Buffalo arrested Ole Miss recruit Chad Kelly after Kelly allegedly punched a bar bouncer, fought with police and said he’d open fire on the club with an AK-47.
“Guess recruiting gurus weren’t kidding when they called him a triple-threat quarterback.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………