sports psychologist & clinical psychology

BURNING OUT: DRIVEN AWAY BY THE PRESSURES OF THE GAME

Seattle Times – July 8, 2007 – Larry Stone – Mike Hargrove surprised many by resigning as Mariners manager last Sunday. “I’ve learned to never say never, but I can’t imagine myself managing again,” he said. “This is probably my last job.”

Earl Weaver resigned as Orioles manager in 1982.

Former Detroit manager Sparky Anderson, a Hall of Famer, says he never filled his coffee cup more than halfway because his hands shook so badly during the season it would spill. When the season ended, so did the shaking.

Jim Leyland: The World Series winning manager walked away from most of a $6 million contract with the Colorado Rockies after the 1999

Dick Vermeil: He led the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl XV, then resigned two years later and didn’t return to coaching for 15 years.

Dick Bennett: The eventual WSU hoops coach left Wisconsin just three games into the 2000-01 season. He said he “simply was drained.”

Jeff Van Gundy: He suddenly resigned on Dec.8, 2001, as coach of the New York Knicks even though the team had won five of six to go above .500.

By his own admission, Mike Hargrove doesn’t expect anyone to understand his stunning decision to step down last week as the Mariners’ manager.

Yet the feelings Hargrove described â€â€? increasing difficulty in summoning the requisite effort and competitiveness to run a baseball team, highs that weren’t high enough when juxtaposed against lows that were too low â€â€? resonated with many, past and present, in the managerial and coaching fraternity.

“To be truthful, I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone stepped down today,” said Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, 73. “With all the craziness going on, it’s lunacy.”

Doug Moe, former Denver Nuggets coach, once described each game as “emotional, life-shortening experiences.” Moe was so relieved when he was fired he popped open a bottle of champagne at his news conference, saying he didn’t realize his stress level until he was out of the crucible.

The pressure and stress of the position has brought down many a coach and manager in his prime. The fallout ranges from serious health ramifications to the ever-popular “burnout” that entered the sporting lexicon in 1982 when Dick Vermeil cited it as the reason he quit as Philadelphia Eagles coach.

Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka once said of his fellow NFL coaches, a group renowned their workaholic tendencies, “We’re killing ourselves.”

Ditka suffered a midseason heart attack in 1988, but went on to coach seven more seasons.

Managing a baseball team doesn’t seem on the surface to match the maniacal intensity of basketball or football coaching, but it can exact a heavy toll.

Anderson, as cited in Tim Kurkjian’s new book, “Is This a Great Game, or What?” never filled his coffee cup more than halfway because his hands shook so badly during the season it would spill.

“This is 35 years of managing,” he told Kurkjian. “Two weeks after the season, the shaking stops. When the season starts, it starts.”

Noted author Leonard Koppett once wrote, “What do managers really do? Worry. Constantly. For a living.”

Just ask Jim Leyland, who signed a three-year, $6 million contract with the Colorado Rockies before the 1999 season, then announced in September of that year he was quitting at the end of the season.

“I just don’t want to manage any more … I’ve had enough,” said Leyland, 54 at the time, when he revealed his intentions. “There are a lot of ingredients you need to have to be a successful major-league manager. I’ve lost those skills. Call it burnout. Call it whatever you like. I’ve had enough.”

Years later, Leyland told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “The biggest part of managing is putting out the little fires that go on on an everyday basis, and, if you don’t have the energy to do that, you’re not going to be good at your job. And I said, ‘You know what? I don’t need this anymore.’ I was tired of it.”

Leyland’s third-base coach in Colorado, Rich Donnelly, is also a close friend of Hargrove’s, and he empathizes with Hargrove’s announced intention to buy a red pickup truck and drive off into the sunset with his wife, Sharon.

“With Jim, it wasn’t depression. It was total unhappiness, at that time in his career, with the baseball life,” said Donnelly, now a Los Angeles Dodgers coach.

“The baseball life is like a circus life. It looks glamorous while the show is on, but when the show is over, it’s not glamorous. A lot of people don’t realize what managers do when the show is over. Guess what? We become like every other human being. We have the same problems, the same struggles, the same things that drag you down.

