Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.


This just in!

The Boston Red Sox have traded veteran infielder Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox for a 25-year-old minor-league pitcher and a 28-year-old utility infielder who has seen limited action this season.

The Boston Red Sox have traded veteran infielder Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox.

The Boston Red Sox have traded Kevin Youkilis.

Sox Deal Youk.


A pause, please, to consider a few things.

At least three things are happening right now in New England.

First, the idiot-sports-talk-radio shows’ telephone lines are lighting up like Roman candles. Fred from Everett and Dave from West Springfield and Butch from Down The Cape (well, no, not Butch) are weighing in. The Sox did something monumentally stupid. The Sox did the right thing. The Sox got nothin’ in exchange for a former All-Star. The Sox eased a logjam in their lineup. The Sox traded away a clubhouse leader. The Sox found a new home for a guy whose season wasn’t going well. Et cetera, nearly ad infinitum, full of sound and fury and signifying very close to nothing.

The second thing that is happening is that someone, somewhere, is reminding people around him or her that, considering what else is going on (and going wrong) in the world, this is not the biggest story of the day. People are going hungry. People are out of work. People can’t afford to pay for any medical care they may need. And Kevin Youkilis, being a well-paid athlete, fits into none of those three categories. Statistically, Kevin Youkilis is a member of the much-maligned One Percent.

I’ll leave that second thing alone now. Enough people will beat that one to death.

The third thing that is happening is: legions of Red Sox fans under the age of about 12 just sat down real hard. Some of them will not eat much supper tonight. Some of them will weep, or perhaps are weeping even as we speak.

There are many, many Little Leaguers who own Red Sox t-shirts with a big #20 on the back … who have gleefully called out “Yooooooooooooouk!” whenever the intense ballplayer smacked another one over the Wall, or made a diving stab at third base, even though they were at home watching the game on TV … who declared repeatedly that their favorite player was this burly, baby-faced young third baseman, or first baseman man, or designated hitter.

Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield spent their entire major-league baseball careers as hard-working Red Sox players and got to retire as such. Kevin Youkilis worked hard too, but he’ll finish up somewhere else. In many minds, especially young ones, there’s something just not right about that.

But for many years now, professional sports has been as much a business as a game. Before the establishment of a Players Union, professional baseball players were basically indentured servants. Some writers have used the term “slaves”, and while I would wish to conduct more research before I went that far, before the 1970s, baseball team owners could pretty well do with their players what they wished, send them where they wished, treat them as badly as they wished, and not only could the players not do anything about it, they didn’t make a whole heck of a lot of money doing it. They were playing the game they loved, and the game wasn’t loving them much in return.

Gallons of ink (or perhaps nowadays it’s better to say, endless numbers of electrons) have been spilled by sportswriters on this subject. Rather than duplicate their work, I choose to remember when I was a young’un and the home team traded away my favorite player for no very good reason.

Carlton Fisk. All-Star catcher, immortalized by his home-run-hitter body language in extra innings of the sixth game of the 1975 World Series. Claimed by the White Sox after Red Sox management screwed up his new contract on a technicality. Played another several productive seasons with the White Sox, and there was great debate about whether he would be enshrined in the Hall of Fame wearing a Red- or White-Sox jersey.

Bobby Orr. Only the best defenseman (arguably) in NHL history. Claimed as a free agent by the Chicago Black Hawks (okay, WHAT is it with Chicago, please!?). I didn’t realize at the time that injuries had wrecked his knee, nor did I care that the Black Hawks got two decent seasons out of him before he retired.  The guy who just walked away from you is Bobby Orr!

Robert Parish. A member of the Celtics’ “Big Three”, unquestionably one of the best frontcourts in NBA history. Signed as a free agent, after 14 seasons with the Celtics, by the Charlotte Hornets. Dude, that jersey looks weird on you; and why wouldn’t the C’s re-sign him a genuine future Hall of Famer?

Seeing one’s favorite player traded or otherwise let go by one’s favorite team is incomprehensible to the very young sports fan who has not become conversant in the language of sports business. Some nights, a majority of “ESPN Sportscenter” stories have nothing to do with events that transpire on the field, court or ice. Most nights, I find myself wishing I’d never come to understand vocabulary words like “free agent,” “lockout,” “signing bonus,” and “player to be named later.”

For me, the main reason I’m disappointed that Youk won’t be in Boston anymore is that he was one of those players who (at least to my eyes) worked as hard as he could, all the time. Granted, it takes work for anyone to get to the majors and stay there; but to paraphrase a colleague of mine, it was pretty obvious that he tried and he cared. There was a scuffle in the Red Sox dugout some years ago between Youkilis and Manny Ramirez. My memory of exactly the genesis of that dust-up is a bit faint, but I seem to recall that it had something to do with Youkilis’ dim view of Ramirez’s (relative) (apparent) lack of intensity, and Ramirez’s dim view of Youkilis’ admittedly hyper-intense way of playing the game. I imagine that the one thing that ticks Youk off the most would be if a teammate didn’t seem to be “busting it”, running out the grounders, diving for the Texas-League bloop fly balls, swinging for the fences, taking one for the team … and Manny Ramirez often appeared to be The King Of Relax.

I can’t recall a time when I didn’t see Kevin Youkilis work, and try, and care; my mental highlight reel will always include Youk running out a grounder and being called out, or taking a called third strike, and hurling his helmet, two-handed, to the ground in frustration. Not frustration at the umpire; but at himself for not beating the throw to first or recognizing that pitch as crushable. “I can do better. I should do better. I can work harder.”  Whether he was having an All-Star season, or the kind of painful season that 2011 was shaping up to be.

During this period in Red Sox history, when (por ejemplo) star pitchers loiter in the clubhouse instead of getting into the dugout and putting on a rally cap during a tight game that they didn’t start … and during a period of major-league history where all of us average Joes, who are scraping to make ends meet, watch people play a game and get paid multimillionaire bucks for it … the contrast can be just that much more stark. If actions speak louder than words, Kevin Youkilis spent a long time in Boston speaking very loudly indeed.

And anyway, I can always pop the 2007 World Series DVD into the machine and smile.




June 24, 2012 - Posted by | baseball, sports | , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. All that Youk has done for the Sox both on the field and in the clubhouse can never be replaced.

    Comment by ws141 | June 24, 2012 | Reply

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