St. Louis Cards' Enigmatic Khalil Greene Blames Pressure, Padres for Recent Woes
After six years with the San Diego Padres—the first of his career—Khalil Greene had become the franchise leader in home runs for shortstops, been the runner-up for the 2004 NL Rookie of the Year award (losing to former Padre Jason Bay), and was a regular fixture on Web Gems thanks to his dazzling defense.
His solid hitting and great defense helped San Diego to two straight division titles and contention year in and year out. He drew comparisons to Ozzie Smith and Garry Templeton, the Padres' golden standards at the shortstop position.
Then, in the 2008 offseason, Greene was unceremoniously traded away to the Cardinals for two fringe prospects.
The San Diego brass' decision to jettison Khalil—labeled by local media as the worst trade in franchise history—was almost as perplexing as the man himself.
Soft-spoken and shy, his excessively boring media interviews and quiet on the field persona pointed to a tranquil personality off of it, a man of faith whose belief in the Baha'i religion, in his own words, made him better as a person and a player.
But then, there was the other side of Khalil.
His public shyness was countered in private by, among other things, a love of music. Clashing instrumental music with his own hip-hop lyrics in his spare time seems like the last thing a man like Greene would enjoy.
Then again, the impressions about his personality would also be tested, as Khalil's calm demeanor could be interpreted as a front for a lack of emotional outlets. An odd peace on the surface while negativity and frustration bubbled inside.
On July 30, 2008, that frustration boiled to the top and manifested itself in what would be Greene's last game as a Padre.
En route to his worst individual and team season to date in the bigs, Greene struck out during a game (his 100th for the year), while the Padres stumbled towards a loss (they'd accumulate 99 for the season).
Khalil calmly grabbed his bat and lowered his helmet on his way to the dugout, walked towards the bench, dropped the bat and the helmet, and punched a storage box—breaking his hand.
He'd miss the rest of the season, one that started with him signing an $11 million extension with the team.
Greene said little about the outburst, owing it to the usual Padre culprit in '08—frustration.
With SS Luis Rodriguez filling in solidly the rest of the way, and San Diego in full-fledged rebuilding mode, Greene's contract and recent performance were deemed inadequate for the Padres, and he was traded.
In St. Louis, fans and the organization alike hoped for his final season to be a fluke, and for him to put up numbers more akin to the 27 HR and 97 RBI he had in 2007.
However, Greene stumbled in his first few months as a Cardinal, hitting only .213 with 2 HR through the end of May.
Then, Khalil's career took another bizarre turn, plunging to a deeper valley after starting out with so many peaks.
He was put on the DL with what was later described as anxiety, caused by his own frustration and the pressure he felt to respond in his new team.
The odd peace was broken once more, and this time, Greene gave a little more insight to the cause, telling the USA Today that he "[W]ages a constant, exhausting battle trying to push away negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones."
While the above statement might signal a purely internal problem, Greene told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the problem was exacerbated by San Diego...sort of.
"Given my experience in San Diego wasn't a great one, that left a bitter taste in my mouth," Greene said.
"It felt like the trust factor had been shattered. On the micro-level aspect of it, that didn't involve the clubhouse, but I really felt soured by that. Here, obviously, they want me to contribute, but at the same time I felt a genuine sympathy for my well being. ... I wanted to respond to that."
Greene's begrudging statement about San Diego's front office is strange and misguided, mainly for the following reason: While Greene's exit was definitely facilitated by his large impact on a shrinking payroll, it was his poor performance and unstable nature that prompted his ouster.
However, when a person's health is on the line, one must always look out for the human being first and wish him well, regardless of what or whom he feels is to blame.
If Khalil wants to pinpoint the treatment the San Diego Padres' organization gave him as the crux of his recent troubles, and use it as motivation to do better as a ballplayer and as a person, so be it.
Since coming off the DL on June 18, Greene has hit three home runs while adjusting to a new defensive position, third base.
Meanwhile, his team leads the NL Central while his former club struggles several games under .500, in fourth place in the NL West.
No matter what happens on the diamond, everyone should hope that Greene matches that calm, serene exterior to a growing feeling of inner peace.
And thus, we should all hope to stop collectively reacting perplexed to his behavior.
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