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It's Not You, It's Me
First off, big ups to all of the men and women serving our country that help preserve the freedom which we enjoy.
Given that today is Veteran’s Day, a day to honor the sacrifices of our soldiers, I found it incredibly ironic that J.D. Drew opted out of his contract with the Dodgers, with 3 years and $33 million left on the table, leaving the team hanging in order to pursue a better deal for himself.
Drew certainly has every right to follow after that which he believes in his best interest, and in this day and age, many (if not most) athletes put business ahead of loyalty – the club owners that pay these players often exhibit the same characteristics. The problem with Drew has been that his me-first attitude has always spilled over to the field of play, not in the same destructive manner as T.O., but detrimental nonetheless.
Drew has incredible physical talent, a former national college player of the year for Florida St., a guy with all of the tools; this is what former GM Paul DePodesta saw when he signed him to the contract in the first place in 2004. Drew has also exhibited highly questionable commitment and resolve to realizing that talent. His 162-game averages are strong: 27 home runs, 86 RBI, 102 runs, .286 batting average, and a stellar .905 OPS (22nd among all active players). At the same time, he’s averaging only 118 games per season. In other words, he sits out nearly 28 percent of the time.
When the Dodgers acquired Drew, he was expected to be the cornerstone of the franchise, a guy to help the team sustain the success of its 2004 division title. But his two years as a member of the Blue Crew were marked by repeated injury – some major and some minor – and constant ego massaging by the coaching staff and front office to make sure that he felt comfortable and appreciated. He was an invisible presence in the clubhouse. When he felt like playing, he was out there. Too often, there were times where he didn’t feel like playing.
As an $11 million a year player, you have the responsibility to place the burden of the team's success on your shoulders; that means being out there when your team needs you, not when you're in the mood for it. It's hard to be respected as a team leader if you aren't doing everything it takes to help the team win. If you remember the classic baseball movie Major League, Corbin Bernsen played Roger Dorn, an overpaid, selfish third-baseman that frequently dogged it because he didn't want to get hurt and jeopardize his health or his future. It took team leader Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) to call him out on it and get him in line. But with Drew as one of the foundations of the team, there wasn't anyone in the clubhouse that could hold him accountable.
Not that this should have been any news to the Dodgers. Drew's entire career has followed the same story. He was the top draft pick of the Phillies (#2 overall), but with the help of über-agent Scott Boras, refused to sign for less than $8 million, an extraordinarily high sum of money at the time. Drew was vilified in Philadelphia to the point of fans throwing batteries at him, eventually getting re-drafted and signed the next season with St. Louis after sitting out an entire year just to get paid. Cardinals fans, initially enamored with his sweet swing and highlight reel plays, grew tired of his inability (or unwillingness) to stay on the field and his indifferent attitude and were happy to see him leave - this mentality came to be known as the "J.D. Drew Effect."
I'm sure J.D. is very comfortable with who he is and the decisions that he's made. And the Dodgers' success this past season could not have been accomplished without his contributions. However, the Dodgers are a proud, storied franchise and deserve to have players that are willing to make sacrifices to help continue this legacy. The Dodgers may not be able to find the talent to replace Drew (though $33 million goes a long way), but hopefully they'll find the type of ballplayers that are committed and hungry to contribute instead of just cashing in. The rest of the team will be much better off for it.
AP photo by Richard Drew