Thoughts on Danny Duffy

A guess: Most people who read this site grew up yearning to become – heck, dreamed of becoming – a professional ballplayer.

Another guess: Most people who read this site are not professional ballplayers.

Lots of broken dreams surround the job title “professional ballplayer.” The lavish life, full of carefree living, groupie love, hero worship, private jets, and, in Carson’s dreams, additional groupie love. Well, it’s not really like that. Not for most professional ballplayers. The title is ambiguous, although since there are more minor leaguers than major leaguers, the realities of the majority should overshadow the fortune of the extreme minority.

Nevertheless, when people read about Danny Duffy walking away, one reaction is more common than any other. Something like, “How could he!?” Duffy has been called a moron, an idiot, a fool, and a few words that need not be reprinted. Here are the facts as we know them:

- Duffy is 21 years old and the Kansas City Royals selected him in the third round of the 2007 amateur draft.
- His signing bonus was worth roughly $370,000.
- He ranked just outside of Keith Law’s most recent top 100 prospects list.
- Had yet to pitch this spring due to elbow soreness.

To say Duffy had a golden track to the show is a lie. The attrition war that comes with young pitchers has claimed countless victims. Most of them you don’t remember. Most of them never came near a big league ballpark as a player. The majority of the minor league community won’t reach the bigs. That could be a good thing for some, since that one taste as a 25-year-old inspires them to latch onto the hope for another three, five, maybe six years. Then what? Then it’s time to find a day job.

It’s not that these guys never dreamt about being ballplayers. They almost definitely did. It’s just those dreams about the perfect picnic never account for the traffic. As I’ve written before, pitching baseballs seems like a great life, until the next mortgage payment relies upon it. And the thing often ignored when it comes to a player walking away is just how hard this decision probably is for them. The guilt of being successful and blessed with natural talent. The guilt of getting this far, and then to just walk away because you feel overwhelmed or realized that reliance upon money and ability to have fun sometimes cancel out. That guilt has to be… well, difficult.

Critics often accuse saberists of losing sight of an endless truth – that being that most baseball players are human beings, too. Indeed, they are. We might be experiencing the most varied collection of ballplayers in the history of the game. You have metric conscious sweethearts like Brian Bannister. Oft-beat and often humorous players like Manny Ramirez. And then there are players with amazing intellect, like Fernando Perez, or amazing mystique, like Ichiro Suzuki. This collection includes a more taboo side, too. Players like Khalil Greene, dealing with some personal issues and a battle with self, are beginning to find it acceptable to openly exist. And yeah, there are players like Grant Desme and Duffy. They have dreams, and those dreams included baseball at some point.

If Duffy’s dream is to exit on his own, without a tattered elbow, without a wrinkled face bearing disappointment, or without the assistance of poor performances, and instead to go out with a good perspective on being a professional ballplayer then yeah, I can accept that.

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9 Responses to “Thoughts on Danny Duffy”

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  1. Michael says:

    Well writter R.J. Those who call Duffy those names don’t know the man personally (not that I do). As you said, I’m sure it was a difficult decision to make, and second-guessers need not remark further than that.

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  2. geo says:

    The thing that surprised me was that some Royals fans, forgetting history, were very vitiriolic. When Zack Greinke left camp in the spring of 2006, he was also convinced he was done for good. He has said since that he considered a lot of things: mowing lawns, pro golf, and, like Duffy, going to college. A few weeks away and the treatment he needed changed his perspective and he returned to baseball. I don’t recall any strong criticism of Greinke at the time.

    Now, I’m not saying that the feelings that caused Duffy to walk away are the same as those held by Greinke, but the situation is eerily similar. I suppose the difference is that nobody knew what was going on with Greinke until after the fact; the Royals merely said he would be away for personal reasons and there was no timetable for his return. This time there has been more disclosure.

    One thing the average observer doesn’t know is that every team goes through this with a handful of minor leaguers every year. It’s more under the radar, however, because the kids involved aren’t ususally the more successful players. In this case we’re talking about a fairly highly ranked prospect who had had success at every level since turning pro, so the departure was more high-profile. These aren’t the ones who generally walk away.

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  3. I particularly like the line where you said “Those dreams about the perfect picnic never account for the traffic.” As you noted in your piece, I spent most of my young life wishing I could play pro ball, but I never played again after High School. As I’ve grown older, I realized this was probably for the best, as I realized that for someone of my personal temperament being a professional athlete might be one of the worst jobs on Earth. The fan interaction would drive me absolutely nuts. I’d like to consider myself a generally nice and kind person, but I simply don’t like talking to strangers who aren’t directly a part of my trade and I’m withdrawn. I could easily imagine as a pro athlete being considered aloof and unlikeable — Not quite to a Milton Bradley or Barry Bonds level but maybe two steps below that. I understand now that even if I’d had the talent, there were so many “other” things — The loss of every Summer because I had to work smack in the middle of the day every day of every year including Memorial Day and July 4th for many many years is another thing.

    That’s just me. Who’s to say that there are other parts of the trade that for Danny Duffy didn’t fit in with his dreams? Things that make him miserable? Maybe its not fans or playing all Summer, but maybe there’s something else? Something that makes him go “You know what? I love baseball, but this just isn’t fun for me anymore and the money isn’t worth it.”

    His responsibility in this case is to himself and his own life, not to the Royals or Royals fans.

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  4. The Destroyer says:

    Nathan Vineyard, a second round pick of the Mets in 2007, was another guy who quit soon after starting his career (due to injuries and perhaps for other reasons), and was widely ridiculed for his decision.

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  5. pinball1978 says:

    It’s pretty damn disgusting that anyone can be called stupid for choosing NOT to chase money and fame. Despite the bizarre – to my taste bizarre and sick, but that’s just me – fascination with making people deserving of at most 15 minutes of fame into national “stars,” money past a very limited point plainly does not buy any additional happiness, and fame only has value to the surprisingly small percentage of people who find its weight comfortable.

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  6. baycommuter says:

    You mention Grant Desme and groupie love, which brings up the question of how much his disapproving of that lifestyle as immoral factored into his decision.

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  7. you’ve got an excellent weblog right here! would you prefer to make some invite posts on my weblog?

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