Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima is taking a lot of heat from the Boston media after refusing to speak to reporters following a recent poor outing, to the point that some beat writers are openly calling for his release.
Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com got Okajima to talk to him, not about the bad outing but about his increasingly poor relationship with the local media and overall state of mind in what has been a career-worst season.
Edes writes that Okajima “admitted to homesickness for his native land and a language-driven loneliness in which he says he has only two real confidants, his wife and his interpreter.”
Here’s more from Okajima, presumably via his interpreter:
Especially in the bullpen. I’m kind of alone in there. There’s time to think too much, especially inside the bullpen. It’s hard to maintain a strong mentality, especially when you’ve been hit hard the previous day. There’s too much time to think in the bullpen. It would be easier to maintain if there was someone who spoke the same language and you could talk to, but that’s not the reality right now.
Beyond those issues, Okajima talked about how “no comment” was far more accepted from the media in Japan following a rough performance in part because reporters aren’t allowed in the clubhouse. Asked specifically about refusing to speak following Sunday’s game, Okajima said:
I could not talk about the game. Mentally, I was down after the loss. I felt it was better to have some time in between to talk, not immediately. From the players’ standpoint, rather than try to put it in words in that moment, it would be better to get a fresh mind and talk about how you really felt in that situation, but not on that day.
I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand I understand reporters have a job to do and very much value their work. On the other hand, having to answer questions about what a bad job you just did makes Okajima’s life more difficult than it already is and ultimately how important is it for the newspapers in Boston to have a quote from him anyway? (And none of this would be an issue if Okajima didn’t have a 5.81 ERA.)
It bothers me when players who love to provide reporters with good quotes get treated favorably when those same reporters discuss on-field performance and it also bothers me when the opposite is true. Okajima deserves plenty of criticism for his performance this season, but he was a very good player for the Red Sox in the previous three seasons and doesn’t deserve any more or less criticism for his pitching based on how willing he is to give some quotes in the clubhouse after games.