At a deep level, they are their work and want it that way; it may define them in their own eyes and demand sacrifices most people would never choose. Often, they suffer for their art, both psychologically and physically. If a musician or a painter or a filmmaker says, “This is who I am. This is what I’ve created. I don’t have a suggestion box,” we accept such independence, even defiance.
It’s easy for us to tell athletes they should run out of bounds more often, or stop hitting themselves in the head with a smashed bat, or change their pitching delivery to match the wisdom of the moment or stop seeking out those full-speed mid-ice collisions that add to their aura of menace.
Sometimes we’re right, maybe because we have distance or experience. If they can incorporate the wisdom of the commonplace (us), be our guests. For example, even Griffin’s own center, Will Montgomery, thinks he should work on sliding to avoid big hits in the open field.
“It’s crazy some of the shots he’s taking . . . helicoptering his body through the air,” he told SiriusXM NFL Radio. “That’s not a way to make a living right there.”
Among artists, it’s assumed the whole complex person and the unique invaluable work are linked, tied in a knot you would never want to cut. It’s cliche to quote, “How can we tell the dancer from the dance.” But it’s true, too.
Personal history and special talent, psychological necessity and athletic style, and who knows what else, all get stirred in one pot in sports, too. What we get is performance. Be careful, or at least respectful, before you try to change it.
That being said, athletes and their teams can’t live in a world of, “Just do it your way.” They need to explore sensible, boring ways to prolong great careers. Maybe they reject them. But they should study them.
Sometimes, especially in baseball, it can be done. The Washington Nationals attempt it, aggressively. In the NFL, and in RGIII’s case, it’s harder. But it’s possible.
One reason the Nats traded for Denard Span was to get Harper, 6 feet 3, 220 pounds and still growing, out of center field, a position that grinds down big athletes over a career. Short-term, the Nats likely aren’t better with a singles-hitting defender in center; every team prefers a slugging Mickey Mantle. But you probably get the best total production from Harper by switching early.
Strasburg’s shutdown was also part of a larger pattern of developmental caution. From 2010 to 2012, his pitch selection changed after his elbow surgery. He threw 42 percent off-speed pitches (harder on the arm) as a rookie, but just 27 percent in his ’11 comeback, then returned to a middle ground of 35 percent off-speed last season. Long-term, that may be better.