I miss Kevin Youkilis. As the pennant race comes alive, we’re all reminded of former glories, and Youk was integral to the Red Sox during my childhood. This modern team is fun to watch, with young stars like Mookie Betts, but that gritty soul of yore has largely been lost. Dustin Pedroia still embodies it, but there are few grinders like Kevin Youkilis across baseball anymore, and that’s incredibly sad.
Kevin Youkilis, The Greek God of Walks
Once upon a time, few teams wanted Youk. Before Moneyball was released, teams still coveted players for the wrong reasons. Appearance often outweighing performance in the decision-making process. Therefore, many scouts disregarded Kevin Youkilis. He was too fat, they said. Couldn’t run. Couldn’t field. Very little upside. Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s general manager, saw through that. He yearned to draft The Greek God of Walks, only for the Red Sox to snatch him with the 243rd pick in 2001. The rest is history.
Youkilis was a rookie on the historic 2004 Red Sox. He proceeded to play nine seasons in a Red Sox uniform. His rise was steady and inspiring. First he lost a little weight and took better care of himself. Then he transitioned to first base and pushed himself to progress every single day. He became a fierce competitor, guided by a fire within the stomach. His was an insatiable desire for constant improvement. In time, he became a force of nature.
Looking back, Kevin Youkilis doesn’t have the greatest lifetime stats. He hit 150 home runs, drove in 618 runs and collected just 1,053 hits in 1,061 Major League games. Nevertheless, his peak was astonishingly good, and Boston was the main beneficiary. In 2008, Youk had 29 home runs, 115 RBI and 43 doubles. He finished third in MVP voting and was the heart of a stacked Red Sox lineup. The following year, he reached base at a .413 clip, which contributed nicely to his career .382 OBP. Only 175 men have recorded a higher lifetime mark, out of more than 18,000 to play Major League Baseball.
Why Kevin Youkilis Was So Beloved
However, the true impact of Kevin Youkilis cannot be measured in numbers. He was incredibly popular with Red Sox fans, who saw him as an everyday guy living the dream. More importantly, they saw how hard he worked and admired his determination to succeed against massive odds. Youk looked like he should have been selling beer in the stands. Instead, he was a three-time All-Star and a two-time World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox. He also won a gold glove, proving his meticulous will to get better.
There was so much to like about Kevin Youkilis, and he was a fitting hero in the post-Manny Ramirez age. I’ll never forget that quirky batting stance. Youk looked like he was sitting on an invisible toilet at the plate. The swing was a thing of beauty, however, and he was a line drive machine. The Green Monster was assaulted constantly by Youkilis, who was the perfect player for the perfect team at the perfect time. I doubt we’ll ever see his like again.
Kevin last played for the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan in 2014. He is currently a special assistant to Cubs baseball mastermind Theo Epstein, the executive who gave him an opportunity to shine in Boston. There’s no telling what the future may hold for Kevin Youkilis, be it scouting or front office work. But the past will always sparkle bright, and his place in the hearts of Red Sox fans all over the world will never be diminished.
The career of Will Middlebrooks has taken another sour turn with the Padres demoting the third baseman to Triple-A on Wednesday as he continues to struggle at the plate.
When the Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval last winter, Middlebrooks spot on the roster was immediately in question. Middlebrooks was traded to the Padres for Ryan Hanigan just before Christmas, in one of the smaller moves the Padres made this past winter after adding Justin Upton, Wil Myers and James Shields. Middlebrooks was the Padres Opening Day third baseman.
After making his debut with the Red Sox in 2012 the Bobby V year, Middlebrooks has not been able to make a real consistent stay in the major leagues. He claimed the third base job from Kevin Youkilis that year and was on track to be the third baseman of the Red Sox for years to come. He got hit by a pitch on his wrist late that season which cost him the rest of the season. In 2013 he was up and down with the Red Sox and even started games in the playoffs until Xander Bogaerts took over at third base, while Stephen Drew was still on the team.
In 2014 Middlebrooks was demoted to Pawtucket once the Sox signed Drew for a second time and rejoined the team after the fire sale that saw the Red Sox trade Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew. Last season with the Red Sox Middlebrooks hit a Mike Napoliesque .191 with only 2 home runs and 19 RBI. Sox brass wanted Middlebrooks to play winter ball but he declined.
With another slow start this season hitting .212 with the Padres he was demoted to El Paso after already losing his third base job to Yangervis Solarte. Middlebrooks had so much potential with the Red Sox. He had 15 home runs in his first 287 at bats in the big leagues and even hit for a decent average hitting .288. Many question the moves of Ben Cherington this past off-season but it seems the Red Sox got the better end of this deal.
Ryan Hanigan may not have been a flashy name but he is a major league catcher and the Red Sox would have forced Blake Swihart’s development even further after the injury to Christian Vasquez, something they may have done with Middlebrooks.
