Top 6 Reasons EU Baseball Imports Go Home Early and How to Avoid Them
Over my 10 years playing baseball in Europe, I have heard of and witnessed players going home early on multiple occasions, and often at the most important time of the year, playoff time. Some clubs will send a guy home because they are out of the playoff race, others will send them home because they were simply not putting up the numbers they were expecting. However, there have been a number of early departures that are a direct result of a lack of efficient communication during the interview process and throughout the season. With a little more communication from both sides, many of these unhappy endings could have been avoided. Here are some of the biggest problems I have uncovered followed by some possible solutions.
#1) Poor performance.
Most imports who are sent home early had not performed up to the club’s expectations. A variety of reasons may cause this, some of them listed below, but there are some measures that can be taken during the search and interview process that can help to ensure this doesn’t happen.
- Solution: Analyze stats thoroughly. Dig deeper than era and and batting average. Here is an article that can help with that. Make sure any recent holes in the stats were not due to injury. Players with previous injuries can come back and perform at their previous level, but someone freshly recovered from an injury is a risk. Check references; former coaches, teammates, opponents. Ask about skills and ability to handle pressure. Lastly, request video of live game footage and/or a demo video.
#2) Lack of self discipline.
One of the biggest pitfalls that has been reported are young ball players straight out of college who come over and get lazy. They have the talent and the background to put up the numbers, but they do not have the self-discipline and the professionalism to keep themselves in game shape. These guys are used to being told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. When they come here, they not only have to adjust to a different culture, but also to playing within a club of men who are responsible for themselves.
- Solution: Build into the contract that the player must agree upon and stick to a running and workout schedule throughout the season. Deviance from this plan could result in the withholding of pay or possibly a ticket home. Ask him questions to try and get a handle on his level of maturity and responsibility. Perhaps about his education and if he has lived on his own before and if he travelled outside of his country. Ask about their employment background to get an idea of their work ethic.
Related topic: IBC Podcast Episode 12: Finding the right import / club with Owen Reid
#3) Unclear Expectations.
This is usually due to a lack of communication during the interview process. The club does not paint a clear picture for the player as to what they are signing up for or the players fails to ask important questions. Some players come over and they are dissatisfied with their living arrangements, the level of baseball, their duties, the location or the size of the town, the lack of professionalism within the club, the lack of dedication of the players, etc. Also, I have often heard of clubs being dissatisfied with a player who is not keeping up with their field maintenance or coaching duties.
- Solution: Make sure to provide and gather detail during the interview process. Paint a clear picture for the import on the level of baseball, the weekly schedule and what is expected of him on and off the field. Tell them exactly what is expected of them with regards to coaching, field maintenance, promotional activities, school projects, umpiring, etc. Provide names of previous imports as they are the best source of information for the import and can explain to them the experience from an imports standpoint. Discuss compensation in detail so there is no misunderstanding as to how they are paid, how often and how much. Let them know what your long and short term goals are and the imports role in achieving those goals. Make a video of the park, the players, the apartment, the town to further give them an idea of where they are going. Get everything in writing in a detailed contract.
#4) Personality clashes.
The import’s personality clashes or does not fit in with the members of the club. Sometimes strong, intense personalities clash with European players. Loud and intense individuals who are hardcore competitors that wear their emotions on their sleeve are often too much for some clubs, especially in leagues that are still developing. I personally like those guys but not everyone does.
- Solution: One word….skype. Get to know the guy you are bringing over. Meet him in a video chat and ask him the tough questions. Ask what his goals are in coming over to Europe. Ask how he would deal with a team making 4 errors behind him in an inning (if that is a possibility). Ask him questions about himself that are outside of baseball. Have more than one senior member of the club speak with him on skype. Again, speak with others that have played with or against him.
#5) Prior commitments.
Accepted to grad school or other prior commitments. Believe it or not, players go home because either they did not disclose information that they are planning on going back to school in the fall or someone is getting married or the season simply went longer than they were told it would and they had prior commitments like a winter ball club. Yes this lack of communication does happen as people just assume the other guy has told them everything they need to know.
- Solution: Give them an exact amount of time that they would need to come and then add two weeks. Ask them if they are planning on continuing their education and if there are any other reasons or prior commitments that may cause them to go home before the date you gave them. Ask him if he has a girlfriend, wife or child. Then write it into the contract that if they leave before the date given that they would not receive funding for their return flight.
#6) Less baseball, more travel.
The player did not take it seriously enough and spent too much time travelling. It is no secret that the appeal of playing baseball in Europe is to see some of the world while playing the game you love. There is nothing wrong with wanting that, but some players tend to lose focus of why they are over here. They begin to travel too much and push off their responsibilities.
- Solution: Ask them about their baseball goals. Are they here to advance their professional career or more to play ball and see some of the world. Let them know that the latter is ok as long as time off to travel is agreed upon in advance and is clear. Let them know your expectation and ask them what their expectations are. Come to an agreement on weekly time off and an extended time period during their stay so they can reach destinations further away. Write into the contract that time off will be earned through hard work and dedication to the club. Write into the contact that it is the clubs expectation that the player maintain a level of professionalism with regards to their commitment to the organization and the duties that are required of them. I know for a fact that happy clubs are happy to give time off to hard workers and happy players are happy to work hard for their club.