Editorial: The Padres and Discipline in Sports


Former Padres draft pick Johnny Manziel was in the headlines again this past weekend. Once again it was for all the wrong reasons with off the field antics. However, for one of the first times his coach seemed to follow through on his threat to discipline him. Could this be the beginning of a positive turn? Johnny Manziel for probably the first time in his life is getting disciplined and his coach isn’t letting his physical talent overpower his own values. Is then when Johnny Manziel once and for all starts to grow up? I will explore how teams should managed personalities like this and some examples in Padres history of similar players.

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Of course the Padres drafting Manziel in the 28th round of the 2014 draft was a total joke. It illuminated what former Padres GM Josh Byrnes saw as a joke and for a team that hasn’t had a post season berth since 2006 and been only remotely close twice since then, it isn’t what you would expect. The Padres aren’t known for their random draft picks panning out. No hidden Mike Piazza’s here.

In Johnny Manziel we have seen his immaturity now for a long time. Every time you think he might have learned his lesson he seems to do something else. Two weeks ago videos of him partying surfaced. He was put to third string from second string on another bad Browns team. When he lied about it the situation escalated. Then in Monday night’s game, the starting QB Josh McCown got hurt. Browns coach Mike Pettine held true to his word and put in Austin Davis and now intends to start Davis in this weekends game too.

What does this have to do with baseball? Remember Matt Bush?

Bush was the #1 overall pick by the Padres in 2004 and the local kid seemed destined to make it big. Now, as told by Gabe Kapler in this great article, he is behind bars and should be released next year.

Back in 2004 though Bush was arrested just a couple of weeks after being drafted, and continued to struggle with alcoholism throughout his minor league career. He talks about being the number one pick while still in high school and how quickly his teachers and parents just let him be. Then in 2012 he borrowed teammate Brandon Guyer‘s (now a big leaguer) car, stopped over and over for more alcohol at convenience stores, and nearly killed a man in Florida. The dream was formally over.

In 2014 the Padres made some small headlines of their own when they released Everth Cabrera after he had several brushes with the law. First he was suspended for use of illegal substance twice. After that, he was arrested for driving under the influence and then resisting arrest after he failed to show up for court. The Padres showed that they were tired of it and Cabrera tried to play for Baltimore last season but only played in 29 games.

Mike Darr was another Padre who struggled with alcohol until his own death before spring training. Mat Latos came up with the Padres and extreme talent, but he never listened to coaches, would get visibly upset at errors or lack of offense, and the Padres shipped him off to Cincy. Did they help him or hurt his personal development? It sure seems even now in 2015 he hasn’t matured to a level necessary to be a 1-2 pitcher in the major leagues. Since leaving the Padres he has gone to Cincy, Florida, LA, and is currently a free agent.

Josh Hamilton is a great example of when a team did take a chance on a troubled past and he ended up making it…to a point. Last year he relapsed again with the Angels and they shipped him back to Texas where he seems to have a stronger support community.

What role teams should play in players personal development is an interesting topic. They are not baby-sitters. Yet in the case of many young players they receive a high deal of the spotlight at a young age. In the NFL it is more glaring because you typically go straight from college to the pros. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers #1 2015 draft pick Jameis Winston had many off the field issues in college – but so far in the NFL has stayed true. Manziel is still struggling, and the question is whether it is the Browns duty to force him to grow up (as they seem to be trying to do now) or just release him in the business sense of it and let someone else deal with it.

One situation to watch in this regard is Bryce Harper and new manager Dusty Baker. Harper has been very good for a very long time. When he came up to the major leagues at 19, he did not disappoint and the attitude was ignored. However, he struggled in 2014 and now his attitude and cockiness seemed a little misplaced. Who can forget his early response to a reporter who asked him about going drinking in Canada, “That’s a clown question, bro”. Last year veteran Jonathan Papelbon called out the young Harper for not running out a fly ball in a game that didn’t matter as the Nationals sank from the post-season picture despite a literally MVP effort from Harper. That ended in a dugout brawl which is certainly not the right response either, but you have to imagine the rest of the team walks on eggshells around Harper. While you might think that Baker will be the tough-nosed old school guy to put Harper in his place…let’s not forget Baker once managed another young cocky ballplayer named Barry Bonds. Who ran those Giants teams?

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I believe that teams do have a responsibility to at least provide education to younger players or foreign-born players on how to handle money, relationships, and the temptation aspects of substance abuse that can negatively affect their lives and performance. It is related. When teams draft players, they are drafting people and their investment in those people will help their overall organization. Like employers investing in better benefits for their employees, the more teams can give their players the better the organization will do in keeping their players happy. Look at the Royals and their good farm system.

We root for Johnny Manziel the person to not join Matt Bush in a prison somewhere. If a benching is what it takes so be it, with the flip side playing football could also be the only thing he can turn to to save him.