Occasionally we are reminded that people in baseball are still people and they have actual lives as well. We get neat human interest stories like Steve Delabar and Tom Wilhelmsen. Sometimes the news is not so good, like with Smoak and Saunders each losing a parent in the past year. Fortunately for the players, baseball has made some progress in recent years in instituting policies for things like bereavement and paternity leave.
Often there’s an urge to try and read into these events an effect on someone’s performance, even though it’s impossible from the outside to know how people are being affected or predict how they will respond. On one hand, Smoak came back from his father’s funeral to hit some home runs and go on a bit of a hot streak, but afterward went into a prolonged slump over multiple months. Then again, at some point he hurt his thumbs too, which may have more to do with it. A lot of people basically gave Jose Lopez a pass for one really bad season due to some tragic family circumstances. Obviously, you sympathize with people in these situations on a personal level, but for evaluation purposes it’s basically a guessing game about whether something will carry over and how.
Along these lines, Geoff Baker has a story in the Seattle Times today that essentially boils down to “Chris Larson, the Mariners’ second-largest shareholder, is getting divorced.” Most of the implications it touches on – will he end up selling his stake, can he still make a capital call if the owners decide to boost payroll – are entirely speculative. We don’t even know that there will be a capital call, let alone what that means for Larson. Mind you, I’m not saying the story has no newsworthy information, there are some interesting details about team ownership and finances. And it’s not like the public will be told directly if there are changes in the team budget or ownership makeup, so we have to read the tea leaves using stories like this. But on some level, you have an unfortunate private matter being publicized simply because of someone’s position with the team.
So, the question I’m putting out there is, “What’s the point at which this kind of personal stuff is suitable for public discussion?” Some level of respect for privacy is still appropriate, surely, but these lines can be hard to draw. With Smoak and Saunders, reporters occasionally alluded to issues and it was kind of circulating in the rumor mill, but official confirmation only came when they actually left their teams (I believe Saunders was down in Tacoma when it happened). How do you react to this stuff, and does it affect your evaluation? For example, and I’m not in any way suggesting this is the case, but if Ichiro’s down season was being attributed to some major personal situation, would that make any difference in how you look at it? Also, should these issues be considered the same for owners and players, or are they distinct?