Why Does Eric Byrnes Matter?

This is the third part of a long article, segmented for online reading convenience, on Eric Byrnes’ batting difficulties, and the mental aspect of solving these problems. You’re still here? Then you must be an Eric Byrnes fan. Great! The more the merrier!

Why does Eric Byrnes matter? It’s not like I’m getting paid to analyze his hitting.

I’ll let Audrey Hepburn provide the answer. She said it better than I ever could.

People, even
more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and
redeemed; never throw out anyone,

–Audrey Hepburn

Byrnesie is at a critical time in his career. He will be 30 in 2006 and thus deemed to be in the middle of his prime years as a ballplayer. 2005 was anything but prime. Thirty seems to be the defining year. You’re expected to have fulfilled your potential as a player by then. Oh, you may still have a career year in the offing, but in general, how good you are ever going to be is decided by then, by whomever decides these things. When a player is 30, there are many other younger players willing to do the job for less pay. It seems like every other day, if not more frequently, we hear the sentence, "Baseball is a business." We even hear it uttered stoically by guys like Byrnes himself.

And just what does that mean? There’s a baseball exhibit from Cooperstown that has taken up residence at the Oakland Museum for the next few months. It’s called BASEBALL AS AMERICA. At some point I am going to see it and I will write you a review. I will look for an aspect of the exhibit that has to do with baseball economics.

In the United States, the culture demands that everyone earn a living, (or be supported by someone who does) in an economic system that does not need everyone to participate in order to function. In fact, having some people not participating, even though they want to, creates a pool of workers to use against the wage demands of those who are participating. I know the effects of that personally.

People, in all fields of endeavor, are routinely thrown away in America, even after functioning quite well. We are told to strive for those promotions and those raises, and then are thrown away for becoming too expensive. In baseball, perhaps there was no greater example of this than the Florida Marlins after they won the World Series in 1997. Remember the fire sale? Do any publishing companies have editors who will develop promising writers anymore? Such editors were probably the first group of workers thrown out of the publishing industry when it retrenched in the face of desktop publishing. Remember when the minor leagues had more classes than they do now? Today, colleges are expected to do the development work that the lower classes of the minors once did. It’s like that everywhere these days; let some other organization develop the worker you want to eventually have. One of the compliments paid to Theo Epstein as he decided to leave the Red Sox was that he revitalized Boston’s farm system. So what does that say about what it was like before? What was behind the thinking that put the Red Sox farm system in a condition to need revitalization?

And how many displaced workers find jobs that pay what they formerly made? In the ‘80s, as corporate raiders broke up even profitable companies because sale of the assets made more money in the short term than running the acquisition, the millions of workers displaced in that phenomenon where told to retrain. But older workers found they were not wanted or had to take much lower paying jobs. And the courts found ways to decimate the age discrimination laws. How many anti-union companies do a merger with, or buyout of, a unionized firm, fire all the workers and invite them all to re-apply for their old jobs? How many times do we hear of a team that cuts a player but hopes to re-sign that same person at a much lower salary? BASEBALL AS AMERICA, indeed!

I put up the Audrey Hepburn quote, which is part of a poem she wrote that was sent to me recently, because I am convinced that 2005 was an aberration, and that to throw out Eric Byrnes: to relegate him to the bench, or to give up on him entirely, is a huge mistake. And it’s a mistake not just on the moral grounds of which Ms. Hepburn was probably thinking when she wrote her words; it’s a mistake on baseball grounds.

Re-read Byrnes’ stats, focusing not on the "ofers," but on what he’s accomplished, and you will see that Eric Byrnes is a guy with major league tools. In fact, he’s got that rare combination of power and speed that gives him 30-30 potential. (Not that the Moneyball A’s really like stolen bases, which is one of the reasons Byrnes is better off out of Oakland, even though a bunch of us didn’t like the idea, or how it was done). He also has the desire and the work ethic to do well. The issue is consistency. Some guys, like the 2005 AL Rookie of the year, Huston Street, seem to be born with it. But I think it is also teachable; I think it is a skill that can be honed. I wouldn’t be spending all the time I do thinking and writing about Eric Byrnes if I thought consistency was solely an inborn trait that he apparently wasn’t born with.

From his 2003 MLB web page:

Replaced the injured Jermaine Dye on April 24 and for the next nine weeks of the season, he was one of the hottest players in baseball…beginning on April 24, he hit .352 (83 for 236) with 11 home runs and 41 RBI over a 59-game stretch that culminated on June 29 when he hit for the cycle at San Francisco …at the end of June, he had hit safely in 23 of his last 24 games and 45 of his last 48 and was batting .335 overall…that was the fifth best average in the A.L.

And from 2004:

…was named AL Player of the Week for the week of July 26 to August 1 after going 11 for 25 (.440) with seven runs, two doubles, three home runs and nine RBI…it was his first career Player of the Week award…drove in at least one run in six consecutive games from July 23 to 28 (12 total)…finished July with eight home runs and 24 RBI in 24 games…the home runs and RBI were his most ever in a month…

Imagine Byrnesie hitting .335 for an entire season. What was it about this 59-game stretch that made .335 possible? Imagine more AL Player of the Week awards. What was it about that week that made performance at such a level possible? If he’s done it before, he can do it again. How can Byrnes perform this well consistently?

Kéllia Ramares
Oakland, CA

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