My spacious forehead is a bit rosy today, and not just because I didn’t wear enough sunscreen over the weekend. All day I’ve been smacking myself in disbelief as all kinds of speculative stories and overwrought lamentations have been churned up in the wake of Kevin Youkilis‘ departure from Boston. Within a single five-minute span on “Felger and Mazz,” during which I drove from my house to my son’s daycare center, callers and/or hosts remarked how sad it was that Josh Beckett’s personal displeasure with Youkilis (the presumed “snitch” about the chicken and beer last September) forced the cowardly Ben Cherington to make the trade, but how Youkilis himself had requested the trade because he hated what had happened to the Red Sox’ identity in recent years. (On tomorrow’s show: Did Beckett kill Biggie because Youk killed Tupac?) All of this speculation seems to be based on 1) the alleged unpopularity of the hot-headed Youk among players, 2) the perception that Youk tried harder at baseball than anyone has ever tried at anything. Youkilis, we’re told, was the earnest everyman who always “played hurt” even though he, um, was on the DL for much of the last three years, while Beckett et al were the spoiled, slovenly brats who cooked up a chicken-fried September swoon the likes of which we’d never seen. Oh, and Youk was more “self made”—Mazz’s words—than most other players, because he used to be kind of pudgy and was one of the original “Moneyball” players. Or something.
Like anyone who follows the team, there’s a part of me that would like to know who the inside sources were for Bob Hohler’s infamous postmortem of last season. That salacious intrigue aside, I don’t understand why any would be kvetching about the departure of an aging, declining player who no longer had a spot in the starting lineup. That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? He lost his spot. Will Middlebrooks—who today was named A.L. Player of the Week—is obviously the current and future third baseman of the Boston Red Sox. Adrian Gonzalez was not going to keep playing right field in order to give Youk some ABs. Nor was David Ortiz—the best hitter on the club and probably their only All-Star starter—going to need time off from the rigors of being a full-time DH.
So, if Youk’s spot was gone, could they have kept him on the bench? Well, no, not if he didn’t want to be on the bench. And he didn’t. Youk repeatedly stated that he wanted to play every day, whereas guys like Nick Punto came her with the understanding that they would be on the bench a lot. Meanwhile, Youk’s relationship with manager Bobby Valentine was strained at best. This was a bad, awkward, everyone-knows-he’s-getting-traded situation whose momentum increased with every weak opposite-field flyball off Youk’s bat—or every bomb off Middlebrooks’. The front office ran the risk of seeing Youk’s value sink even lower as other teams saw how little Youk had at the plate. Who or what the Sox received in return for Youk is almost irrelevant, but it seems good enough that they got a pitching prospect (albeit one who’s been around for a while) and a utility infielder. That’s a pretty decent haul as “bags of balls” go, and Chicago is actually paying some of Youk’s salary, which was all the Sox could hope for.
Youk was great—an All-Star, an MVP candidate, a Gold Glover, and maybe the best of the Moneyball guys—and he was a homegrown player who managed to quietly thrive in a town that can be really tough on its athletes. But now it’s on to the next guy. That’s a good thing, but more importantly it’s an inevitable thing. We can’t hang on to ’04 and ’07 forever.
“Don’t get sentimental/
It always ends up drivel.”
- “Let Down,” Radiohead