Fung_Ku_Panda likes your photograph and probably doesn’t like Boston

MLB

Pablo Sandoval is lucky that the situation didn’t degenerate further with the Instagram woman in question saying that he was cyber-stalking her, leading not just to embarrassment but to this:

Sandoval’s first season as a member of the Boston Red Sox has grown tabloidish with the revelation that when he allegedly went to the clubhouse to use the bathroom, he grabbed his phone, checked it and decided to like the images posted by the buxom woman. Or, as he claims, he accidentally hit “like” when he checked his phone.

Whatever.

Self-proclaimed baseball “purists” who have fantasy-fueled notions of players who are thinking about baseball 24/7 and working, working, working to hone their craft will react with apoplectic dismay at Sandoval’s supposed breach of etiquette and lack of dedication to his job. In truth, many players will check their phones and tablets during the course of a game for one reason or another. It’s easy to forget that these larger-than-life characters that appear to be superhuman are, in truth, just like everyone else. Sandoval’s story combines this reality with the revelation that he, like everyone else, goes to the bathroom; he, like everyone else, checks his smartphone regularly; and he, like everyone else, is looking for action off the field.

Counting spring training, the season is at least eight months long and nine if the club is a playoff team. No one can maintain concentration and focus on the game for that amount of time without rapid burnout. And what are starting pitchers and backup players whose roles are specified supposed to do in the third inning of a game in June? Sitting and watching the game with rapt attention loses its luster not long after a player has established himself. In fact, it’s quite boring. Most managers don’t care what the players are doing as long as they do their jobs and don’t get caught doing other stuff. The idea that this was a show of disrespect to manager John Farrell is silly. This happens everywhere on every team. The unspoken rule is not to embarrass the manager and organization. Sandoval got caught and embarrassed his already embattled manager and panicking organization. That’s why it’s an issue. If the team was 39-29 instead of 29-39, this elicits a wink and a shrug.

Put it this way, if Sandoval were hitting .330 as he did in 2009 for the San Francisco Giants and the Red Sox weren’t mired in last place and going nowhere in the American League East, no one would have said a word. Similar to him showing up in camp with his belly hanging precipitously over his belt, it only matters if things aren’t going well. In truth, looking at Sandoval’s numbers, he’s doing precisely what he’s done since 2012 and his year-end numbers will reflect that. They’ll be identical to what they’ve been with a batting average in the .270s, a mediocre on-base percentage approximating .320 to .335, 15 home runs, and the questioning glances of those who had no clue what the Red Sox were getting when he was signed. Sandoval’s star status has been built on his post-season performances when he’s made himself into a Reggie Jackson-style spotlight hound.

The overreaction to this is multiplied by the perceived disappointment that Sandoval has been, that the Red Sox are terrible, and that the lack of “character” and focus has been an issue for the club in the not-too-distant past. What Sandoval and the Red Sox might be learning too late is that there are players who are simply not cut out for Boston and its inherent pressures and non-stop scrutiny.

The wild nights of Mike Napoli were only charming because he was productive and helped the team win the 2013 World Series. The Instagram activities of Sandoval are not viewed as fondly because the team is, right now, a bigger underachiever than the 2011 bunch and are dangerous close to being a repeat of the 2012 disaster for which Bobby Valentine got the blame when there were far greater problems with that team than Valentine.

Fans and media members were speculating about the possibility of getting rid of Sandoval before the Instagram incident. Now? They’ll want the club to eat a significant portion of his contract to expedite his departure.

Like players who go to New York, it takes a certain type of personality to make it in Boston. There has to be a thick skin and tough mentality (or complete obliviousness as was the case with Manny Ramirez) to function and thrive there. Some have it, some don’t. Worse is if a player thinks he has it, management thinks he has it, and then they discover three months into a six-year, $100 million contract that he doesn’t.

The idea that the Red Sox will be able to repeat the lightning strikes from August of 2012 to October of 2013, clear out players like Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez who did not belong in Boston, and go on a spending spree with every single one of the players signed contributing to a championship is ludicrous. The 2013 signees were probably doing the same things and worse as Sandoval checking his Instagram account during a game, but they won. So it’s okay. This only serves to explain why this regular occurrence of a player checking his cellphone during a game is being treated as a hangable offense and a symptom of what ails the 2015 Red Sox. They’re worrying about a hangnail when there’s a bone sticking out of the skin. Until they fix that bone, the hangnail is nothing.

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