Outspoken ballplayers are a dying breed
The sanitizing process starts early for players in Major League Baseball. The stars-to-be hit a rookie symposium where they’re taught what not to say. Veterans remind them that words hurt far more often than they help. The savviest ones realize it’s far easier to play robot than show a whit of personality.
No wonder baseball is so bereft of characters. It’s not a marketing problem. It’s not a lack of effort. It’s the game’s inherent stodginess – its remarkable ability to mute the outspoken – that keeps baseball from developing stars on par with the NFL and the NBA.
Some players are greater than the force of their boredom. Derek Jeter(notes) is as milquetoast as they get, but because of his on-field excellence and looks and location, he’s a made pitchman and he remains a popular figure. He is the distinct exception.
Carlos Zambrano(notes) is, in many ways, Jeter’s inverse. Often he is too honest for his own good – too unrefined, too real, too emotional. Earlier this season, he said his Chicago Cubs teammates were playing like a team full of Triple-A guys. It was rude as hell – and completely accurate, the sort of biting fact anyone would love Jeter to say instead of his clichéd prattle. Zambrano’s latest faux pas – walking out on his team after a miserable outing and finding himself on the disqualified list, baseball’s equivalent of a leper colony – took his rawness a step too far. Whatever Zambrano’s passion could affect ends up lost in his idiocy.
Logan Morrison, on the other hand, is a polished Zambrano. Through the power of Twitter and the weight of his charm, he has grown into a popular figure in his first full season with the Florida Marlins. He’s open, candid and his opinions happen to dovetail with populist thinking. Because Morrison has the audacity to speak out in an organization that prides itself on suppression, he is now at Triple-A. The reality: Being outspoken in baseball is dangerous and rarely rewarded. It mirrors corporate America more than other sports. The truth is a disease. And so the Marlins sent …
1. Logan Morrison to re-education camp in the minor leagues. All year long they’ve ached for a reason to do so, tired of his criticizing the Marlins for firing hitting coach John Mallee, his public flaying of San Francisco Giants GM Brian Sabean, his consistent jabbing at diva extraordinaire Hanley Ramirez.
What do those things have in common? Morrison was dead-on in each. Mallee was an easy scapegoat. Sabean’s condemnation of Scott Cousins(notes) for running over Buster Posey(notes) at home plate was doltish. Ramirez, according to teammates past and present, is among the most selfish players they’ve ever seen, someone who has coasted for years on natural talent, cares not about those who wear the same uniform as him and acts as he does because he knows the Marlins’ Tweedle Dee and Dum, owner Jeff Loria and president David Samson, swoon over him.
Between the Ramirez shot (which Morrison later said wasn’t meant to be as pointed as it might’ve come off) and his bowing out of a Marlins charity commitment (which came on the heels of Marlins staff reportedly flaking on a different charity event Morrison set up), Florida felt compelled to demote him. Larry Beinfest, the Marlins’ baseball-operations chief, continued to peddle the story Sunday that it was mostly Morrison’s performance that prompted his trip to New Orleans.
True, Morrison had struggled since a hot start. He still has a 114 OPS+ – 14 percent better than the league average and better than every Marlin but Mike Stanton(notes) (130) and Gaby Sanchez(notes) (116).
“We just thought it was in the best interest for Logan to go down and work on some things,” Beinfest told Miami-area reporters Sunday. “Just needs to concentrate on baseball and all aspects of being a major leaguer and work his way back. I think there’s a place and time for everybody in the game. I think there’s a lot of unwritten rules, a lot of quote-unquote ‘respect in the game.’ Again, I’m not speaking specifically about Logan, but there are those things out there.”
2. Carlos Zambrano and brings down the clubhouse with him. Based on the words of Cubs players, the exit of Z to his 30-day purgatory on the DQ’d list breathed some life into a group that had long grown tired of his antics, from fighting teammates to ripping Cubs fans to comparing his team with a minor league outfit to, emptying his locker, storming out of the stadium and insisting he was retired.
Z, we ought know by now, is 30 going on 3. He is a serial underachiever, a perennial pest, an $18 million black hole. He is outspoken, yes, but there is a difference between someone who is outspoken with measure and someone whose antics poison a culture.
