As Koji Uehara jumped into David Ross’ arms after striking out Matt Carpenter, which I personally felt was an even greater thrill than 2004 or 2007, I couldn’t help but think that there will be a lot of changes in the Red Sox come spring 2014.
Back before free agency, there were fewer changes when the owners had more control of their players. Today, though, with the amount of money and agents ready to strike astronomical deals, no team has a chance to stay together. Thus, Red Sox Nation holding their breath was useless in the hope Jacoby Ellsbury would stay. And so, exhaling the big sigh of disappointment became reality. And yes, like Johnny Damon before him, we will now watch him play for the Evil Empire in the Bronx.
Howie Carr had a great line when Damon left with his $30 million contract and fans called Carr’s show moaning. He said, “There’s thirty million reasons Damon left, and they all have George Washington’s picture on them.”
As my baseball mind began mulling over the entire deal, seven years, $153 million — wow! Many Major League players have signed similar deals and bigger contracts will be negotiated in the future. So I started to think about whom to compare Ellsbury to from the greats who went before him. He is not a superstar in the category of Mays, Mantle, Aaron or Clemente. He doesn’t have the power of those outfield legends. Ellsbury is a leadoff hitter, get on base, steal bases and score runs. He is also what baseball coaches say “can really go get-em,” meaning running down fly balls.
The player I came up with to compare to Jacoby Ellsbury is Lou Brock. The great left fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals was a similar player in skill set to Ellsbury. Brock was a lead-off hitter, some power, 149 career home runs; Ellsbury, 65 to this point. Brock, however, was one of the greatest base stealers of all time, 938, second all time to Ricky Henderson. Ellsbury has 241 steals. In career batting average they are similar: Ellsbury, .297, Brock .293. Brock joined the prestigious 3,000 hit club with 3,023. Ellsbury has 865 in seven seasons. Defensively, Ellsbury is the better outfielder with a Gold Glove in 2011. Lou Brock made a lot of errors, almost 200. Most of those were bad throws and bobbled base hits that allowed extra bases. With Brock’s speed, he could go get-em too. Brock was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1985. Ellsbury has a long way to go to get to the Hall; however, it’s possible.
Center field is a tougher position that Ellsbury is one of the best in Major League Baseball. For the Cardinals of Brock’s era, teammate Curt Flood was one of the best ever. Hence, Lou Brock was in left field.
So where does this all lead? How much of an impact will this have on the Red Sox? That depends on who they replace Ellsbury with. Adapting to the changes that occur in any professional sport team today is one of the most important jobs for any manager, head coach or general manager. The Red Sox proved this past season what team chemistry is all about.
Someone asked Mickey Mantle before he died what he thought of the salaries players make now? He answered, “When Mr. Steinbrenner opened the door he’d say, Howdy, partner.” Ironically, Lou Brock’s outfield partner Curt Flood is the one who opened the door to free agency that allowed the tsunami of dollars to make many Major League Players super rich. If Lou Brock was in his prime now, he’d command at least as much money as Jacoby Ellsbury.