Casey McGehee had a good season in the minors for the Chicago Cubs in 2008, but was not considered a legit prospect. He was put on waivers.
In 2009, “non-prospect” McGehee batted .301 for the Milwaukee Brewers, then batted in 104 runs in 2010. But a year later, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Over a decade-long career, the personable third baseman-first baseman McGehee has been traded three times, demoted to the minors, released twice, put on waivers and designated for assignment. Sure enough, amid all those rejections, he won the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2014 for the Miami Marlins — and was almost immediately dealt 3,000 miles away to the San Francisco Giants.
McGehee also has had to go to Japan twice, including this season for the legendary Yomiuri Giants, to continue his career.
Baseball is obviously the biggest game of failure, of rejection always lurking around the corner. To put it in perspective, the batting champion who hits .333 could not play in basketball shooting 33 percent or in football passing at 33 percent.
But by now, McGehee has earned a post-graduate degree in handling being pushed off a team. A basic mindset that could be adopted by others keeps him going at 34.
“If you’ve got something that’s important to you, half the battle sometimes is just keep showing up, keep working,” he said. “And, hopefully, if there’s one thing that I’m probably either most proud of, or I hope my children get from me or whatever, is that I ain’t gonna quit.
“Just because something’s not going my way or something’s difficult, I ain’t gonna quit.”
If a player loves baseball and is confident in his own talents, somehow another opportunity comes up. And in the process, the player further learns about himself.
“I don’t really think there’s any big secret to it,” McGehee said. “I mean, going to Japan and coming back and all the (rejections), you find out real quick how much you love to play or how much you love the game.
“I think between that and just the fact that you’ve got to have a belief in yourself that you’re not done. I think that you’ve got to be honest with yourself and honestly evaluate yourself. And if at any point I felt like I’d reached the end of the road or I couldn’t physically do it or didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t have kept doing that. Because I know you’re taking a job from somebody that wants it, so it’s not fair from that aspect to just hang on for the sake of hanging on. I don’t know if there’s any big secret to it. I think it’s just want to and being honest with yourself.”
Baseball’s minefields put a premium on studying the game and being fundamentally sound, McGehee said.
“Just from a purely baseball instinct, (it's crucial mastering) base running and being able to understand the game,” he said. “And when it’s time to take a risk or when it’s a time to sacrifice yourself, move runners over, just the general understanding of the game I think is what gets lost when guys get rushed so quick to the big leagues.
“All they know is what got ‘em there — their raw ability and the numbers on the back of the baseball card. Sometimes over the course of 162 games, there’s a lot of things that don’t show up on a stat sheet that have a big impact. There’s a time and a place to force the issue on the bases, there’s a time and a place to play station-to-station and those sorts of things get magnified in the big leagues, for sure.”
McGehee has needed an even higher level of mental toughness to continue playing. Son Mack, 10, has had to overcome cerebral palsy his entire young life. More recently, he was diagnosed with autism. A close-knit community of parents with children similarly afflicted help each other.
“I think that everybody has struggles,” McGehee said. “Some of them are more obvious than others. And I think for my son, or for anybody that’s dealing with a physical or mental disability, there’s a lot that we ‘quote-unquote’ neuro-typical people can learn from them and not taking stuff for granted quite so much.”
From GameChanger and George Castle.