“I call it ‘part-time glamorous.’ You’re in the main ring, and then all of a sudden, when the lights go out and the stadium is empty, you’re back to being the same guy on the street.”

Except that a manager’s triumphs and failures are there for the world to see. When Gene Mauch stepped down as Angels manager during spring training in 1988, at age 62, health issues stemming from his heavy smoking played a major factor.

But Mauch also admitted it was getting increasingly difficult to cope with defeats.

“Unfortunately, even when you win championships, there are a certain number of games that you’re going to lose, 60 or more, probably,” Mauch said at the news conference announcing his resignation.

“As I’ve gotten a little older, I have developed an inability to cope with those inevitable losses.”

Mike Port, general manager of the Angels in ’88, saw that side of Mauch firsthand.

“When we lost, especially on the road, Gene would go back to the hotel, and that meant more cigarettes,” said Port, who now oversees umpiring for Major League Baseball.

“He’d replay the game in his mind, on a napkin, working the box score backward. He’d go back and analyze the game he managed in a self-critical sense. That took more time, more cigarettes. No one would be tougher on himself than Gene, God rest his soul.”

Hall of Famer Earl Weaver espoused many of the sentiments expressed by Hargrove when he stepped down from the Orioles in 1982, at age 52. His surprising retirement came after a highly successful 15-year reign in which he had five 100-win seasons and captured four American League pennants and a World Series championship.

Like Hargrove, Weaver cited the cumulative burden of 35 years in baseball catching up to him.

“Managing is work. It’s constant decisions of whose feelings you want to hurt all the time,” Weaver said in an extensive Washington Post interview in October 1982.

Reached at his Florida home, the 76-year-old Weaver said he could relate to Hargrove.

“It’s a grind,” he said. “It’s long. It’s hard. When you have to bench Brooks Robinson, you might as well cut your arm off. When you have to say, ‘Brooksie, we have a young kid coming, we have to give him a chance,’ it doesn’t work so well.

“When you have great people like Pat Kelly and Lee May and Don Buford, and you have to tell them they’re fighting for a job, it starts grating on you. It gets in your stomach, and you don’t want to do that anymore. You don’t want to do that to people. But you can’t get soft.”

Weaver returned to managing in 1985 for a two-year stint � a favor, he said, to Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams.

This is not an uncommon phenomenon for stressed-out coaches and managers, despite their insistence otherwise. Upon walking away from the Rockies in ’99, Leyland vowed he would never be back.

“There’s no way,” he said. “I’m done managing. I’m tired of the travel. I’m tired of being away from my family. I just feel like a big burden has been lifted off my back.”

Guess who returned last year to manage the Detroit Tigers all the way to the American League pennant? Jim Leyland.

Even Vermeil, the poster child for burnout, came back in 1997 with St. Louis and coached eight more years, winning Super Bowl XXXIV after the ’99 season.

Hargrove said at his news conference last Sunday, “I’ve learned to never say never, but I can’t imagine myself managing again. This is probably my last job.”

Anderson, for one, doesn’t buy it.

“Michael, when he gets ready, will return again. He’ll strike again,” Anderson said. “I think, at any time, we can all drop the ball. We lose it for a second. I’ll make you a bet: It won’t be 30 or 60 days; that passion just comes right back.”

Anderson proposes teams designate a coach to take over for one week each season to give the manager a mental break.

“It can be spread out two, two, two and one, or all at one time,” he said. “That would give them that little time away that they might need.”

Hargrove’s explanation was unsatisfactory to many who witnessed it, and there have been numerous theories put forward about “the real reason” he quit.

Some believe Hargrove’s statements are consistent with the symptoms of depression. John F. Murray, a sports psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla. â€â€? while stressing that he’s not equipped to make a diagnosis of Hargrove from afar â€â€? said depression can be crippling in any line of work.

“It’s worse than a broken leg,” Murray said. “If you’re suffering from depression, sometimes you don’t want to get out of bed. Certainly, you have no passion for hard work. If you’re depressed, you’re history for the foreseeable future until you get treatment.”

