Feelings won't be hurt
Fans want emotion, but stoic Drew keeps even keel
FORT MYERS, Fla. - You'd like J.D. Drew.
Really. He's not a diva. He's not a crybaby. He actually does care. He's just never going to be caught on camera spitting nails or throwing helmets. And yes, there will be times when he's on the shelf because something hurts.
Drew drives Red Sox fans crazy. You never see the fire. He's not going to give you the Full Youkilis after a strikeout.
And he totally understands how fans react when they are watching college basketball on ESPN and see a crawl reading, "Red Sox OF J.D. Drew arrives at camp with back problems."
Here we go again.
This happened when Drew got to the Fort last week. He spoke about his herniated disk, the one that limited him to 109 games last year (only two regular-season games after Aug. 17). He said he battled it throughout the offseason. He said it still gets stiff on him.
It was not what Sox fans wanted to hear. And Drew wants you to know that it was exaggerated.
"It was the talk of the town, I guess," he said, smiling. "I got a call from our trainer and he's like, 'Can you do anything?' I was confused. He said something about MLB.com and so I jumped on there and read a little bit of it and started laughing.
"I was just talking about how I fought it during the offseason and it still stiffens up on me, and they took that like I came to camp not able to do anything, with question marks about when I could play again. I told them I can do everything, I just have residual stiffness from time to time, which is associated with a herniated disk. But it was completely exaggerated.
"Slow news cycle," said general manager Theo Epstein. "He's fine."
Still, it seems there's always something with Drew. He has played more than 140 games in only two of his 11 big league seasons. The Red Sox have made their peace with this. It's something they knew when they brought him on board for five years at $70 million.
In his two seasons with Boston, Drew has hit .270 and .280, averaging 15 homers and 64 RBIs. Seems like low production for big dough.
One could argue that Drew is a drag on the Red Sox offense. He is productive enough to stay in the lineup, but he doesn't hit a lot of home runs and he misses a month or more every year. With a lineup suddenly wanting for power (no Manny Ramírez, and David Ortiz in apparent decline), Drew would seem to be clogging up the middle.
Theo rejects this notion.
"His playing 130 games at an elite level is more valuable to us than another player playing more games at an average level," said the GM. "We can put another pretty good player in there for those other 30 games.
"J.D. has certainly had his injuries, but he worked hard to get back in the lineup at the end of last year, and when it's mattered most, he's shown up in a big way." (Remember the grand slam against the Indians in the 2007 ALCS?)
"We're a different team with him in there. Because of our expansive right field, we really need someone who is an excellent defender in right. Plus, he gives the middle of our lineup a guy with a .900 OPS. He gets on base, and that's what we're built around. He does the things we want as a hitter. We'd rather have a guy who gets on base a lot and hits 20 homers than a guy who doesn't get on base and hits 30."
Drew knows all about his reputation.
"The whole thing started when I was back in St. Louis and had the knee injury and Tony [La Russa] said some things, but I had severe patella tendinitis and really didn't know if I'd be effective again to play at all," said Drew. "It took about a full year to come back, and for three years I fought that, and that's where that label came up. I can't do anything about that and I can't do anything about a herniated disk in my back."
And his flat-line approach?
"I'm an introvert, shy kind of guy, and at college [Florida State], that's how we drilled: Don't show the emotion, don't ride the roller coaster," he said. "I try to keep it on an even keel because we play 162 games a year.
"You get labeled a certain way, but I am who I am. I read and hear things, but it's just crazy. I think the guys in this room are the guys you have to play in front of every day, and as long as I can earn their respect and play the game right, that's my goal."
"It might be better for me to do that from time to time just to get it out, but I wear it on the inside," he said. "I beat myself up and sit there and think about it and that's kind of how I do it. A guy like Youk gets it out and it's done. There is that desire to play well and to compete."
Our last memory of Drew is the image of him trying (and failing) to check his swing on a 1-and-2 pitch from Tampa rookie David Price with the bases loaded and two out in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the AL Championship Series. It was the moment that effectively ended the Red Sox season.
"[The umpire] said I swung," recalled Drew. "I was really baffled in that situation. I'm never really critical of umpires. But in that situation, on a checked swing that was questionable, I would have liked for it to go the other way.
"I don't know if it was a cutter or a hard slider - I haven't faced the kid enough - but it wasn't a strike, not even close."
What did he think when he saw the replay?
"I've never gone back and looked at it," he said.
Most of us, of course, would have watched the replay a million times and maybe petitioned the commissioner to have the call reversed. But that's just not J.D. Drew.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.