In the last century and a half, thieves were made into folk heroes–the James Brothers, (Frank and Jesse), Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd to name just a few. Songs were written about all of the above. In our century, the most notorious thieves belong to baseball teams. Rather than stealing with guns, they sign contracts for guaranteed money, then play poorly (if these kings of entitlement bother to play at all) rather than earning their pay. One of the most notorious of the new breed is Jacoby Ellsbury, who the Yankees have finally released. While I doubt they can manage it, they’re trying to recover some of the swag, in the neighborhood of 26 million dollars his ill-advised contract says they owe him.
There’s an old saying which goes “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Originally it began as an Italian proverb which found its way into English in 1786. I don’t claim to have infallible judgment. But with little or no money to handle foolishly, the mistakes I make don’t become worldwide knowledge. From the very beginning of baseball players getting guaranteed money, teams have been victimized by poor judgment. The Indians may have been the first, signing a now forgotten pitcher named Wayne Garland to what was then serious money, only to have his career go up in smoke. The Mets can claim two of the worst modern robbers for their own–Bobby Bonilla who will be getting paid for almost another two decades, and Yoenis Cespedes who hasn’t played much during the Trump administration unless you count playing golf.
The Yankees, once the centerpiece of how baseball should be run managed to go wrong as far back as Eddie Whitson. After a World Series appearance with the 1984 Padres, the Yankees foolishly signed him to a 5-year deal for what was then major money, over 4 million dollars. Unlike the recently released Ellsbury who took up time and space for 6 years, Whitson was sent back to San Diego during the 1986 season.
During the current century, Carl Pavano, A.J. Burnett and Sonny Gray have taken serious money and done poorly in the Bronx. By far Pavano was the worst example of what guaranteed money in the Bronx has wrought until Ellsbury put on his black mask and came to town to don the pinstripes.
The Yankees could have put their ears to the ground before offering Ellsbury enough money to fund a small town. Even the brilliant writer Jeff Kallman, whose opinion of Ellsbury is more charitable than mine admits that baseball’s first son of the Navajo had lost his taste for the Red Sox tribe by the end of their 2013 World Series triumph. He was only once an All-Star which makes his $153 million, 7-year Yankee contract ludicrous unless he performed like a magician. Far from doing that, he was well below average in the Bronx.
The Yanks should have considered themselves forewarned. This is a man who essentially took the 2010 season off after a collision with teammate Adrian Beltre. He suffered hairline_ fractures to 4 ribs. Not compound fractures, but hairline fractures after which a football player would get taped up and play the next week. He lost half a season to a “subluxation” which to you and me is a partial dislocation of the shoulder. A tougher man could have that popped back into place and be good to go. Football doesn’t offer guaranteed money in the amounts baseball does, and by 2013 his mates had had all they wanted of his reluctance to get back into action.
So it was off to the Bronx. With the savviest of owners, George Steinbrenner dead, the nonentities in the front office who have led the Yankees nowhere paid Ellsbury entirely too much and got entirely too little in return. Once a 30-home-run hitter and playing in a park that seemed tailor-made to his lefthanded swing, he hit but 16 home runs in 2014. In 2015, he was so bad that someone named Chris Young started instead of him in the wild card game, the only postseason game that version of the Yankees played. Over the years since, He performed for the Yankees as poorly as David Ortiz performed in Minnesota. Thrown on the scrap heap by the Twins, somehow Ortiz became a new man with the Old Town Team. Ellsbury went in reverse, alienating Yankee fans who had seen better performances by him wearing the Red Sox colors.
It’s not even as though the Yankees’ outfield was crowded. Aaron Hicks had Tommy John surgery, so God only knows when or if he’ll be back. Giancarlo Stanton is hoping not to be the next Ellsbury, although his 2019 year, playing in some 18 games and claiming nebulous injuries (even in the ALCS) was an Ellsbury audition. Nobody knows if Clint Frazier is around, much less whether he can be a 2020 regular. So, an Ellsbury with a pulse would have been kept around, especially considering how nobody would want the rest of his contract. Now with his release, even the Yankees don’t want it. They’ve filed a grievance, though who they filed it with wasn’t known. They tried to reclaim money from Alex Rodriguez, who the fans have christened both A.Roid and A.Fraud. The Miami native held onto his ill-gotten gain, and in all likelihood, so will Ellsbury, the son of Madras, Oregon. After two years in Madras shorts instead of a baseball suit, Ellsbury has his nerve thinking any self-respecting team will give him enough money to buy an SUV. The Astros might, considering the words
“self-respecting” and “Astros” didn’t fit even before the recent sign-stealing scandal. Ellsbury’s no fit mentor for newcomers on a team like the White Sox where youth will be plentiful. His only sensible move would be to continue not playing, which he began in 2018, just make it official. Yoenis Cespedes may want to do the same across town.0