"We started this season with every expectation of making the playoffs so today is certainly disappointing. But we are well positioned to improve even further during the offseason and put a team on the field in 2021 that competes hard every day and makes you proud."
Those were the last words Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen penned to season ticket holders, before signing off in a letter meant to explain his traded deadline moves on Monday. His closing phrase - intended to reassure paying customers - was perceived as a lack of faith by at least one player still remaining on Arizona's roster.
"That's infuriating," shortstop Nick Ahmed said in a media session Tuesday. "Hopefully Mike stops making comments like that. No one's packing in the towel. No one's saying we're giving up on the season. As a player, that pisses me off."
As a player, that pisses me off. That phrase has me thinking about the disconnect between increasingly Ivy League educated MLB front offices and their blue collar counterparts. 43% of MLB general managers graduated from Ivy League universities. 67% come from U.S. News & World Report's list of the top 25 colleges. Just 20% are former players. Mike Hazen, for his part, is a Princeton graduate. Unlike Jeff Luhnow, Hazen actually played college ball, but 1998 was a long time ago.
None of us take kindly to double and triple-degreed intellectual elites crunching advanced metrics we don't understand, setting up rules we didn't agree to, and making decisions they swear are in our best interests. Too many times, it's all been a lie. Remember when we were promised globalization and trade deals would make the U.S. the most dynamic economy in the world? Instead, the rich partook in the fun, while the middle and working class were left behind, watching their manufacturing jobs disappear. Even worse, the same people who sold workers on that neoliberal dream later lectured them to "learn to code."
The thought of a modern day MLB general manager sitting above the field, feeding an algorithm and phoning the results down to the bench manager harkens back to Robert McNamara trying to lead the U.S. through Vietnam with analytics. McNamara, a Harvard educated former president of Ford Motor Company, was tabbed as Secretary of Defense for all his number-crunching genius. His downfall was that he never understood the will of the North Vietnamese people, or the struggles of his own infantry. I wonder if that same disconnect is felt between Hazen and his players.
Torey Lovullo spoke recently about how hard it will be to replace Archie Bradley's straight-forward attitude towards addressing problems in the locker room. Does Mike Hazen account for that? Hazen has perhaps been the most forward-facing figure in the organization as it pertains to media appearances this season. It gives off the appearance that he's the superstar. That's not unreasonable, given the impact a good GM has in today's MLB, but how does it sit with players?
In a rapidly accelerating front office culture that rewards shrewd, calculating decision making, how does a modern general manager cope with players who are just humans? Surely, Lovullo can be a bridge.
A numbers-focused GM may also forget what it means to have players who want to win, bad.
Later on Tuesday night, after Ahmed's comments set the internet ablaze, and as the Diamondbacks limped toward their 22nd loss of the season, it was Ahmed who popped a two-run home run off of Dodgers pitcher Scott Alexander to make it 6-3 in the bottom of the 9th. Ahmed gave Arizona a puncher's chance, just like he wishes Mike Hazen would've at the 2020 trade deadline.