Organization man/organizational player

If you’ve ever taken any college-level sociology courses, you might recall a 1956 book called The Organization Man by William H. Whyte Jr. It’s a bit of a museum piece today, but in the 1950s it was not just a best-seller but a real zeitgeist barometer.

The gist of the book was that American business was giving way to a kind of bland collectivism. The conformity that people often cite as characteristic of the 1950s was especially evident in big business. Essentially, Whyte took the concept of the “company man” and refined it with a post-war spin.

According to Whyte’s thesis, if you kept your nose clean, showed up on time, and didn’t do anything really stupid, you had lifetime employment. The Organization was everything. Like a career military man, if you did your duty, the system would take care of you.

The Organization Men had taken “the vows of organization life. Only a few are top managers or ever will be … most are destined to live poised in a middle area that still awaits satisfactory euphemism.” In other words, they are drones in limbo, albeit skilled drones with middle-class incomes.

Given today’s atmosphere of vulture capitalism, mass layoffs, downward mobility, and stubborn unemployment, Whyte’s book may come across as a quaint reminder of days of yore. But there are still organization men out there. In minor league baseball, they are called organizational players.

If you have an affiliated minor league team nearby, you have doubtless noticed the turnover from year to year. You may find one player held over from the previous year, and in rare instances (due to injuries or a substantial investment) you may see a player a third season. For the most part, however, if you’re not moving up, you’re moving out.

Multiple seasons are possible, however, for an organizational player who has no chance of being promoted to the big leagues. I offer the example of Guilder Rodriguez, organizational player for the Frisco RoughRiders of the Texas League. I’ve been watching him play for Frisco for the last four years, but I’m guessing few—if any—readers of this article are familiar with him, so let me introduce him.

Guilder Alfredo (Perez) Rodriguez was born July 24, 1983, in Lara, Venezuela. He was signed by the Brewers as a non-drafted free agent on May 19, 2001, and made his debut later that year with the Brewers’ affiliate in the Dominican Summer League. He moved up in the Brewers’ minor league system but never got as high as Triple-A. He spent part or all of 2005-2008 with Huntsville, the Brewers’ Double-A affiliate in the Southern League.

By then, he was 24 years old and apparently did not loom large in the Brewers’ plans, as he was acquired by Texas in the Rule V Draft in Dec., 2008. The Rangers assigned him to Frisco in 2009. Since then, he has gone back and forth between Double-A (Frisco) and Triple-A (Oklahoma City and Round Rock).

At age 29, his chances of ever being called up to the Rangers are slim, though every now and then a big league club waxes sentimental and invites an organizational player up for a cup of coffee or adds him to the expanded roster in September as a reward for services rendered. Not this year, however: Rodriguez remained with Frisco through the Texas League playoffs, and that was the end of his season.

During his 11-year career, he has hit .261 at Double-A (eight seasons) and .263 at Triple-A (three seasons). Now, if you’re waiting for Rodriguez to hit a home run, don’t hold your breath, as he’s hit just one during his entire 11-year career. Standing 6-foot-1, he is listed at 160 pounds, so he wasn’t built for power.

More importantly, during his career he has played every position except catcher. Towards the end of the 2012 season, Frisco sent him in as a pitcher in an extra-inning game. The RoughRiders already had won the first half of the season, which qualified them for postseason play, so it really didn’t make sense to strain the pitching staff in the last week before the playoffs. The day after a double-header, the last thing the pitching staff needed was an extra-inning game.

Well, there are team players and then there’s Guilder Rodriguez. He went to the mound and pitched two scoreless innings before succumbing in the 13th inning. It was his second stint on the mound in 2012. This year alone, he played every position except catcher and third base at Frisco, and he did play third base at Round Rock. For good measure, he occasionally serves as DH. The 2012 season was a microcosm of his career.

So how does a guy like Rodriguez hang on? Well, developing big league players is the primary purpose of affiliated minor league teams, but that doesn’t mean that everybody on the roster is a prospect.

Let’s say a legitimate prospect, the regular third baseman at Double-A, is injured, and no one on the bench is up to the job. Normally, the call would go out to the affiliated team one level below. Of course, they have a guy there who plays third base, but he just isn’t ready for Double-A ball yet. He’s still trying to master Single-A ball. So what to do? Well, you can always reach up to Triple-A ball and have a veteran sent down. It’s not really a demotion, just an organizational player going where he’s needed.

This sort of arrangement can keep a player busy. Between Double-A and Triple-A last year, Rodriguez came to bat 411 times. Players like Rodriguez might not have a prayer of ever being called up to the Show, but if they just want to play baseball, they are in a good place.

