Mike Greenwell was one of my favorite players growing up. The Red Sox left fielder had the many appealing intangible qualities (not to mention quite a few impressive tangibles, too, like a lifetime .303 average and .368 OBP) that often make players fan favorites. Plus, upon running into the left field wall for the umpteenth time, he’d decide every now and then to give it a swift kick in return. That’s good stuff.
Unfortunately, the Gator retired after a season of .295 hitting at the age of 32, well before he’d reached the end of his rope. And in comments made yesterday on his selection to the Red Sox Hall of Fame, we can see why:
“I felt like I was very, very loyal,” Greenwell said. “I never felt like I got that back at the end of my career. ”
“I wasn’t really mad at the Red Sox,” Greenwell said. “I was burnt out. I knew I would never come to Fenway as long as Duquette was there. I really thought what he did to that organization was a shame and I’ll say that right to his face.”
Greenwell also called the Duke’s decision to ban former players from the clubhouse —including Red Sox legends Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, and Johnny Pesky—”one of the worst things I’ve ever seen, not just in sports but as a human being.” But it was not all bitterness—Greenwell relayed his reaction to the news of his impending induction (‘What, did you all run out of people?’) and bumped into the press conference’s mini-Green Monster backdrop (‘It’s been a while since I bounced off of that thing’).
Yet Greenwell also repeated sentiments he’s made in the past about getting shortchanged as a result of others’ steroid use, though he no longer seems offended by his empty trophy case.
“[Greenwell] said it was an eye-opener when he was told during contract negotiations that the difference between his salary and that of Canseco’s was ” ‘he’s hitting 40 home runs,’ and I knew why. I didn’t tell them I knew why, but I knew why and I always took issue with the fact that I was putting up similar numbers without the power numbers.”
“…all at once, the numbers got crazy. Well, why? We all know why and I knew why. I did lose the MVP to Jose Canseco and also lost Rookie of the Year. If you’ll look back, the guys that finished in front of me, we would all have doubt.”
“I get a little miffed at people when someone makes the argument, ‘Well, does it make the player?’ Of course it doesn’t make the player, but I promise you as a guy that could hit like I could hit, if the ball would have traveled 20 more feet for me, what kind of player am I then? If I get healthier faster because of that, what kind of player am I then?”
“Probably if I didn’t have my wife [who is a nurse], I would have done it to try to at least perform at that level. Another reason I retired when I retired was I just didn’t feel like [the playing field] was quite even anymore.”
I hope Mike Greenwell has no regrets, despite getting shafted by Jose Canseco and Dan Duquette. I find his rhetorical question about himself as a steroid user (“What kind of player am I then?”) a bit haunting. Because the answer would be, “just another juicer.” So Mike Greenwell didn’t take steroids. So the ball didn’t travel 20 feet further. He didn’t end up with a closetful of trophies, but he was still a special kind of player. And he did it all by himself. So what kind of player was Mike Greenwell? I think the answer is, “a damn decent one.” One who even manages some sympathy, now, for the players whose ill-gotten success cemented his own second-class status:
“I do not blame the guys. I was very tempted myself, because I understood the pressure to perform,” he said. “It’s tough to have you guys walk up after the game, and I hit a fly ball that got caught 5 feet in front of the fence, and it ended the game with the bases loaded.
“To be criticized when I know that there’s something out there that could solve that, but I just didn’t do it. I’m proud of the fact that I didn’t do it, but I understand the why.”
“It’s not about the [MVP] trophy. It’s about letting people know that there was an issue in the game, and let’s see if we can clean it up. I have a son who’s now in the minor leagues [Bo, 19, in the Indians' organization], and I’d like to know that he’s playing on an even playing field.”
Greenwell says he hasn’t been back to Fenway since the day he retired, but that he’s “definitely” planning to return this year. Looking forward to seeing you there, Mike.