Some Thoughts From Barry Larkin
Barry Larkin, the former Cinci shortstop, and an assistant in the Nats front office since 2005, was at the ballyard today -- a rare appearance, since Larkin has logged plenty of miles this year on the road for scouting and player development. He's been to Italy. To China. To the College World Series. (Not every trip is sponsored by the Nationals; his job with the team is loosely structured, almost advisory, with lots of freedom -- but even on those trips, Larkin said, he was relaying advice back to Washington about the talent that's out there. Larkin calls himself a baseball "entrepreneur.")
Anyway, Larkin's contract with the team is up at the end of the year. He's in town hoping to figure out whether he has a role in the organization's future. He'd like as much, but first, he's planning to sit down with Jim Bowden and hear some thoughts on what might come next. (One thing is for sure: Larkin doesn't want a GM job. Ever. The hours, he said, are too ridiculous.)
When we talked today before the game, Larkin also gave some thoughts on this year's team, and the reasons the Nats have struggled so much.
He sees two primary problems:
Too many players here are learning on the fly.
And, these young guys have little veteran leadership.
I'll let Larkin elaborate.
"I don't envy their position at all as ballplayers, because they're in the clubhouse trying to learn how to be successful, and then they're out here competing for a job and trying to, you know, make their bubblegum card look good. And that's not an enviable position. I want to be able to learn all of my things in the offseason and in the minor leagues, so that when I step on the field as a 23- or 24-year-old guy, I am seasoned and now I don't have to worry about my technique and I can just worry about trying to win. These guys are trying - I see it all of the time. I was in here yesterday just watching some things happen before the game and then [players were] going out on the field trying to implement what you just learned. No! That's a difficult position to be in.
"When I was 21, I had 40-year-old guys around me saying, 'Listen young buck, this is how you do this, this is how this happens, and you know what -- No! You're not going out tonight. You're getting your [butt] up and you're getting here tomorrow morning because that's the way a professional works.' These guys don't have that. And then you have a 23-year-old kid who's the de facto leader of your team. So it's not an enviable position for these guys, and it's tough for these guys. They are playing hard, but they are learning. They're learning. The best players on their team are learning to play at the big league level, and it's tough. It's like learning a new language and just saying, 'OK, I taught ya man. You can go to China. I was just there. Go communicate with people.' Ahh, it's not gonna happen."
So I asked Larkin if there was a risk in this sink-or-swim approach? Can it backfire?
"I think if you don't communicate to the players the reality of the situation, then yes, it can backfire and guys think that they're not good enough. You've got young players that are trying to play at the big league level and are learning at the big league level while in the big leagues. Normally, you've got young players who are in the minor leagues and -- yeah, there's an adjustment when you get to the big leagues -- but they have some tenure, they have some seasoning, they've won. ... So could it backfire? If it's not communicated to these guys, Listen, we're not expecting you to go out and win. And you don't want to say that, because you want to win. And so that's kind of the tightrope, and you've got to walk that."
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