The American sports fan loves to psychoanalyze professional athletes. Some guys have heart, some guys are just having fun out there, some guys can't handle the pressure, and so on and so forth. Everybody loves to believe that they understand just what's going on in the minds of the players they're watching on TV, even though, generally speaking, we don't have a damn clue. We don't know any more about the mind of the average professional athlete than we do about the mind of the average duck, and pretending like we have any idea can do far more harm than good.
However, there are certain exceptions, and our very own Ian Snell is one of them. Ian Snell requested a demotion last year from Pittsburgh to AAA Indianapolis. He didn't want to come back up, even after having extraordinary success in the minors. He admitted that there was too much negativity in the bigs, that he couldn't let things roll off his back, that the environment he faced as a Pirate made him depressed. It doesn't take a whole lot of detective work to figure out that, as a Pirate, Ian Snell was unhappy. Exceedingly unhappy.
Almost from the day he arrived in Seattle, Ian was smiling. That's one of the reasons he was brought here in the first place - that he could use a fresh start, that playing for a new team far far away from his old one would allow him to lighten up and re-discover what once made him successful. Ian Snell has enjoyed his time as a Mariner, and even described himself as "giddy" the other day. Giddy. Ian Snell. It is plainly evident that Snell is a great deal happier in Seattle than he was in Pittsburgh.
Snell didn't pitch well after coming over. As a matter of fact, he pitched rather poorly, walking more batters than he struck out and posting a 5.23 FIP. He looked a lot like the Ian Snell they saw in Pittsburgh earlier in the year. But, okay, let's say he was still adjusting to his new surroundings. It's hard, getting traded. It stresses you out. You have to move, you have to learn new teammates and new coaches and new restaurants, new friends - there's hardly enough time for a struggling pitcher to work on his pitching, at least at first. So we can kind of give Snell an excuse for failing to impress down the stretch.
But here's my question: what if Snell doesn't improve in 2010? What if he keeps on struggling to throw strikes? What if batters keep destroying his fastball? What would that tell us about the relationship between happiness and success?
Would it tell us anything?
Ian Snell could very well go on to have a bounceback season. The M's think he has it in him. I do, too. He is in what's almost an ideal environment for a player in his situation. If he can rebound and help the team, it will confirm many of the beliefs and suspicions we've had all along.
At the same time, though, it's fascinating to me to think about the implications if he doesn't. If you take perhaps the unhappiest player in baseball, and you move him to a warm, supportive environment, and he enjoys it there, and he doesn't really get any better...I dunno. I feel like that would mean something.