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The Red Sox series against the Philadelphia Phillies this past weekend marked more than the first inter-league games of the season. Jonathan Papelbon, formerly Boston’s closer for six years, faced his old team for the first time. While the standard reunion between player and former team typically involves over exaggerated reminiscing over this past relationship (unless you’re Josh Reddick), this meet-up was surprisingly not more of the same.
Rather, the outspoken Papelbon received considerable criticism from Boston fans and media alike. It is no question that Papelbon does not shy away from the mic, but is the reaction from the Boston-end justified? No way.
When he chose to enter arbitration year by year over taking a multi-year contract, Papelbon made his intentions clear–when it came to free agency he was looking for top dollar. Any chance of a hometown discount? Forget about it. So now, months later, people inexplicably view Papelbon with hostility. This in itself is absurd. Papelbon did not snub Boston by accepting Philadelphia’s offer of 4 years/$50 MM. In fact, the Red Sox never made a legitimate attempt to retain their closer. If anyone belongs in the dog house for that one, it’s Ben Cherington and friends.
But that’s besides the point. Whether it’s shortsighted fans or ignorant bloggers, there is still this aura of hatred around Papelbon, almost as if he “owes them something.” Because one of the best players in Major League Baseball is in personal debt to specific no-name fans of the Boston Red Sox. Because they deserve it. Never mind Papelbon’s four all-star appearances and World Series victory for their entertainment. How Boston doesn’t understand why the fan base gets such a bad rep, I have no idea.
So when there are negative feelings towards an athlete, what do you do? Express your utter contempt by taking complete offense towards everything he says. Combine Papelbon’s (overblown) loud mouth and you have a recipe for disaster.
“Papelbon isn’t afraid of facing the Red Sox.” “Papelbon says Philly is just like Paris.” “Philadelphia fans have a higher IQ than Boston fans.” If he said it, there’s an enraged blog post somewhere. At the time, the Red Sox had bigger problems like the fact that, I don’t know, the team with an $170 MM payroll was below .500. It’s not like Papelbon was going to change his mind and come back to Boston. Let it go.
Ruben Amaro Jr. offered Papelbon an easy $50 MM and, bless his soul, he took it. Since then he’s posted a 2.20 ERA and 12 saves in 12 chances. For all the hate, the Red Sox could really use someone like that. Does this mean the Red Sox should have offered a relief pitcher an absurd, long-term contract? Probably not. But the fact doesn’t change that whether you like him or not, he is still one of the top three closers in the game.
Furthermore, it is also evident that baseball fans hate trash talking. Ozzie Guillen, Luke Scott, anyone this season who has said anything not completely boring has been showered with criticism. Is anything fun allowed in baseball? When “Bobby V” is considered one of the most colorful figures in your sport, there is something horribly, horribly wrong. In the NBA or NFL, nothing Papelbon said would make a headline.
And look at it from his perspective. This is a guy who played for the Boston Red Sox for six years. From Manny Ramirez to Terry Francona, how many teammates and colleagues did he see leave Boston only to be immediately smeared by the Stalin-esque Red Sox ownership and PR machine. Is there something so bad about turning the tables for once? Good for him.
As a fan in this modern age of professional sports, it is impossible to have allegiances to both teams and players without expecting these interests to come into conflict. Papelbon is a pitcher who brings a feeling of security whenever he steps foot on the mound, something not very many baseball teams can boast. He even manages to be entertaining in the process (something the game of baseball itself can no longer do on its own). He wanted to be paid accordingly and he got his wish.
And if Red Sox fans don’t understand that, maybe they really do have lower IQs.