Friday, February 22, 2013

Closers Should Be Heard And Not Listened To

"I'm thinking a Van Dyke and maybe theme music by Mastodon"
The difference between closers and kickers consists largely of theme music and poorly trimmed facial hair.

Otherwise, the similarities are uncanny. They're on the field much less than their peers. They're brought in high-pressure situations when the game is on the line. They tend to flame out rather quickly. And the few with any kind of longevity acquire a sort of mythical status.

Oh, and when they shoot their mouths off, it always feels kind of weird.

Which brings us to this morning's drama out of Phillies camp (as opposed to the earlier-in-the-week drama, which mainly involved a visit from an AARP camera crew, or a non-story about Roy Halladay not being lined up for the Opening Day start despite being gritty and stubbly and Jack Morrisy. Halladay, for his part, was much more sensible about the whole thing than some of the people observing it), namely that Dropkick Murphys-loving, Toradol-avoiding $50M+ man Jonathan Papelbon talked about how he hasn't seen any leadership in the Phillies' clubhouse.

Now, like it or lump it, the one thing the Phillies have is veterans, which is another way of saying they're old. These guys have seen the elephant - Rollins and Howard and Utley and Chooch Ruiz have all been to the World Series multiple times. New kid Michael Young may not offer much with the stick or the leather, but he's got a couple of World Series trips of his own and comes with so much leadery leadership lather from the Dallas press corps that you'd think he'd taken Missionary Ridge all by his lonesome. Roy Halladay. Cliff Lee. Mike Adams. These are players who have been around, seen the good and the bad, and generally qualify as "leaders" by the simple standards of having, you know. Led their teams.

To be fair, the Phillies do have a long tradition of relief pitchers shooting their mouths off. Closer Billy Wagner famously spouted a lot of arglebargle about the team having no shot at the playoffs and lack of veteran leadership and, oh, hey, never mind that key series he just handed to the Astros on a silver platter and with it, a playoff spot. So there's precedent.

(Note: Wagner also talked his way out of Houston by mouthing off to the front office, was confronted by the entire Phillies' clubhouse in 2005, took potshots from the safety of Shea in 2006, and was apparently the ringleader of the cabal that hazed Lastings Milledge to the point where it damaged him permanently. But I digress.)

But it's the sort of precedent you generally see associated with losing teams and long seasons and backstabbing and infighting, which is not what you'd expect from this top-heavy, largely veteran bunch. It may be that this is just more spring training static, mouthing off from the guy you'd expect to mouth off. Or it could be the harbinger of a dreary season of palace intrigue.

But either way, Papelbon should probably remember a couple of things. Closers don't last. Billy Wagner moved on. And that when it comes down to it, he's Garo Yepremian with a fauxhawk.
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