Electricity doesn’t course through Zambrano’s arm like it used to, either. The old mid-90s fastball now sometimes hovers in the 80s. He’s throwing more off-speed stuff accordingly, and it doesn’t hum like his fastball did. Some team will take a flyer on him once the Cubs let him go because everyone thinks of himself as a sorcerer who can conjure old magic.
Z was once a wizard, a pitcher whose talent overwhelmed his detriments. Today he’s just like any other malcontent, nothing more than a liability, unable to put his money where his mouth is like …
3. Jimmy Rollins did for all those years. It’s funny to think back on Rollins clowning the New York Mets when the Philadelphia Phillies weren’t a moneyed juggernaut. If Rollins tried to pick on the Mets these days, he’d look like a big, nasty bully.
Rollins is the prince of baseball outspokenness, someone whose Napoleonic proclamations sounded absurd until he actually backed them up. Once atop the mountain, Rollins pared back his words, preferring instead to flash the fat, gold band back at anyone who doubted that he meant what he said.
The old Rollins could return at any time, perhaps as soon as this offseason, when he hits free agency as a 33-year-old and gives the Phillies their second major decision since turning into one of the game’s powers. The first was to let Jayson Werth(notes) go. Rollins means more to the team in spirit if not production. Philadelphia drafted him, reared him and has stuck him at shortstop for 11 seasons. It’s a lot like Derek Jeter’s situation entering last winter.
If the Phillies do go brass tacks and decline to bring back Rollins, he could pop. Or maybe he’s past that and at the age where he realizes the market for a shortstop with a career 97 OPS+ won’t be as robust if the illusion of Jimmy Rollins weren’t as good as it is. Outspokenness and free agency will get its best test when …
4. C.J. Wilson(notes) hits the market in November as the best major league pitcher out there and, if Yu Darvish doesn’t come over from Japan, the best pitcher period. He does so, too, as an intellectual wild card, the sort of player teams either love or hate because he defies a sporting culture in which subservience to managers, coaches and executives is the norm.
During the run-up to the 2008 election, Wilson expressed dismay that nobody on the Texas Rangers was talking about the presidential race. One former teammate, Brandon McCarthy(notes), tried to assure him on a message board that it would happen eventually. Wilson’s reply: “Come on man you have to admit the median or average guy in a baseball clubhouse does drive an SUV, drinks beer, golfs, likes college sports, chews or dips tobacco and is relatively a douchebag.”
Wilson got a talking-to from veterans. It hasn’t muzzled him. Last week, when talking about playing at Oakland’s miserable O.co Coliseum, Wilson said: “I hate pitching there. The mound sucks, the fans suck. There’s no fans there.”
By lacing his words with the truth, Wilson gets away with more than others might. It’s a fine line between outspoken and odd, one that …
5. Nyjer Morgan never toed very well. The Milwaukee Brewers’ center fielder channels his spillover personality into an alter-ego named Tony Plush, who is, for lack of a better term, bat-crap nuts, or, when he’s feeling particularly frisky, turns into the more “professional” Tony Gumbel, who likes to “tickle” balls into the outfield.
Just how cute Morgan’s shtick seems depends on whether he’s controlling his more volatile side. He drew one seven-game suspension last season for throwing a ball at a fan in the stands and another for charging the mound on Chris Volstad(notes) and inciting a benches-clearing brawl. The Washington Nationals grew tired of him and he of them, as he told a Milwaukee-area radio station this year, “It feels good to be in a baseball city.”
Morgan’s looking like a baseball player this year after struggling with Washington. The “Plushdamentals” he loves talking about have led to a .317 batting average and .448 slugging percentage. He still strikes out too much (51 times) and walks far too few (seven) but between his bat and well-above-average defense, he’s been a savior for Milwaukee, well worth the consternation any words may cause. It’s been that way with …
6. Chipper Jones(notes) in Atlanta since he arrived for good in 1995. Jones never shies from his opinion. Following a July game with questionable calls from a fill-in umpire, Jones let buckshot fly: “The officiating in this league is substandard for the most part,” he said. “I’m going to stick up for my team. And if a guy is not doing his job I’m going to say something. If I get fined, I get fined. I don’t care. … I wasn’t allowed to do my job.”