For Boston and the rest of Red Sox Nation, 2013 was a season none of us will forget. Amid the tragic events of April 15th of that year, the Red Sox and their beards captured our imaginations and united a city en route to a championship over the St. Louis Cardinals. A fluke? No. They were definitely deserving of the championship that year. But it was the exception to the rule, unfortunately. If you subtract the World Series year, the Red Sox are 103-149 since September 1st, 2011 according to MassLive.
In a big market like Boston, you expect more. Dating back to the Terry Francona/Theo Epstein years, the Red Sox were challenging for the division most years, if not winning it. Even though they missed the playoffs a couple of years, they were still relevant, and a few poorly timed injuries kept them from being a perennial post-season team. At least until the September 2011 collapse. That changed everything for the Sox.
2012 was a complete disaster under Bobby Valentine, which was marked by him calling out his players publicly, notably Kevin Youkilis. Cue John Farrell, who managed the team to their 3rd World Series crown in the new millenium in his first season back with the club. However, the Red Sox struggled in 2014, dropping back to last place in the division. This year? A continuation of 2014’s struggles, which reached its peak last Friday night, when the Red Sox blew an 8-1 lead en route to a 13-10 loss. I wasn’t the only one banging my head against the wall on Friday. But that game encapsulated their season for me – they give you a flicker of hope, then they take it away.
Unless they do something fast, we can expect a 3rd last place finish in 4 years, which isn’t what most Red Sox fans want to see, nor is it what we expect from a team with a payroll at approximately $181 million. Normally, I try to take the optimistic approach, but Friday night’s loss zapped me of any hope I had that they may turn things around.
Manny Ramirez has joined the Chicago Cubs as a hitting consultant and will help mold the minds and skills of the young Cubs prospects. Team President Theo Epstein also hired another former member of the Boston Red Sox, Kevin Youkilis, to his staff as a scouting and player development consultant.
Theo must be stockpiling ex-Red Sox players and personnel. Manny and Youk join General Manager Jed Hoyer, Director of Scouting Jason McLeod, and ex-players Darnell McDonald and Ryan Dempster as former Red Sox personnel working in the team’s front office.
Then there are the half-dozen former Red Sox on the Cubs’ spring training roster, headlined by Jon Lester, as well as outfielder Ryan Sweeney, catcher David Ross, first baseman Anthony Rizzo (a one-time Sox prospect,) and pitchers Felix Doubront and Drake Britton. Let’s not forget
Eric Hinske, who played parts of two seasons (2006-07) for the Sox and is now the Cubs’ first base coach.
It’s Manny, though, that is most intriguing. What advice will the twice-suspended slugger impart on the Cubs kids? Apparently one of the first things Manny did in the Cubs Mesa, AZ, spring training camp was meet with all of the minor leaguers and “shared all the things I went through so they don’t go through that” according to reports.
That must have been one lengthy meeting. What was discussed first? Being suspended not once, but twice for PED use? How to deal with 65 year old ball club employees with diplomacy, as opposed to assaulting them when your ticket requests aren’t to your liking? How not to be accused of quitting on your team, or will he profess how to force your way into being traded? Maybe he’ll share fashion tips, on how to make baggy pants look good at Wrigley Field.
We all know he could hit, and hit like nobody else. Maybe, though, he’ll help the young outfielders in the ChiSox system deal with the lesser known facets of playing left field, such as where to take a leak during the game. With no Green Monster to walk into in the Windy City, the ivy might be a logical target. Then of course, Manny can teach the kids how to make cut-off plays in the outfield when they aren’t needed.
When Will Middlebrooks usurped Kevin Youkilis last season, he got off to a hot start. He put up a .288/.325/.509 (AVG. /OBP/SLG.) slash-line. This was an upgrade to Youkilis’ .235/.336/.409 line. Oh how the tables have turned! So far Middlebooks has mashed six potatoes, but his line sits at .212/.245/.417. Youkilis, before he got hurt, was at .266/.347/.422.
Last year Middlebrooks struck out 24.5% of the time and his walk rate was a low 4.5% (That’s why his OBP was lower than Youk’s despite hitting fifty points better). With those numbers it would have been difficult to maintain his .288 average this season. I expected his average to drop, but not in this freeeeee, free fallin’ style.
Why has this happened? Simple— Middlebrooks is swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone (O-swing %). His rate has gone up from 27.1% last year to 30.2 % this year. If you swing at pitches outside the zone you’re going to have a bad time.
It’s easy to notice this just watching him hit. I’ve seen him multiple times swing at first pitch breaking balls and whiff. He puts himself in a hole right away. Middlebrooks’ lack of discipline is killing him and hurting the Sox lineup. Middlebrooks has said he is going to swing his way out of the slump, he just needs to keep it to pitches inside the zone.
You can’t knock his toughness though. Middlebrooks separated a rib in his collision with David Ross last Tuesday and had been playing through the pain. Since last Tuesday’s collision Middlebrooks has collected five hits, four of them doubles. Perhaps his collision knocked the slump out of him whatever the reason let’s hope he can stay out of it.