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On Trent Grisham, Travis Shaw, and coping with very public failures

Baseball is a game of failure, but that doesn’t make it any easier to confront

MLB: OCT 01 NL Wild Card - Brewers at Nationals Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In a lot of ways, life is a constant lesson in dealing with failure.

We deal with various levels of disappointment every day, and how we learn from those micro-failures shapes how we respond the next time we’re confronted with those situations — and shapes who we are as people.

Maybe we don’t quite meet our boss’s expectations on a project. Maybe we fail to live up to a promise. Maybe we let down a significant other.

But in those times, rarely do we get yelled at by thousands of strangers who feel like they know us personally.

When you watch someone on your TV screen for close to half a calendar year, it’s easy to start thinking that you know them — the ins and outs of their personality, their strengths and weaknesses. But at the same time, it’s easy to think of them as TV characters instead of actual human beings.

It happens with news anchors, actors and actresses, and athletes. We’ve seen a couple examples of that with this year’s Milwaukee Brewers.

Most recently, it’s Trent Grisham. His mistake at the office just happened to be nationally televised, in front of hundreds of thousands of people who either felt like they knew him, or had their first impressions of him shaped by that mistake. And then he we was asked to analyze and talk about that mistake at length with about a half dozen microphones and bright camera lights in his face while trying to process it.

His error, while allowing the go-ahead run to cross the plate in the National League Wild Card game, did not cost the Brewers the game. They still had a chance to rally after that, and has every single teammate has said in the hours and days since, there was plenty of blame to go around for that game — one they wouldn’t have been in in the first place without him.

Still, whether it was because they were legitimately angry with someone they’ve never met or they just felt like being an asshole, some people felt like they had to pile on.

Twitter is a cesspool.

If anyone knows that firsthand, and experienced it for much of this year, it’s Travis Shaw.

This was, to put it mildly, a year from hell for Shaw, who was expected to be a major part of a strong offense and ended up having the worst year of his career. Nothing seemed to work for him, no matter how hard he tried (the cruelest joke being that in baseball, often trying harder is the worst thing you can do).

We always hear that baseball is a game of failure. But at a certain point, professional failure starts to feel like personal failure.

Shaw gave us a glimpse of that feeling players like himself deal with in an Instagram post yesterday:

“As I look back on 2019, all I can come up with is “WHY”. Why did this happen, why couldn’t I fix it, why did this last so long, why me. I went through periods of anger, frustration, disappointment, anxiousness, among others. 2019 broke me down to my core. But I can tell you one thing that was gained was wisdom and a self awareness of what’s important and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I don’t have the answers for what happened in 2019 but I know one thing, 2020 WILL be better. So much wisdom and mental strength was gained this year. Time to check out for awhile from baseball, and I promise 2020 will be special again, no regrets! Much love!”

There will be people who respond to that by saying players should toughen up, it comes with the territory or they wouldn’t be complaining if they were making hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.

That misses the point.

No matter what we do for a living, no matter how much money we make, all of us are susceptible to crippling moments of shame and self-doubt. Most of us don’t have to deal with that while trying to keep it together in front of a million eyeballs.

We’re all human, even ballplayers.

Kudos to Shaw for being strong enough to be vulnerable, and to Grisham for having that perspective in the hours after the game, despite how much it hurt at the time. How they respond professionally remains to be seen, but both appear to have responded as best they could personally.