They call this “bluffing,” which is kind of like lying only without the anguish of a real lie. In sports like poker or baseball, those who are the best at distorting reality are lauded as masters of the game. In fact, long after other important skills have eroded, players can get by on bluffing or making certain adjustments.
It’s a skill not relegated just to the players, either. For instance, take Phillies’ general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. Not even a week ago he sat in a comfortable suite littered with snacks and room-service trays in the Downtown Marriott in Indianapolis and told the Philly-based media that a deal for a pitcher like Roy Halladay was, “unlikely.”
Hey, that’s what he said.
Of course people in the position to make big decisions say a lot of things. Some of them might even be true. Like I’m sure even Tiger Woods had a few standbys he used at the Perkins when he was (allegedly) picking up a waitress that could have been based in truth, but when poked or prodded further turned out to unravel sloppier than an old, worn out slinky.
So when the cards hit the felt and you belly up across from Amaro, just be sure to know that the term “unlikely,” actually means, “we’re going to fly the guy up to Philly in four days to see if we can iron out something.”
Oh sure, that’s a mouthful, but that’s the underappreciated skill of being a big-league GM. The art of misdirection is just like a dab of Vaseline under the bill of the cap or sneaking a glimpse at where the catcher sets up while digging in at the batters’ box. This comes despite the knowledge that everyone in baseball has their own little tells. People talk—like all the time. There are no more secrets anymore so the practice of misdirection or bluffing is futile.
And yet we play the game anyway. Actually, it’s kind of fun. The scouts, assistants to the traveling secretary, stat crunchers, and PR types leak like sieves. They also have the ear and the information discarded from the GM, which makes the whole thing comical.
In other words, when a management types says the team has tossed around the idea of trading Cole Hamels for Roy Halladay and then less than a month later the GM says any trade for the Jays’ ace is “unlikely,” it actually means it’s Cliff Lee and it’s a three-way with Seattle and Toronto.
But make no mistake about it, the Phillies never moved off of Halladay. Not after they traded for Lee and not after they had Pedro Martinez pitch in two games of the World Series. That’s why it was so funny to hear national pundits to write/Tweet things like, “The Phillies are quietly back in the mix to deal for Halladay.”
Really? When did they ever leave?
Maybe there’s a different message in here, too. Maybe when following the hot stove fest that has been buzzing up the Internets like a hornet’s nest, it’s best to stay close to home. Like politics, all sports scribing is local.
Either way, after the Halladay deal reaches its climax and Lee, et al find their new teams, there next bluff is just a moment away. After all, Amaro still has to get a reliever and a No. 4/5 starter in order to finish the off-season shopping. Strangely, finding that last bullpen piece has proven to be most elusive for the Phillies.
Getting Halladay, on the other hand, just took a lot of patience and a lots tangos with semantics.