Professional sports are filled with glitz, glamour, fame and for some, a heck of a lot of money. The ability to play a game for a living is a privilege granted to very few, but envied by all.
However, there is an unpleasant side to sports — one where players are treated more like commodities than employees. Anyone following MLB trade deadline coverage on social media on Wednesday night got to witness first-hand the melancholy side of sports.
During Wednesday’s game between the New York Mets and San Diego Padres, news broke that the Mets were on the verge of trading for the Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez in exchange for shortstop Wilmer Flores and injured starting pitcher Zack Wheeler. While the deal was yet to be finalized because of those pesky medical exams, everyone assumed the trade was fait accompli.
News of the impending trade reached Flores, who was still in the game. Cameras caught him crying on the field — it was like being told he was fired from his dream job but still had to finish his shift.
Surreal scene. Mets trade Wilmer Flores but leave him in game. Flores then cries on field while playing. pic.twitter.com/0CDpjGpwpS
— Jimmy Traina (@JimmyTraina) July 30, 2015
The raw emotion of the game often gets overlooked in an era of video games and fantasy sports — where players are added, dropped, demoted, traded, etc. with ease. Fantasy sports specifically, especially daily fantasy sports, are fun and exciting, but it creates a mentality that players are nothing more than pawns on a chess board instead of people performing a talented task.
Although it’s part of the job, coaches, managers and general managers all say the toughest and least-liked part of their job is cutting players. Next on the list may be trading someone who did not request to be moved and is well-liked. Knowing that still does not make the situation any easier for players.
“Someone came to me: ‘Wilmer’s crying,'” Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters after Wednesday’s game. “There was nothing I knew about. Why would I take him out of the game?”
The Mets signed Flores as an amateur free agent in 2007 when he was just 16 years old. After working his way from low A-ball to Triple-A, Flores made his MLB debut in 2013 and finally earned a full-time MLB role last July. The Mets are the only MLB team he has ever known and he did not want to leave.
“When I came up to hit I heard everybody cheering. I said, ‘Why?’ There’s no reason. I thought [a trade] was the only reason,” Flores said. “… I was sad, being with the Mets forever, and all my teammates here. That’s why I got emotional.”
In a strange turn of events, the deal fell through later that evening after the Mets reportedly backed out, citing concerns with Gomez’s hip. Flores got his happy ending, for now, but more often than not players aren’t so lucky.
Take former Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Smyth. Smyth was drafted sixth overall by the Oilers in 1994. By the 2000-01 season he was named one of the team’s alternate captains. He also served as Team Canada’s captain for World Championships from 2001 to 2005. Smyth was beloved by Oilers fans and he reciprocated that love for the city, organization and fan base.
Smyth was entering the final year of his contract coming into the 2006-07 season. Unable to come to terms on a new deal, the Oilers shipped him off to the New York Islanders on Feb. 27, 2007. The move left Oilers fans aghast and put a major damper on what was supposed to be a festive Mark Messier Night in Edmonton.
If there was anyone more upset than the fans, it was Smyth himself.
The teary-eyed farewell included this quote:
“I never thought it would come to this day. I’ve got to turn the page and start a new chapter in life. The New York Islanders have given me that opportunity and I thank them for this.
“I’m going to go there and do my best and make the playoffs and win that Cup, so I can bring it down here to Edmonton — because that’s where my heart is.”
With all the movement in the sports world nowadays, it’s easy to get caught up in rooting for a jersey rather than a player. Free agency has eroded the loyalty teams have to players, players have to teams and fans have to players.
However, it’s important to remember that despite how many millions of dollars professional athletes make or how much fame they achieve, they are still people. Having their lives (and families) uprooted at the drop of a hat can be gut-wrenching.
They may be pros and it is certainly part of the gig, but it’s not easy. Sometimes professional sports can be a tough business.