Remember, in the affiliated minor leagues, winning games is less important than developing players for the big club. So there are time when a warm body is needed for short-term deployment. In the affiliated minor leagues, the parent club controls the roster, so any personnel changes will be made with its needs forermost in mind.

A versatile player like Rodriguez remains on the roster because he is the stop-gap answer to an assortment of organizational problems:

    Second baseman spiked? Put in Rodriguez.

    Third baseman promoted to Triple-A? Put in Rodriguez.

    Shortstop needs to be sent down for more seasoning? Put in Rodriguez

    First baseman in a slump? Put in Rodriguez.

    Outfielder pulls a hamstring? Put in Rodriguez

    Pitching staff needs a breather? Put in Rodriguez.

Catcher breaks a finger? Put in … whoops, no, he’s never done that. Perhaps some day he should do it for an inning, just so he can go into the record books as one of those rare nine-positions-in-one-game players.

Versatility doesn’t pay well in pro ball, but when it comes time to fill out a roster, it can give a player an advantage over a similarly talented player who is rooted to one position. Another plus is that the organizational player provides some continuity for local fans. Recognizable names and faces are all too rare in minor league ball from one season to the next.

To date, Rodriguez has 281 hits at Frisco. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but given the five-month season at Double-A ball, the relatively brief tenure of most players at that level, and the time Rodriguez has logged at Triple-A, it’s pretty impressive. The franchise leader in hits was another versatile Venezuelan, Renny Osuna, who remained in the Texas League but moved on to the Arkansas Travelers in 2012, with 347.

Rodriguez hit just .219 in 265 at-bats (Double-A and Triple-A) in 2012, so his return in 2013 is not assured. If he does manage to make it back for another season, he has a shot at taking over the franchise lead in hits.

Yeah, I know, whoop-de-doo! That achievement and five bucks will buy you a venti latte at Starbucks. But it does say something about a player’s value to an organization. Remember, for the most part in the minors, if you’re not moving up, you’re moving out. Roster spots are precious, so if they choose to keep you around, there’s a good reason for it.

Oftentimes, major league management may see an organizational player as future coaching or managerial timber. Since Rodriguez is from Venezuela, his ability to communicate in Spanish with younger players would likely be a big plus in his favor.

I’m guessing that if you took a close look at the Double-A and Triple-A rosters of other major league teams, you’d find other players like Rodriguez. In fact, it would be difficult to keep the minor league operations humming along without them. Age limits in the lower minors preclude veterans, but at Double-A and Triple-A there are no age limits, so an organizational player can hang around as long as the organization needs his services.

Even for the organizational player, age is a factor. The upward pressure is not so much from legitimate prospects but from other potential organizational players, equally versatile but several years younger.

The organizational player will never make the big bucks, and it’s highly unlikely that he will move on to top management. But you can’t run an organization without him. In the end, he can legitimately say he’s a baseball man. He can actually make a living from the sport. If he can segue into coaching, he may never have to go out and look for a cubicle job.

Where Rodriguez will be working next season is an open question at this point. On Sept. 15, he finished his fourth season with the Rangers organization as the Frisco RoughRiders lost to the Springfield Cardinals, three games to one, in the Texas League championship series.

As fate would have it, Rodriguez came to bat in Game Four with two out and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth inning and his team down by a run. He was positioned to make the last out of the game, the series, and the season.

Ever the contact hitter, Rodriguez (who bats left-handed) reached out and slapped a base hit over the third-baseman’s head. So he was now the tying run on first base. Maybe the next batter, Engel Beltre, could keep the game going … maybe the Riders could pull out the game after all and force a fifth game the next night … and maybe …

Instead, Beltre grounded out, forcing Rodriguez at second. Rodriguez jumped up and sprinted off the field while the Springfield players did the traditional dogpile thing.

For guys just passing through on their way to the big leagues, losing a minor league championship is a minor disappointment. Indeed, two Frisco players, Wilmer Font and Justin Grimm, reported to the Rangers the next day.

For an organizational player like Rodriguez, that Texas League Championship ring would have meant something. It might have been the highlight of his career. It might even have made up for the fact that the team left him out of the player profiles in the Texas League Playoffs program. Let’s see, 25 players on the roster, six pages of player profiles with four players per page … that makes 24, so someone has to be the odd man out. Sorry, Guilder!

One would think that after four years of service, Rodriguez would be the last guy they would leave out. But therein lies the paradox of the organizational player: as valuable as he may be, he often is overlooked.

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Comments

  1. Paul Blocklyn said...

    For anyone who is interested, Mad Magazine published a parody of The Organization Man entitled The Organization Mad.  The paperback, also published in 1956, is out of print but can be purchased from Amazon.com and a number of other outlets.

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