Fickle?!? US??? The hell you say!!
I almost feel like I shouldn't blog right now -- it's better to suppress the urge to rant-blog more often than not, I've found. But at the moment, most of what I have in my head about baseball, especially Red Sox baseball, comes in rant form.
Yes, the idea of the Sox making the playoffs this year is increasingly looking like a pipe dream, especially after two crushing disappointments in Texas. But it's more the reaction to that I've been suppressing a rant about than that fact itself. Specifically, the response that has singled Jacoby Ellsbury out as a scapegoat and continues to hammer him now that he looks to be headed to the DL again.
Since I'm a woman, and therefore it's incumbent upon me to dispel the assumptions of the Rob Dibbles of the world, I want to state up front that I do not have a crush on Jacoby Ellsbury. He is not my favorite player on the team. I can even see a kind of awkwardness about him, an A-Rodishness that's tough to put my finger on, when he speaks in interviews. I don't find him particularly compelling either way, except as a leadoff hitter and baserunner. There, he makes my jaw drop every time. In that way, I have a similar relationship to him that I did to Johnny Damon: I'm glad he's on the team, I understand why he's a favorite, but he's not mine.
That said, I find myself at a loss whenever I consider the aspersions cast on him this year. It just makes no sense to me. After all, if one player can truly be expected to answer for his team's losing season, why not pick on Jonathan Papelbon? He has six blown saves this year, and the Red Sox sit 6.0 games back of the Yankees today. I'm not saying it would be right, but based on the same logic, why isn't it his name we read in the papers every day?
The other thing that has never made sense to me -- and probably never will -- is the number of people paid to sit on their behinds and discuss sports who seem so absolutely certain that Ellsbury could and should be playing right now. His hitting over a handful of rehab games in Pawtucket is what some have cited as an example of his readiness, even though it's been clear he's not up to the Major League level since he's been back. Others seem to have appointed themselves the internal counsel for teammates in the Red Sox clubhouse, taking famous crank Kevin Youkilis's offhand comment about Ellsbury's trip to Arizona and asserting that teammates have also had it with him.
If that's the case, though, I doubt it's because they think he should be playing with broken ribs. Maybe some question his decision to go to API earlier this year and feel he should've stuck with the team. But I've seen nothing from his teammates, directly quoted or anonymously attributed, that insinuates they think he's not that hurt and should be playing.
Of course, the press in the clubhouse will often be told things, or overhear things, that for various reasons they can't report or attribute directly. But ultimately, those reporters also have to answer the question, when it comes to their audience, of "so what?" And when it comes to that, you just can't tell me Ellsbury is the only, or even the biggest, problem with this team this season. It makes absolutely no sense to suggest that the earlier return of one injury-compromised player (believe me, folks, he's still playing hurt, regardless of how much time "off" he's taken) would be the key to turning the season around. That's why it's a freakin' team sport.
See, there I go, getting angry and ranty. But really, when I read the venom about Ellsbury, I often have to double-check that the site I'm on really is about the Red Sox, for Red Sox fans, because more often than not I find myself wondering, "whose side are you on?" Did you not see what happened to him, each time it happened? The kick in the ribcage, the diving catch in center, another collision this most recent time? It's been out there plain to see -- in every instance when he was going hard down a baseline or after a ball -- regardless of whether the original diagnoses and timetable "line up". Yeah, they probably don't line up. Mistakes were obviously made. It's weird, I'll give you that. But I still don't get how it adds up to doubting whether the time on the DL this season has really been necessary, or laying the struggles of the team this season at his feet, or why all this is in any way necessary to a deeper appreciation of the Red Sox.
Ellsbury's treatment this year also doesn't make sense when you look at the injuries his teammates have suffered which haven't gotten nearly the frat-boy blowback. Baseball players go on the DL with blisters, for Pete's sake. How come Jacoby "took himself out" of the game in Texas, but Jed Lowrie "was taken" out with heat exhaustion? See, I don't doubt he really had it, but "heat exhaustion" seems like exactly the kind of condition that would inspire scorn and doubt among the same people hounding Ellsbury, particularly since Lowrie has already spent more time than Jacoby on the DL. And yet I didn't see much reaction at all. Come on, I mean, Youkilis just has a little tweaked muscle in his hand. Why the hell can't he play through that? And 60 days on the DL for Beckett with a stiff back? How was that necessary?
Oh, that's different, you say? How? No, really. How? How is it people can acknowledge their lack of expertise and withhold judgment when it comes to the injuries of everyone else on the team, no matter how apparently minor, but when it comes to Ellsbury, suddenly everyone's a crime scene investigator and licensed radiologist with an intimate knowledge of rib injuries and their healing time?
This has been a frustrating season. There is the urge to cast about for someone or something to blame. That's precisely what makes it so supremely aggravating -- there really isn't any one person to lay this on, though some are obviously trying like hell with Jacoby. But even if this season's biting reportage has been warranted and relevant, at this point, with the playoff picture fading fast, what does it accomplish?
For one thing, clearly if being called out by the chattering classes was going to get Ellsbury back on the field sooner, it would've happened by now.
And for another, given the state of things at this point in 2010, barring a miracle, we should be looking ahead to 2011, and thinking long term. A healthy Ellsbury, as Bleacher Report pointed out in a brilliant essay on this same subject, "add[s] another .005+ average points and a few more RBI's to the 2-5 hitters, as well as a few more ticks in the win column. He is that good."
So if you're someone who exists in the sphere of (ostensibly) support surrounding the Red Sox, especially if you're a fan who generally wants the team to do well, next year if not this one, why would you want to run Jacoby out of town for not playing (more) through broken ribs? Why would you not want him, at full health, back on the team as soon as possible, even if that's next year's Spring Training? Why would it be worth giving up his potential future contributions to the team at 100% because he hasn't played at 30%, 40%, 50%?
And yet Allan at Joy of Sox wrote this weekend, in seriousness, "I really wonder if he will play again this season. (And if so, has he played his last game in a Red Sox uniform?)"
I don't think Allan was saying that should be what happens. But I have no doubt there are some who would be content to see Ellsbury traded or even released based on what they think they know about his injury this year. They're entitled to that opinion, of course, but it's one thing to have a difference of opinion on what happened. For the hysteria and suspicion to rise to the point of actually altering the makeup of the team, and not for the better, would be quite another.
Suffice to say, if Ellsbury is not on the team next year because of this crap...my knee jerk reaction, at least, when I read that part of Allan's post, was to think that such a turn of events would have me seriously re-evaluating my participation in all of this. Yes, I'm taking it that seriously. If what I can expect as a Red Sox fan is to have my enthusiasm for the team parlayed by the cynical into this kind of pointless witch hunt, all to denigrate the character and potentially alter the career of a supremely talented player who has, after all, done nothing wrong...my knee-jerk, if admittedly improbable, reaction is to want to withdraw that participation. I don't want to be a part of that kind of historically entrenched, but nonetheless distasteful behavior, and have been laboring under the delusion (apparently) that championships would dispel it. It's disheartening, to say the least, to see it continue, and now without any real suffering to justify it.
If Allan is correct in asking that question, in other words, to me that means we are on the brink, as a "Nation", of cutting off our nose to spite our face when it comes to Jacoby Ellsbury. And I, for one, want absolutely no part of it. I, for one, don't want to spend another season wondering, whose side are we on?