Hard Work and Performance: Not the Same Thing

Hard Work and Performance: Not the Same Thing

I know a little bit about hard work, at least I think I do.  I mean, I’ve done some pretty hard things that involved working hard, took effort, that were a grind.  At times I felt like quitting, giving up, giving in, stopping.  I didn’t.  I’m loathe to write this down due to some odd self-deprecating and misplaced modesty, but I worked hard getting my doctorate.  I taught classes, did work for a publishing company, raised (and still raising) two kids, and eventually got a full-time job.  Sometimes I was doing all of those things at once and still worked on the dissertation. I wouldn’t let it go, wouldn’t give up.  I finished and again, not really comfortable saying so, especially because within the academic community it is looked down upon, but fuck it, I’m proud of finishing my degree.

I’ve also written a couple of times in this space about finishing the Chicago Marathon.  I’m proud of that too.  It took a whole different kind of discipline in order to finish the marathon and yet I still had that drive, that inability or resolve I suppose, not to quit.  It was especially difficult this past year, I was closer to quitting than I could have imagined, but then something, something in me, didn’t quit.  The last three miles of the 2013 marathon may have been the hardest I’ve ever worked on anything.

You might say I’m gritty; I’m a grinder; I don’t quit.  I think that is pretty fair to say and I could go on to other examples of my hard work ethic, which is great.  I’m also completely aware that there are people much better than me at many things, especially those two mentioned above, of which I’m quite proud.

There are many dissertations written that are better than mine, not just the subject and importance to the field, but simply just written better.  I don’t think that is because I didn’t work hard enough or that I didn’t try or do my best.  The fact is there are others who are better scholars, better writers and better researchers.

That stark fact, that there are those that are better than me, is even more apparent when it comes to the marathon.  Now, of course I’m not comparing myself to the elites, that’s just silly.  Comparing myself to others my age, in my similar situation, there are people who are just better runners.  I don’t necessarily think everyone who did better than me in the marathon trained harder, put in more or better miles.  Honestly, looking back at the hours spent getting ready for both marathons, there isn’t much more I could have done.  Yet, thousands, literally thousands, of people are better runners than me.

Which brings me to the case of Adam Eaton, new outfielder for the Chicago White Sox.  Since the team has acquired him I’ve seen him described as “gritty” “hard-nosed” “plays with an edge” “dirt bag” and perhaps the most dreaded of epithets, “a grinder. *” I got into a good Twitter debate with Chris Rongey that when describing a player these terms are pretty much useless.  They tell me nothing about the player’s performance, especially future performance.

* For the record, when I asked Joe Sheehan during a Q and A on Twitter for more insight on Eaton not using any of the previous terms, he added “tall.” Thanks Joe.

Note I don’t say these terms are meaningless.  No, I think work ethic and attitude are important things, they just don’t tell me how good a person is at any given task.  As noted above, I’m all about hard work.  I’m a bit of a goal and commitment junkie, the longer the journey the more I seek it out.  Thank god I didn’t get into real distance running in my twenties or I might be doing ultra-marathons by now. * No, I think to succeed in anything, to accomplish most things, this kind of attitude is great, but it doesn’t tell me how good a person is at any specific task.

*Speaking of: anybody interested in doing Ragnar? Not saying I am…but…I could be persuaded and I think, with time, my wife would forgive me.

When this comes to professional athletes this is even more the case.  I would expect almost any professional athlete to have put in a great amount of work to simply get where they are.  That they have, at some point, gutted out something.  So using the term “gritty” kind of tells me something that is pretty much, at some level a given.

Furthermore, looking at Eaton’s numbers, both in the minors and limited time in the majors he’s…okay.  He may be gritty, a gamer, a dirt bag, a firebrand, a pestilence, a barbaric nova reminiscent of a time when men were men, but as a baseball player, thus far anyway, he’s…okay. *  He might even turn out to be good for the White Sox and I will cheer wildly.  Truly, I’m actively hoping he will do well in Chicago.  Telling me he has a good attitude and works hard, however, doesn’t make that hope any stronger.

*And from now on, can we just assume that I think all athletes are good guys, at least on a basic level? It has gotten to the point that every time a person criticizes a player, they need to qualify their critiques with “I’m not saying he’s a bad guy…” and going on from there.  Look, my entire view of athletes could be another post, but nothing I say about a player is personal.   I’m sure that any player I criticize, Eaton in this case, is nice to small children, loves puppies and has some charitable foundation that they are attached to or given their name.

On a more philosophical level, two things about the whole “grit lit” that just rub me the wrong way.  First, not only are the words empty, I find them to be a bit lazy.  They offer no real analysis of a player, can’t be refuted and are intentionally ambiguous.  During my Twitter conversation, the concept morphed from grinder, to attitude, to psychology, to mindset, to “ always have your head in the game” which is contagious (I wonder if there is an antibiotic for it?)  But can’t one have their head in the game and not be a grinder? And I’ve seen a grinder dirt bag type make mental errors, does that make him less gritty?  And I can have a mindset about any number of things, but my psychological motivations and make up don’t necessarily reflect that particular task.  I guess we could do a Myers Briggs type test to establish grinder-ness, but does that mean those who don’t fit the profile aren’t any good?

The other thing that always gets me about the whole grinder description is that it almost always is proscribed for white players.  Latin players and African-American players are almost never described as hard working, gritty, dirt bag kind of players.  Sportswriters always seem to fall back on “natural ability” when it comes to describing Latin and Black players, hard work and grit when it comes to whites.  Yes, I know there are exceptions in these areas, but it happens enough that I find it annoying at the least, downright offensive in some cases.

So Adam Eaton will probably get his uniform dirty on a regular basis and I won’t be surprised in the slightest if he wears eye black like nobody’s business.  He very well may show up early and stay late, working on his hitting and watching film.  If his performance is as mediocre as it has shown in Arizona, however, the White Sox have picked up yet another replacement level player, gritty or not.

And he has a beard too!

And he has a beard too!

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