In a must read piece at Sportsnet, Shi Davidi talks to Travis Snider, Cito Gaston, and Gene Tenace for part one of a three part series on how Snider, now a Pirate– and struggling, with a .246/.321/.331 line in Pittsburgh, and only six starts in the month of September– went from being a wildly hyped prospect to not just expendable, but expendable enough to deal for Brad fucking Lincoln.
It’s a fascinating piece, which reinforces a lot of what we probably already felt about that part of Snider’s saga, but that fills in a lot of the gaps for us, and adds some crucial new information– the fact, explored in one of the next installments, that he turned down a long-term deal with the club, for example.
Now, it’s no secret that the relationship between Travis Snider and Cito Gaston was extremely strained, but Davidi pieces together how it went so badly awry so quickly. The lack of finesse of the old school, tough, approach of hitting coach Gene Tenace soured things from the get-go– literally two hours into Snider’s big league career, when Tenace saw him in the batting cage. Snider replied in the affirmative when asked if he had always finished his swing with two hands, to which Tenace replied, “You might want to change that if you want to stay at this level.” (Tenace denies this version of the event, explaining, “I might have brought it up to him, but I never told him he had to change it.”)
Thus began, as Davidi paints it, an endless series of tinkering, questioning, counterintuitive and mixed messaging– such as an insistence from the coaches on limiting Snider’s natural ability to hit the ball to all fields by forcing him to pull the ball, or his being ”eased” into the lineup and hidden from lefties, a tactic which confused and hurt Snider, who was chided by his teammates, and which is curiously explained away by Cito, who explains that “there are some guys who can take it from their teammates, some guys that can’t. He’s got to be able to take it.”
Part of the tinkering included with pre-at-bat conversations with Gaston– something that was devised by Cito after the front office requested he pay close attention to the needs of Snider and Adam Lind– which Lind enjoyed and felt helped him, while Snider was only put deeper into a mental hole.
“It put me in a position to overthink situations,” he explains. “I’d sit down and say this is what I’m looking for, I watched film on this guy for 30 minutes, I watched his last three starts, I have a good feel for his tendencies, and then hear, ‘No, you shouldn’t look for that, you should look for this.’ ”
And when he asked for these conversations to stop, “he felt as if Gaston washed his hands of him,” David writes.
“If he had come in and said why … to just come in and say he couldn’t handle it, I guess that’s enough reason, but really not, it’s not reason enough. I think sometimes you can be taken as saying I don’t need any help, I’m going to do it my own way,” Cito explains. “I’m certainly not going to mess with someone and their career if they’re going to do it their own way. They will either succeed or won’t succeed.”
I mean… seriously???
The article, though, isn’t a mere excercise in Cito bashing– easy as that may be, though in my view the worst should be saved for the desperate, craven halfwits who allowed such an absurdly set-in-their-ways, out-of-touch group to start fucking around with the club’s prized assets, fully aware of the futility of the experiment and the flaws of the one-size-fits-all approach that would be implemented, yet more concerned with saving face and their jobs than actually doing what would have been best for the franchise.
Sure, Davidi’s piece revisits and illuminates all of that good old stuff, making clear the fact that, while Lind, and obviously Jose Bautista, took to Cito and Geno’s teachings, their approach miserably failed others– and, I should add, certainly wasn’t the One True Path to reinvention in Bautista’s case, despite what Cito apologists would have you believe (for an example of similar magic, see: Encarnacion, Edwin)– but Snider owns up to his own failings, admitting that behind the focused, mature, intelligent exterior he projected, he was bitter, confused, and unsure of himself or how to handle his lack of success.
The in-revolt clubhouse culture by the end of 2009 didn’t help things either–”Compounding matters,” Davidi writes, “was the toxic atmosphere in the Blue Jays clubhouse, with players openly discussing their dislike of Gaston amongst one another, ill-feelings that exploded publicly during the season’s final series in Baltimore. Many of the decisions being made in the manager’s office were questioned, which made it easier for Snider to follow-suit”– but it’s not like Tenace was wrong that there was something amiss with Snider’s swing. Nor was Cito wrong for insisting it was more important to find room for Bautista than it was Snider. And it’s entirely unfair to act as though this kind of treatment and the confusion and questioning it bred in his early years “ruined” Snider, rather than just maybe set him back.
Hopefully, at the very least, it has taught the club a valuable lesson in how to manage people– even if it’s one that, in my view, they shouldn’t have had to learn in such a hard way.
Davidi’s second installment hits tomorrow. Should be a humdinger!