"Play me or trade me." You have to love that line. No line says it better when you want to sum up complete disgust with your situation.
Interestingly enough, my former teammate Bobby Abreu broke out this line in spring training before a game had even been played. It could be a smart chess move to get the Angels to consider offers early in camp, but all players should know one way or another that the grass is not always greener on the other side -- and even if it is, you still have to water it.
Maybe I should have said that to the Yankees in my last spring training in 2005. I could have expressed it the day they had me on the back field, away from the A-team. I should have told Joe Torre to "play me or trade me," but then again, he came over to me one day during stretching to tell me, "Don't take your being on this back field as a sign that you are not getting serious consideration; you will get every opportunity to show us what we know you have already done." That helped, but I got cut anyway.
What Bobby has to be careful of is what happened to me that spring with the Yankees. With Abreu being a veteran player, Angels manager Mike Scioscia might just say, "OK, you want to play? Then you have to play in every single game during spring training." Then you have to make all those horrible road trips for which you have to be up at 6 a.m. to catch the bus. Torre wasn't punishing me; it was a great opportunity. But I played in just about every game, made every road trip, pinch hit, pinch ran, came in for defense, even started when Bernie Williams came up lame 15 minutes before the game. I got to play, but not like a former guaranteed starter was used to with days off and time to head home at noon to catch a movie or golf on some days. When this happens, you do realize you might be a little older than you used to be.
But I get it. Abreu was one of the best all-around players in the game during my career and beyond. He truly did it all. And what was most impressive about him was his mind for the game. It did not matter who you were: If you pitched against Abreu, by the third inning, he could call your pitches. He could see tips from a mile away and had to be one of the calmest hitters in the game. Nothing seemed to phase him.
He also did everything on a stealth level, which at times got him some heat. He seemed to float through games, and then you would look up and see 1-for-3, 2 BB, SB, 2B. It was solid, not stupendous, not horrible, just solid. But then you would look up at the end of the year, and his numbers would blow you away: a 30-30 man.
So all he knows is being a starter, and the first hint that he might not be is a shock to his world. Most major league ballplayers were starters their entire lives until they got to the big leagues. At one point or another, they had the feeling they should say "play me or trade me" since the idea of not being a starter was unimaginable.
Yet Abreu was more than that. He was the guy you stopped to watch hit. He was steps ahead of his opponent, he knew what was going to happen before it happened, he could steer a ball anywhere on the field and there was no real way to defend him at bat or on the bases.
It just isn't acceptable to a major leaguer to ride the pine. When people say, "Just be happy; you are in The Show," it makes me cringe, because you don't want to just be there; you want to be in there, every day. I could cheer on Albert Pujols from my apartment if that is what I am going to do here.
That doesn't make you a bad teammate, but you owe it to yourself to give yourself every chance to be able to play and to be "the guy" the team needs. If it is not in the cards, you have to adjust very quickly to life as a fourth outfielder or a pinch runner (or get traded). Trust me, it is not fun to stretch to enter the game in the seventh inning for a double switch, but you learn, kicking and screaming.
If you look around major league rosters, you see a lot of guys who were starters at one time or another. They still want to start, but if they can't, they want to be in a place they can win or have a job at the very least. But make no mistake about it, first and foremost, they want to play.
In the end, no player wants to embrace the idea that he is on the downhill part of the mountain. You have to fight; you have to hope someone sees something in you that still is productive. You never want to hear about slowing down, a slow bat or a lost step. You never want to know that a rising prospect's future -- Mike Trout, for example -- is now and your present is past, even though you might like Mike and want to help him be better.
It has nothing to do with how much you have in your bank account (Bobby made a mint) or that you can't objectively understand that a manager has to put the best team out there. You just have come to understand that opinions matter as much as numbers and you want that opinion in your corner -- and why not you?
As Scioscia said, "We need Bobby's input to our club, we need the presence he can bring, we need him to contribute or perform well when he gets the chance to play. How many games it's going to be remains to be seen right now, but I don't see that as an issue."
Scioscia is not a seer who knows the future; he has to hedge. But once Abreu heard the line "when he gets the chance to play," his agent probably got on the phone, even with a championship in reach.
Any player worth his salt wants to play. It is the idea that you believe you can still do it, and if your decision-maker questions that and decides accordingly, you want the chance to change his mind. If nothing else, you want to know his mind is open to being changed (hard to happen from the bench). If it isn't, you want him to put his opinion of you where it counts and send you to a place to play against him -- and then see what happens.
Doug Glanville, who earned a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He serves on the board of Athletes Against Drugs and on the board of the MLB Players Alumni Association. His book, "The Game from Where I Stand," was released in May 2010. Click here to buy it in paperback on Amazon.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dougglanville.