Who has been the face of the Tampa Bay Rays over the past five seasons? Surely manager Joe Maddon but, among the players, you would be hard-pressed to name anyone other than James Shields or Evan Longoria. And it's probably Shields, at least before he left in a trade with the Kansas City Royals this past offseason.
Regardless, the comments Longoria made earlier this week in the Tampa Bay Times — that the Rays would be better off going forward despite Shields and B.J. Upton leaving — were surprising. Especially to Shields, who said he was puzzled and disappointed by them. Perhaps even hurt. He said in the Kansas City Star:
“It’s disappointing,” Shields said. “I’m a little bit surprised. Evan is a great player, but I really don’t know what he’s talking about. I really don’t, and I’m being honest with you.”
Longoria said “there was a lot of history with B.J. and Shields and this organization” because of their association with the franchise in its Devil Rays’ days.
“Bottom line,” Longoria said, “we don’t have guys in here anymore that knew how it was. There’s no, ‘It was ... It used to be…’ It’s all here and now. And what we’re doing now. And that’s the biggest thing.”
All of Longoria's pertinent published comments can be read here. Longoria probably was trying to do what anyone else in his situation might: Put a positive spin and optimistic outlook on the season by not dwelling on who no longer might be in the clubhouse. It's the Rays way in general. But he also put his foot in his mouth while doing so. And Longoria, who mostly comes off OK in the media, has stepped in it before.
During an Answer Man Q&A in 2008, he tried to praise teammate Carlos Peña for being a "clean-cut Latin" — which made it sound like he thought all of the other Latinos on the Rays were thuggish. Longoria quickly apologized after Spanish-speaking news agencies expressed a general Latino displeasure with his sentiments.
It's easy to speculate on what might be below the surface here, and maybe there is more to it. The Rays weren't (and still aren't) in a financial position to give Shields and Upton free-agent quality dollars, yet they did sign Longoria to a long-term contract during his rookie season. There could have been some perceived jealousy over that. And one could argue that Longoria was flexing his own leadership muscles now that the clubhouse (what parts Maddon doesn't lead) now "belong" to him with Shields and Upton gone.
On that note, when trade with K.C. trade happened, everyone was subjected to odes regarding what a great leader Shields was on the Rays and how he'll be missed. Perhaps feeling some insecurity, Longoria could have reacted to that, as well. In the case of Upton, there was that time he and Longoria had it out in the dugout over an incident of Upton not running out a play.
The way the story in the Tampa Bay Times was written, it seems like Longoria was having trouble expressing exactly what he wanted to say. And maybe there's no way you please everyone here. Like he says, the only clubhouse Longoria needs to worry about is his own. However, if he has a relationship with Shields and Upton and wants to keep it, he might want to give them a call once he has clarified — in his own mind — what he meant.