Usually when a guy is described as a gritty, intense gamer, you can count on him being (a) universally loved by his teammates; and (b) not that good a player, actually (see, Eckstein, David). Kevin Youkilis, on the other hand, is the rarest of things: a gritty, MVP-quality player who, surprising to me at least, has some teammates who aren’t real fans.
This last bit of info comes in the course of an excellent profile of Youk in the Boston Globe. We all know he’s an outstanding player who plays hard so I’ll skip the MVP and grit talk and focus on the unexpected bit:
So why, then, is this Everyman not unequivocally embraced and revered by his teammates? Why, when a reporter approaches another key Red Sox player to speak about Youkilis does he respond, “I’d rather refrain”? . . . “At one point some of the veterans came up to me and said, ‘Can you talk to this guy?’ ” manager Terry Francona said.
This isn’t a gossip piece, though, and Globe writer Jackie MacMullan does a great job of explaining the reasons why Youkilis, though seemingly universally respected, often rubs his teammates the wrong way. To his credit, Youkilis doesn’t back away from any of it, explaining his dustup with Manny Ramirez a few years ago and trying his best to make the reader understand the unique circumstances of a guy who, while not as gifted as your typical superstar, has nonetheless managed to become one.
And that seems to be the nub of the problem, such as it is: Youkilis doesn’t fit neatly into that gifted/hard worker dichotomy with which most of us — and most ballplayers, in all likelihood — are familiar. They probably tolerate lesser players beating up trash cans more than stars, because the lesser players aren’t expected to lead and set the tone like stars are. Youk is an uncomfortable mix of the two and thus problems are likely to arise.
I’ll admit that I’m no Sox fan, and I can pretty much take or leave Youk, but this article casts a new enough light on both him and the team that I’ll be watching tonight’s Sox-Angels game with a bit more interest than I might have otherwise.