June 9, 2017
PHOTO BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price during batting practice before a game at Fenway Park.
By STEVE KRAUSE
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. David Price is a human being — a rather skittish one at that, apparently — who isn’t into being badgered by the bottom-feeding news media every time he enters the workplace.
That’s his right, of course. However, there are many athletes who transcend that message silently, and don’t feel the need to complain about it in a room full of reporters the way Price did the other night at Yankee Stadium.
That was a huge mistake, and he will never live it down even if he wins 30 games next year.
Why do people do this? Why do they consistently sabotage themselves?
I think I can answer that somewhat. Despite years of admonitions about preferential treatment, athletes are still set apart from the time they’re eight years old.
The winnowing process begins in youth sports, where just about every one of them has a system that separates the the elite from the ordinary. These kids are plucked from the mainstream and nurtured, drilled, and — in many cases — coddled for the rest of their young lives. Elite travel teams. All-Stars. Tournaments. Scholarships. Coaches who look the other way at all sorts of transgressions.
Haven’t we seen this in people such as Aaron Hernandez, who wreaked havoc down there at Florida while coaches such as Urban Meyer professed not to know what his star player was doing? Baloney. Coaches would rather win, and they don’t necessarily care how much the extract from their athletes in order to do that.
So here’s Price — a product of that culture at Vanderbilt University. He has what is tantamount to an out-of-town Broadway tryout in a deserted baseball outpost called Tampa Bay, where nobody cares whether the team comes or goes, let alone wins or loses.
Then, he walks into a baseball megamarket like Boston, where people do care. They care very much. The media have voracious appetites for the type of news that most people would rather keep hidden. And if you walk into the city with fat contract, you’re a magnet for this type of coverage.
Price hit the bull’s eye. Not only that, there’s ample reason to believe that his hefty $25 million contract was made necessary by the front-office bungling that allowed their previous star lefty, Jon Lester, to go to Chicago and win a World Series with the Cubs.
So not only does Price have to live up to the $25 million contract, he has to live up to everything fans feel Lester would have given them had he not been run out of town by inept management.
This is why even though Price led the league innings pitched and won 17 games for a team that won the AL East last year, it was deemed “not enough.” Now, personally, I don’t understand people who think they’re the arbiters on how to define “not enough,” but apparently someone took it upon himself (or herself) to make that judgment. And all of a sudden Price was a major disappointment.
Then, he reports for spring training with a sore elbow and you’d have thought he shot someone. Or that Red Sox general manager David Dombrowski did.
But people forget no one is more coddled than a pitcher. Price pitched 230 innings last year, and led the league. In his Cy Young year (1967) Jim Lonborg pitched 273. We won’t even get into the number of innings Bob Feller pitched from 1939 to 1941, but let’s just say he topped off at more than 300 in ‘41. Then, when he came back from World War II, he did it again.
This isn’t Price’s fault. Pitchers are handled differently. Even in 1967, it was considered sub-standard if you didn’t finish your game, or at least go into the eighth inning. Now, after six, if you leave with a lead, it was a “quality start.”
Price, who has a 90-plus fastball, has thrown a lot of innings in his career and tendons and ligaments might act as elastics in the way they hold muscles and bones together, but they’re not elastics. They’re tissue, and tissue breaks down.
So not only did Price pay the price — so to speak — for not being Sandy Koufax last year (and look what happened to him — just as an example), he came into 2017 hurt.
Because some fans set their lives to this stuff, and because some of them aren’t very bright — sorry to say — Price has to wear this around his neck. And also, sorry to say, there are members of the media in Boston who have no problem exploiting that anger.
Price is sick of it, and I don’t blame him.
The best way to make sure you become the target of every poison pen in town is to get up in the middle of the clubhouse and say “to heck with the media, I’m not talking to you unless I have to.” Bad move.
Maybe the penny will drop someday that if you coddle and protect athletes from the time they’re 8 years old until they’re forced to go out in the real world, these things are going to happen. We do athletes no favors when we constantly strive to save them from themselves.
All I can say is good luck to Price from hereon out. He won’t catch a single break in this town.