Former Yankees pitcher David Cone experienced some of the worst failures and greatest successes while playing for both New York teams, making him a vast resource of perspective. In the 1988 playoffs, he was author of a ghostwritten column that inspired a Dodgers comeback, and later, with the Mets, he was the central figure in a play that will be part of baseball’s permanent blooper reel.
He also was a leader of arguably the greatest team of all time, the 1998 Yankees, and in 1999, Cone threw a perfect game. So when he spoke with young players, Cone had the best advice -- and hopefully, the MLB Players Association and some teams take advantage of that in their player-development programs. He would tell others this about pressure: It means that the fans care about you.
The booing? It’s just them caring. They want you to win, he would explain, they are rooting for you to have success, and when you lose, this is their way of expressing how much they care.
You can decide for yourself whether this is true or whether this is a really useful Jedi mind trick necessary to compartmentalize negative response. In the meantime, we present our annual list of a dozen folks in baseball under the most pressure for the upcoming season.
1. David Price, Boston Red Sox: The left-hander got the most money ever guaranteed to a pitcher in a contract in agreeing to his $217 million deal with the Red Sox. In return, he is being charged with the responsibility of leading a team that has finished last in back-to-back seasons to the front of the AL East. Price is coming off a season in which he had a career-low 2.45 ERA, with 225 strikeouts in 220 1/3 innings, but beyond the pitching part of this, he has never shirked the responsibility of being the ace -- and in Boston, in one of baseball’s largest markets, the weight of that challenge is even greater.
2. Andrew Friedman, Los Angeles Dodgers president: He is in his second full season of running the Dodgers’ baseball operations, and already his work is under enormous scrutiny because of how the team bought for the highest price and operating with a record payroll has been outbid repeatedly in the past six months. The Rangers boxed out the Dodgers for Cole Hamels in July, and then the Diamondbacks jumped into the bidding late for Zack Greinke; reportedly, the Dodgers were also in on the conversations for Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, and didn’t land either.
In time, Friedman’s decision to veer around the bloated contracts may well turn out to be justified. But in the interim, the Dodgers have to try to continue the business of trying to extend the record of success established under former GM Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly, who won the NL West repeatedly -- in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
It goes without saying that if the Dodgers continue their relatively sedate offseason, fans of the team will be closely monitoring events of 2016. But so will folks within the building, from Friedman’s bosses to pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who will have the opportunity to opt out of his contract after the 2018 season.
3. Mike Rizzo, Washington Nationals general manager: Beginning with the decision to fire Matt Williams, Rizzo’s handpicked manager, rival executives have watched the moves of the Nationals this winter and looked for fingerprints of the team’s ownership, following the team’s greatly disappointing season of 2015. The pitching staff was never as dominant as the Nationals had hoped, and as the year progressed, injuries and performance issues greatly affected the lineup and the bullpen -- which led to the trade for Jonathan Papelbon and the demotion of Drew Storen. At season's end, the image of the Nationals that resonated most was that of Papelbon clutching Bryce Harper by the neck in a dugout brawl.