I first became a Red Sox fan in 1988. My siblings attended college in Boston so I adopted the Red Sox as my favorite team despite being a New Yorker. While my brother rooted for the Mets, I rooted for Roger Clemens, Jim Rice, and Mike Greenwell. While the first two players are remembered, there are times when I often ask myself: How did Mike Greenwell disappear?
Greenwell was a great player during his days with Red Sox. He shouldered the pressure of playing left field where greats like Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski once played. Greenwell never really had Hall of Fame numbers. They were good enough though to earn a Silver Slugger and two All-Star appearances. In fact, he holds a few distinct records. 1988 saw Greenwell set the American League record for most game-winning RBIs in a single season with 23. In 1996, Greenwell set another record by driving in all nine runs in a 9-8 win over Seattle. So while he was never a real MVP contender, his reliability cannot be denied.
Then in 1996, Greenwell retired. Where did Greenwell disappear to?
Greenwell Disappeared to Japan, Then Became a Race Car Driver
In 1997 Greenwell signed with the Harshen Tigers of Japan. It was a short-lived career with Greenwell retiring only a few months into the season after sustaining multiple playing injuries. After a few coaching stints in the Reds’ organization, Greenwell tried his hand at racing. Greenwell started racing model stock cars at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida where he won the 2000 Speedweeks track championship. He retired from racing in 2010. Greenwell now grows fruits and vegetables on his farm in Alva, Florida. He also owns and operates Mike Greenwell’s Bat-A-Ball & Family Fun Park.
While he didn’t have the longest career, Greenwell retired with a .303 average and 726 RBIs. On a larger level though, Greenwell represents that Red Sox nostalgia that made me fall in love with the team. From hanging his poster over my bed to watching him play back in the 1980s, Greenwell was a staple of Fenway Park for many years. I only wish he’d make more appearances at Fenway Park.
The death of the Reserve Clause and the birth of free agency in the mid-1970s ushered in a new era of baseball that saw skyrocketing salaries and multiple-year contracts. For the players, it was a victory over the owners who had sought to limit their salaries and leave them with no room to negotiate. Since then, however, some former Red Sox are saying that huge salaries and multiple-year contracts are leaving current players with less motivation to play as hard as they can.
I recently spoke with Jim Gosger, a former Red Sox reserve outfielder who played for the team from 1963 to 1966. Known as a line-drive hitter, Gosger played in the major leagues for a dozen years, and won a World Series with the New York Mets in 1969. Gosger told me that his years in the big leagues were the best years of his life, and that most players back then played for the love of the game. He said that many players today just don’t have the drive and enthusiasm to play because to them it’s all about the money. “There’s no loyalty to a team anymore,” Gosger told me, “We used to have to be at a certain weight when we arrived at spring training. But now look at Pablo (Sandoval). How do you even get that far overweight?” Gosger’s words echo what many other former players like him are saying today.
I sat in on a Q&A last summer with members of the 1975 Boston Red Sox World Series team that included Jim Rice. Rice said that fans would start seeing players play much harder with more motivation if they got one and two year contracts instead of the six or seven year contracts many of them are accustomed to receiving. Rice makes a good point. If you’re an outfielder with a six-year contract making $5 million a year and you want to take a day off, who’s going to stop you? You’re a millionaire, so what do you care if someone gets on your case for not hustling? For a million dollars I’d lean in and let pitchers peg me if it meant getting on base to help the Red Sox win!
Former Red Sox Players Knew How to Hustle!
A lack of hustle used to get a player benched immediately. During a game in 1977 against the Red Sox, the New York Yankees’ Reggie Jackson got yanked from the game by his manager, Billy Martin, for not hustling to field a hit. Jackson seemed to almost jog to the ball as Jim Rice pulled into second base for a double. While Jackson said he misjudged the depth of the hit, anyone watching the footage can immediately tell he wasn’t giving his best effort. It’s worth mentioning that Jackson was one of the game’s first $1 million players. What’s bothersome to former Red Sox players and old-school fans alike is this lack of hustle makes the game less exciting, which is the last thing baseball needs. Games already last for hours, and while I love every minute of it, I’d love it even more if I saw outfielders diving for catches, or a hitter run his butt off trying to beat out a bunt.
Replacing Castillo with Holt in left field is leaving many in Red Sox Nation scratching their heads. While a quick glance at Rusney Castillo’s offensive numbers justifies manager John Farrell’s decision, it leaves a gaping hole in the Red Sox defense, a hole that Brock Holt isn’t qualified to fill.
Castillo hasn’t done well in spring training games this year. He was hitting only .189 as of
March 31st, not exactly a reflection of the $72.5 million investment the Red Sox made when they signed him in 2014. But making Holt a left fielder and benching Castillo fixes a defensive problem that wasn’t quite broken to begin with. Castillo’s fielding isn’t the problem. He only made five errors as an outfielder (and none as a left fielder) in 80 games last season. It’s Castillo’s hitting that needs work.
Again, Castillo’s inconsistent hitting is definitely a problem. He hit .253 last season but this season’s spring training proves that he still has a lot of progress to make before he can reclaim a spot in the line up. Jackie Bradley Jr. had the same problem, but after tweaking his stance and swing, the Glove Glove-nominated outfielder found his stride in 2015 to finish the season with 31 extra base hits and a .249 batting average, up from the .198 he hit in 2014. Another important thing to keep in mind is Castillo’s $72.5 million contract. Stop and think about that for a second. After taxes he’ll still have around $30 million or so. The President of the United States makes $400,000 a year (which is ten times more than what most teachers make). How are Red Sox fans supposed to react to the fact that Castillo is now an eight figure salary back up player?
Replacing Castillo Is A Waste Of His Defense Experience
Obviously, Castillo’s poor hitting can’t be ignored. It’d be just as much of a waste if the Red Sox ignored his offensive numbers. But making Holt left fielder isn’t the answer. The only way Castillo is going to become a better hitter is if he gets more at-bats at the major league level where the experience he gains will help him. I hate to see a good left fielder replaced with someone who doesn’t know the Green Monster well. After all, it took Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice years to learn how to play off the wall. Replacing Castillo only dilutes the defensive experience he’s gained.