David Ortiz doesn’t give a [expletive] about what you think makes a leader

54 Comments

David Ortiz has, what I think anyway, is some righteous anger. It came out last night after the Sox beat the Orioles, and it came in response to reports that he called a closed-door meeting a couple of weeks ago in which the hitters yelled at the pitchers.

Since that meeting, by the way, the Sox have won 9 of 11 and the starting pitcher has been back on point.  Which, if you’re into these sorts of stories, makes David Ortiz look a hell of a lot like a team leader.  And, while he has done nothing to proclaim himself a leader  publicly — indeed, he was irked that the story of the team meeting leaked out  — Ortiz bristled at the Boston media’s notion of what a leader looks like. From Gordon Edes’ article:

“Well, let me tell you, I was reading an article [that] talked about the leaders people call ‘leaders’ in this town,” he said. “Basically, it seems like no matter what you do, it’s not good enough. And you can only call leaders the guys who are out diving for balls on the field or calling pitches behind the plate?” …

… “No. 1, I don’t agree with that,” Ortiz said. “And No. 2, what I do I don’t do for people to know. I do it for my teammates, to get to know things better. I don’t give a [expletive] about anybody knowing what we talk about, No. 1. And No. 2, I don’t give a [expletive] what they call leaders …

He went on to say “I don’t get no respect.” Which, while if it was said in an isolated way, could come off petty or self-centered.  But I think in context with all of this other stuff, he has a pretty good point.

Our ideas about leadership in sports are kinda screwy. When things go well for a ballclub, we look at certain people and call them leaders. When they go poorly, we rarely blame them for their lack of leadership. A couple of writers asked where Jason Varitek was when it was allegedly all going to hell for the Sox last September, but it was certainly a minority view. For the most part, guys who are cast as captains are only talked about in those terms when things go well. When things go poorly it’s because of screwups like Josh Beckett.

And, as Ortiz may or may not have intended to imply, it’s funny how the people we call leaders on ballclubs tend to fit a certain type. Everyday position players who, coincidentally or not, are often scrappy or fiery players. And, coincidentally or not, are usually white dudes. Why couldn’t David Ortiz be a leader? Why must someone like Dustin Pedroia be assumed to be? Why must it be a vocal person as opposed to someone who leads by example or behind the scenes? Why must it be one person? I often get the sense that we writers unconsciously project leadership on people who have traits that we understand or share ourmselves because it makes something amorphous and complicated a lot more understandable to us.

Anyway, I’m not saying that Ortiz is a great leader. I have no idea what he does along those lines. Maybe he had a good moment with that team meeting and the rest of the time he’s like everyone else.  Maybe the Sox’ good play of late is a total coincidence (if the Sox played poorly for the past week, would the narrative be “Ortiz sows dissension in the clubhouse?”).

But I can certainly see how he or other players could get a bit rankled when it comes to the leadership talk we like so much in the media.

(Thanks to reader Big Leagues for the heads up)

Jonny Venters is still pitching

Daniel Shirey/Getty Images
4 Comments

Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.