A guaranteed method to motivate ballplayers

October 24, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

Once again the Cubs have hired a new manager. And once again it looks as if they have made a mistake.

Not that there is anything wrong with the two men who were

being considered for the job. Both are experienced and know the science of the game. They have more than enough formal education to write a lineup. They surely will know when to signal for a bunt, replace a pitcher, wave at an outfielder to wake up, shout furiously at an umpire or just quietly in the dugout and spit.

They will go on television and make creative excuses when they lose ("Tomorrow's another day") and become philosophical when they win ("We play 'em one game at a time").

But in the modern era, that's not nearly enough. Every manager knows the ins and outs of the game. They have assistants who know as much as they do. Computer programs tell them if a hitter will miss a wriggling pitch or grow cowardly when a ball is thrown near his lips. When in doubt, they have the sports broadcasters and columnists to advise them.

There was a time when this was adequate. But times change. Managing modern baseball has become far more of a psychological challenge. Now the main job of a leader is to motivate his players, make them strive to excel, to run and leap and throw to their maximum abilities or beyond.

The question is, how does a manager do it when so many of his players are among America's economic elite?

If a young man is a multimillionaire before he turns 30 and knows that he will never have to hold a genuine job or fret about being deprived of gold chains and earrings or happy powder for his nostrils, how do you make him put in a hard three hours of work for a day's incredible pay?

As we have seen so often, the manager is powerless. If the players have a mind to play and win, the manager is admired. If they pout and loaf, they still get paid, but the manager is fired.

Managers try to motivate. Some have brought in inspirational speakers and psychologists. Others pose as one of the guys, or they cross their arms, jut their chins and try to remain distantly aloof, a father figure.

It seldom works. There is only one way to motivate today's wealthy, financially secure, ego-smothered player.

And that is to let him know firmly and irrevocably that should he give anything less than complete mental and physical devotion to play his best, he will suffer pain, mutilation, disfigurement or even sudden death.

That may sound extreme, but we still have many men in our

country who sat in foxholes knowing that if they were careless or idle, they could get killed. And their yearly pay was about what a player gets for walking to the water cooler.

Is this approach possible? Of course. All across America, and especially in a city like Chicago, there are many men who can do this kind of work for the right price. And If they have seen the Cubs play in recent years, they might even offer a discount.

It wouldn't matter how rich, secure and complacent the players were if a manager made a brief clubhouse speech before a game and it went like this:

"Yesterday, Lefty got unlucky and walked the bases loaded, then walked in the winning run. Bad luck brings more bad luck. Today, Lefty started his car and it blew up. Lefty is now Righty. Anybody else feel unlucky today?"

A coach might call a batter to the side and say: "I genuinely hope that you use your ears and listen to me real close and don't swing at another dumb pitch way outside. Because if you do, your batting helmet will keep sliding down past where your ears used to be before they got sliced off with a razor blade."

Or a manager might say: "You run real fast, which is good. But you also run stupid and get thrown out, which is bad. How good do you think you will run on two stumps?"

And a relief pitcher might get a fresh burst of energy if the bullpen phone rang just before he went into the game and he heard his wife or sweetie yelling: "These men wearing ski masks just broke into the house. They say a strikeout would be nice."

Under my plan, we would see a team running onto the field with the enthusiasm of kids at recess.

Some liberals might say this approach is morally wrong and criminal.

Right and wrong are philosophical questions. As for the legal question, maybe. But if the cops, the judge and the jurors are Cub fans, what's to worry about?

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