What’s best about Jones is how he’s willing to dabble publicly in conspiracy theory. Nothing is too sacred for Larry Wayne Jones, certainly not John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Jones told ThePostGame in March that not only does he believe there was a second shooter, he thinks the government was behind it.
“Having shot a hunting rifle all my life, I personally believe there was more than one shooter,” Jones said. “The conspiracy behind it is what really intrigues me.
“I’m sure it went pretty high but I don’t know how high. Let’s just say somebody had to put it into motion – and it was somebody high-ranking in the U.S. government.”
The only proper segue is to recall the case of …
7. Luke Scott and the missing birth certificate. Surely you remember Scott’s interview with David Brown in which he revealed he was a birther. Once President Obama released his birth certificate to the public, Scott still wasn’t convinced
“The birth certificate has yet to be validated,” he told The Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger. “If they can counterfeit $100 bills, I think it’s a million times easier to counterfeit a birth certificate, if you ask me. So, all it is, let’s just see if it’s real. Anybody can produce a document, so let’s check it out.”
Scott, the injured Baltimore Orioles designated hitter, didn’t endear himself any more when an ESPN the Magazine story detailed how he throws plantain chips at Orioles outfielder Felix Pie(notes) when he’s “acting like a savage.”
And that’s about all that needs to be said on Scott, for there is a point at which outspokenness turns into absurdity, and he long ago passed that. Onto a much brighter Scott …
8. Scott Boras , the agent who saves his most outlandish thoughts for the monster binders in which he presents the cases of his free agents. Boras doesn’t lack for opinions otherwise, of course. Ask him about anything and he’ll proffer a three-course meal of ideas. He’d try to argue the sky is green and the grass is blue if challenged – and he’d probably convince a few people along the way.
Boras’ willingness to challenge the status quo – from draft signing bonuses to salary scales in the major leagues to jumping through loopholes like he’s playing double-dutch – has infuriated MLB for three decades now and made him a pariah to the public. Boras swallows that because he believes in the work he does.
And even if it isn’t quite saintly, his deeds do help others, and his words carry weight. When Boras speaks, others listen. It’s not quite like that with …
9. Ozzie Guillen because his propensity to pop off is so prevalent, so very big a part of the Ozzie mystique, that when he does it’s not quite as shocking as it used to be.
Granted, Ozzie has mellowed some. He’s no longer feuding with Jay Mariotti. He hasn’t fought as much with his GM, Kenny Williams. The worst thing that happened to Ozzie this year was his middle son ripping the White Sox in tweet after tweet.
The man does have a way with words. “I’m the Charlie Sheen of baseball, without drugs and a prostitute,” he said earlier this year when people actually cared about Charlie Sheen, and his innate ability to capture a moment with no regard to the public’s perception of him makes Guillen a rare commodity: a manager with a legitimate personality.
There’s a perfect job out there for him, actually, one where he could be the mayor of the city instead of the manager of the second-banana team. It’s where he wants to be, too, where he could manage …
10. Logan Morrison and help lead the Florida Marlins to another championship. What a clubhouse that would be, Ozzie making his regular walkthroughs, LoMo awaiting the banter, a daily meeting of the minds that would destroy the limits of proper decorum.
Damn, would it be fun anyway. Baseball doesn’t have many Ozzie Guillens and Logan Morrisons left. The sport ran them out. Sure, a Gary Sheffield(notes) would come around every now and then to napalm every place he went. And Jeff Kent would be there to play Barry Bonds’ foil. And George Steinbrenner would call out players and fire managers and complain. And Bob Feller – well, he would talk about the good old days.
Morrison would love to talk about these days, but the Marlins sent him a message that essentially said: Don’t. No more calling out Hanley. No more hilarious Twitter pictures of a kid who looks no older than 15 accompanied by the question: “Is this David Samson? Yes or no? Vote now.” No more being yourself.
Hopefully, he ignores it all. Baseball needs Morrison to speak his mind, to ignore his own Twitter avatar – a cartoon of him with a piece of duct tape over his mouth and the word CENSORED written on it in red – and tell the truth.
There aren’t enough Logan Morrisons left. Hopefully the game doesn’t steal another.