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The telling view of an empty locker

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  November 12, 2011 11:42 AM

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Jonathan Papelbon was very particular about his locker, more so than any baseball player I've seen.

He had a prime spot at Fenway Park, right around the corner from the manager's office. As such, he had a little extra space and he was careful about how he arranged everything. His cleats were lined up, his t-shirts and workout gear were always nice and neat. Everything was in its place.

He hung up a calendar and he would keep his valuables locked up in a little tin box.

Papelbon was like that when he traveled, too. His large Red Sox equipment bag was full of smaller bags, each meant to hold something specific. Most players let the clubhouse guys set their lockers up, but Papelbon would always arrange things his way.

That's why back on Sept. 29 it was obvious that Papelbon was leaving the Red Sox.

The Red Sox opened the clubhouse to reporters that day, the day after the season ended in Baltimore. The clubhouse was full of empty boxes and the lockers were in disarray, the players having dumped their stuff after the road trip and scurried home to lick their wounds after a season gone sour. The packing could wait, or fall to somebody else.

Only one locker was completely empty — not so much as a wire hanger — and that was Papelbon's.

He came back from the trip, cleaned out everything and took it home. Those are not the actions of a man who thought there was even a chance he would be back next season.

Papelbon's plan —and he readily admitted it — was to go into free agency and get every last dime he could. He also knew that with Daniel Bard around, the Red Sox weren't going to give him what he wanted.

Here's wishing Cinco Ocho well. All you can ask for as a beat writer is for a player to be accountable and Papelbon was always that. If he blew a game, he stood there and answered questions. He respected that we had a job to do, too.

Plus, on occasion, he was good for a nutty quote or two and that made your story a little more colorful. One time, in Yankee Stadium, he was going off on a rant and as I scribbled gleefully, Papelbon smiled.

"You like that [bleep], don't you?" he said.

We both laughed. He knew the deal then and he knew it at the end.

Time will tell if the Red Sox were right. Long-term, big-money deals deals for closers are usually horrendous ideas. The Blue Jays (B.J. Ryan), Mets (Francisco Rodriguez), Twins (Joe Nathan), Reds (Francisco Cordero) and Indians (Kerry Wood) all regretted it.

Maybe Papelbon will be the Mariano Rivera-like exception to the rule. Or maybe he'll be available at the trade deadline in 2014. Only two things are certain — his locker at Citizens Bank Park will be orderly and the Philly writers will love him.

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