Hargrove continues to insist, “It is what it is” and that there are no “dark, sinister reasons” for his decision. He said he is completely healthy, adamantly shooting down any speculation of health issues that may have precipitated his departure.

Anderson is a case study, however, that things aren’t always as they appear. In 1989, he abruptly left the Tigers in midseason for what was described as “physical and mental exhaustion.”

Anderson returned to his California home and missed 17 games, later writing of the incident in his autobiography, “I no longer could do all the things that used to be so easy. I no longer could be everything that everybody else wanted me to be. I could no longer be Sparky Anderson. More importantly, I had no desire to be.”

But Anderson says now the exhaustion story was a ruse, and the real problem was a family matter he had to resolve.

“This was a personal thing in the family,” he said. “[Tigers president] Jim Campbell was the greatest in the world. He said, ‘Stay home until you get it all straightened out. We’ll say you were overworked and losing so much and it was just exhaustion.’

“Jim called me after I was home three days and said, ‘Why don’t you go play golf?’ I said, ‘I can’t show up on the golf course.’ He said, ‘You play golf and tend to the other thing in the afternoon.’ I did. I was playing golf. I have to admit, I was embarrassed.”

The biggest mystery involving Hargrove may be why he left at midseason, rather than riding it out until the end of the year. But that is hardly unprecedented as well.

Tony Pena, American League manager of the year in 2003, resigned from the Royals early in the 2005 season.

“It just got to me. I was losing my smile. I was starting to feel sick inside,” Pena, now a Yankees coach, told the Hartford Courant after Hargrove’s resignation.

Frank Layden, then 56, quit as Utah Jazz coach in December of 1988, after five straight playoff berths, while in first place in the Midwest Division.

“The game actually consumes you,” Layden told Sports Illustrated. “You are no longer in charge of your life. After awhile, the ball dribbles you.”

Layden also said, “I just didn’t have the burning desire anymore. The pressure eats you alive.”

If he had to do it over again, Layden told the Los Angeles Times in 2005, “I think I would have gone for psychological help.”

Lakers coach Rudy Tomjanovich, then 56, resigned after 43 games in 2005, saying he was physically and emotionally “sapped” and that the job “consumed him.”

“I went from being this energetic, pumped-up guy to all of a sudden being sapped of a lot of energy,” Tomjanovich said at the time. “Maybe I’m an old general that needs to get his butt off the front line and do something else.”

Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog was 58 when he quit on July 6, 1990 � just three years after guiding St. Louis to the World Series, one of his three pennants in the 1980s.

“I still enjoy managing,” Herzog said. “But I just don’t feel like I’ve done the job. I feel like I’ve underachieved. I can’t get the guys to play.”

Dick Bennett, 57, stepped down as Wisconsin basketball coach in November of 2000, informing his team after an emotional 78-75 win over No. 13 Maryland. Bennett had taken the Badgers to the Final Four the previous year.

“I was prepared to quit after last season, but the way it turned out buoyed me,” he told SI. “I decided to ride the euphoria a little longer.

“I was berating young men for not being all they could be, when I wasn’t being all I could be.”

Bobby Ross, 63, resigned as Detroit Lions coach on Nov. 6, 2000, the morning after a loss to the Miami Dolphins, their second straight defeat after a 5-2 start. Ross was in his fourth season with the Lions, with two playoff appearances in his first three years.

Much like Hargrove, Ross immediately left on a cross-country trip to visit his five children and 13 grandchildren.

“I just don’t have the energy level that you’ve got to have for the job, however you want to put it,” he told ESPN at the time.

Dan Issel, 46, resigned as Denver Nuggets’ coach in the middle of the 1995 season.

“I think I’d gotten to the point where what I had become, because of the pressures of doing this job, was something I didn’t like,” Issel told reporters. “Life’s too short to do that. It’s time to do something else.”

When asked what he wanted people to remember, Issel’s answer no doubt would be echoed by Hargrove: “That I had the integrity to walk away.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

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