Throughout the 2010 season, injuries have plagued the Boston Red Sox. The rib fractures to OF Jacoby Ellsbury have been perhaps the most prominent, limiting the high flier to only nine games this season, and have definitely drawn the focus of the harsh Boston sports media.
As the date for Ellsbury's return fast approaches, the reaction from Red Sox nation has been somewhat puzzling. You would think they would be ecstatic about having their young, gold glove caliber outfielder back, especially considering the horrendous defense that has characterized the Boston outfield so far this season. Yet, this is not so.
Many Sox fans have criticized Ellsbury for "taking too much time off," and being lazy, arrogant, and a bad teammate.
It's Red Sox fans like this who give us all a bad name. They are generally unappreciative of everything that the sport gives us, truly uneducated, and perpetually looking for someone to bash. Fans like this need to find something to blame on someone, and when there isn't actually any criticism due, they make it up.
Most of you non-Bostonians know the stereotype. The fan with the heavy city accent and abrasive personality whose most featured words include "wicked" and "awesome." "Pahk the cah at Hahvad yahd," etc. See Jimmy Fallon's performance in Fever Pitch (2005) for more details.
Ellsbury didn't ask to receive multiple rib fractures in early April, when behemoth third baseman Adrian Beltre plowed into him, nor did he complain when the Red Sox stuck him back into the lineup way too early this season in May, where he reinjured his ribs again, furthering his rehab process extensively. On both occasions, Ellsbury got himself hurt going full out after a ball.
Ellsbury spent a good chunk of time this season rehabbing in a sports facility center in Arizona. This has been questioned time and time again by the media, and has even drawn some less-than-professional comments by his teammates.
Just because Ellsbury was in Arizona, working full time to heal his injury and get back to 100% as quickly as possible, and wasn't in the dugout to cheerlead his teammates every time they made contact with a pitch doesn't make him a bad teammate. Playing injured doesn't mean you are a good teammate, especially if you are unable to perform at even a barely serviceable level.
Injuries are unfortunate, but if you can't perform at even half of your ability due to injury, there is no point in being in the lineup at all. Yes, that means I would rather see Daniel Nava start everyday then watch Ellsbury limp around the field and contribute no more than a wet noodle would to the teams performance.
Red Sox fans and the Boston media have an extremely short term memory. They have all forgotten what was accomplished just last year, in Ellsbury's first season as the full time starter.
There wasn't a single Red Sox fan complaining last season when Ellsbury was seemingly making a miraculous play every game. He lead the major leagues with 70 SB, led the Red Sox in hits (188), batted .301, and provided stellar defense, committing only two errors all season in 153 games, and diving after every ball remotely close to him.
Some Red Sox fans feel the need to explain why they aren't atop the division this year, and Ellsbury has been the ire of many of these fans. They make it seem like Ellsbury purposefully cracked several of his ribs, and then sat out when he was secretly healthy for no good reason. Sound insane? It is.
Ellsbury's entire game is based on speed, ease of motion, and the ability to go full board on the base paths and in the field. Rib injuries take away all of these things. I don't see why having Ellsbury at 50 percent for the season, instead of having him 100 percent for the stretch run seems more appealing to Red Sox fans.
Not only that, playing Ellsbury hurt would risk the overall health of a young talent going forward by insisting he play with one of the worst baseball injuries to suffer.
Let's not forget, this kid is the future. In the post-steroid era where pure power and offensive might are taking a back seat to base running and fielding ability, Ellsbury is the perfect candidate to emerge as a name for years to come. His is the quintessential table setter, and immediately changes the game every time he is on base.
If Ellsbury is at full health and is the threat on the base path he has been, you can go add another .005+ average points and a few more RBI's to the 2-5 hitters, as well as a few more ticks in the win column. He is that good.
To all current and future critics and naysayers, all those who believe that Ellsbury needs to just simply "tough it out," let me offer my rebuttal and address you directly:
Firstly, most of you have never had a rib injury, especially not on the level of Ellsbury's injury. Trust me, if I cracked five of your ribs, you would have trouble sitting at your cubicle pushing papers and reading memo's. All Ellsbury has to do is compete at the top level of his sport in the world, every day.
Additionally, don't use the "he's a million dollar athlete he has to earn his pay routine." All professional athletes are paid inordinate amounts of money, we get it. That doesn't mean he has to play when he is unable to compete without significantly risking his health just for your entertainment. You don't write his checks, you aren't forced to follow the sport or buy expensive tickets, so stop whining. Seriously.
And finally, if Kevin Youkilis or Dustin Pedroia had suffered the same injury, they would have missed the same general amount of time. Just because they are visibly passionate in their approach to the game and extremely tough, doesn't mean they would miraculously fight through this injury and perform at high levels. Anyone who believes this is, quite succinctly, a meathead.
Risking the health of a young talented player just because Red Sox fans feel the need to do something about their current third place standing is very, very foolish. Even if, God forbid, they don't make the playoffs this year (gasp), they've set themselves up to be a great team in the future.
Long term deals are in place for all of their starters, they possess good young talent on the major league level and in the minors, and most importantly they control the almighty power of the dollar (second highest budget in baseball). Calling for the banishment of Ellsbury from Boston would just hurt the bright future of this team, especially when he has already proven that he can produce in a high-pressure environment like Boston.
Wisen up, kids, and leave Jacoby alone.