Let's Get to the Bottom of this Papelbon Thing

By now, it should be clear that I have a problem with the Jonathan Papelbon signing.  Not just the four year, $50 million part of it, or the Ryan Madson part of it, but mostly, how all these things add up to the new closer’s dynamic with the fanbase.

I can’t imagine something that would matter less to a player than what we on the internet think of him.  If I had their kind of money I’d just start my own internet and ignore that this pit of buzzing, round-the-clock bitching and judgment even exists.  But this blog doesn’t take up a small portion of cyber space to talk about things logically.  No, quite often, we deal with the emotional toll being a Phillies fan involves, which I think we can all agree is far more interesting/fun/terrible/worthless.

The problem with being a beloved pitcher in Philadelphia is that the bar has been set… quite high.

Cliff Lee had his own story in Philadelphia Magazine; standing on the cover, alone, in a crisp red uniform, ball in one hand, and a smirk, like he’s dragging home a boar carcass by the back hoof with his crossbow slung over his shoulder.

And from that point forward, unless you were in, you weren’t in.  Doc got in because archangels can pretty much do whatever they want.  Cole got in because he’s homegrown.  Roy got in because he’s small and looks old-timey, like he was just peeled out of a screen shot from Bases Loaded.  What these guys all have in common is that they are unbelievably good.

But Cliff set the bar higher for saying all that stuff about never wanting to leave, and taking less money to come back, and how great the fans are, and now his name is inside hearts on the back cover of notebooks across the Delaware Valley.  What we have with him is special.  Isn’t that right, Cliff?  You don’t have to answer.

And then Jonathan Papelbon comes to town, a guy whose main focus seems to be himself and making sure he gets his.

Which is reminiscent of a young man named Jimmy Rollins, whose contract negotiations are ongoing because he wants to see how much better of a life he can provide for himself and his family.  But Jimmy’s been here since we were terrible, and has been the leader of the greatest Phillies teams in franchise history.  As much as it stings to think of him elsewhere, he’s earned the opportunity.

Papelbon wanted to get paid.  And he got paid.  Now he wants to pad his stats to get into the Hall.  And on such a one way street of self preservation, it seems unlikely that he will A.) make friends or B.) care whether or not he has done so.

“It could be fun to watch him and the Philadelphia fans if he struggles early,” dreams Derek Stykalo of BoSox Injection.  “He’s not afraid to run his mouth and many members of Red Sox Nation grew tired of it.  The whole split personality thing–‘Cinco Ocho’–yeah, it gets old quick.  But he’s a big time gamer. Aside from Mariano, I’d take Paps anyday.  The Phillies are a better team with him at the back end.”

Papelbon is the first acquisition since we’ve started being a front runner in big name acquisitions whom I detested prior to his coming here.  Beltran and Reyes and others would have required the smothering of past emotions to truly accept them as Phillies–and again, Reyes at least does not seem like the kind of guy who cares if he’s liked anyway.  But fortunately, it seemed like they were destined never to make us shift our hostility.  Papelbon seemed to defy what was supposed to happen–the re-signing of homegrown Ryan Madson–and made us more like the Yankees than ever before.  Which isn’t his fault, I realize, but what happens going forward just might be.  Narratively, though, he was never supposed to be here.

It may seem unfair to peg our new closer as more concerned with himself than his team (I don’t know the guy personally), but his coming here isn’t because of an impassioned search for a Ring.  It was to live the dream of free agency–work hard, become great, find out how much money you’re worth and then take it.  Maybe I’m wrong–I hope I am–but that’s why I have trouble convincing away the weariness I have about this deal.

“There was some concern over his clubhouse habits, saying he could drive a rift in the team,” says Derek.  “I don’t think it’s true; the Red Sox have some big egos and some known culprits who did this.  Paps got dragged into the scenario because he’s a bit out there.  All in all, I’ve heard he’s a good teammate.”

In the end, we are powerless, and that’s my problem:  this went against what I felt would naturally happen (Madson re-sgined).  This could be nothing but a historical documentation of my temperament upon Papelbon’s arrival.  Or it could be nothing but my fear of change.  The point is, all I (we?) need to see is an unfathomably terrific season from Papelbon and this all gets wiped away.

“I can’t wait to meet the guys and go to war with them.”

“I’m loyal to those who are loyal to me.”

“The fans are in every pitch.  The fans are knowledgeable of baseball.  I’m excited to go play in front of the fans and show the fans what I can bring to this team.”

–Jonathan Papelbon

So yeah, this wouldn’t be the first time an irrational, whiny fear of mine was proven somewhat wrong.

Ah, fandom.  Its selfishness…but together.

Tags: Closer Jonathan Papelbon Ryan Madson

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