Being a good teammate matters plenty in sports. Is Tanner Houck being one for the Red Sox?

Houck, who is unvaccinated, will miss his start in Blue Jays due to Canada's vaccination policy toward travelers.

Tanner Houck Red Sox on mound
Tanner Houck won't be able to start for the Red Sox on Tuesday in Toronto. Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
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What does a player owe his teammates? Where is the line?

Will anyone publicly cross it later this afternoon, when we learn just who refused to be vaccinated for COVID-19 and thus isn’t available for a reasonably important (by April standards) Red Sox series in Toronto?

We may never know, we outsiders. But rest assured, that is a heavy question on the inside no matter what we’re told. One with a litany of heavy opinions at a heavy time in the 2022 season.

“Obviously we have work to do,” Rich Hill told reporters Sunday night, after his four scoreless innings against the Rays weren’t enough in a 5-2 loss. “Going up to Toronto, it’s not going to be an easy series at all, either. But again, with that said, we are fully capable of going on a nice run here.”


When the 42-year-old Hill finally hangs up his glove, peers will inundate him with calls of “great teammate.” He didn’t need to earn that these past two weeks, but he reinforced it when — at least in part to honor his father — Hill didn’t miss a start on either side of Lloyd Hill’s funeral.

“He’s one of us,” manager Alex Cora — still sidelined with COVID-19 as the Sox head north — told reporters on Marathon Monday. “In that clubhouse, he means a lot to a lot of people.”

Those people are, to a man, struggling. The 7-9 Sox have scored more than four runs just once in their last 10 games, and they’ve failed to do so in seven straight.

It’s not hard to see why: No team is swinging at a higher rate of pitches than Boston, more than half of all the ones they’ve seen, and the Red Sox are chasing outside the zone (36.2 percent of pitches there) at a rate about 15 percent higher than league average (31.2).

In short, they’re all spring Rafael Devers, with about the same relative success he’s having. Only a quarter of the league is fanning at a higher rate than Devers this year, and only a tenth of it is drawing fewer free passes — major early swings in the wrong direction.


It is just 16 games, of course, and you’d have to be a real pessimist not to think both Devers and the Sox end up in their customary heady spots given 81 games at Fenway Park. But in the short term, it’s costing them winnable games one year after one game separated New York, the Sox, and the Jays over 162.

Boston’s last three losses — 3-2 to Toronto at Fenway on Thursday, the bonkers no-hitter-that-wasn’t, extra-inning-win-that-wasn’t on Saturday, and Sunday — were all pitched well enough to win. Flip those, and it’s the Sox looking down at Toronto to begin these four games at Rogers Centre.

The first of those losses began with five solid innings from Tanner Houck, who, well, you know. Understanding I would rather eat my weight in grass clippings than stage a vaccine debate, my thoughts about this are how we started.

Is Tanner Houck (and anyone else) a bad teammate because he won’t get a shot that makes him able to play in Toronto? Do his teammates read the same quotes we do about “anything I can do for this team to help them win, I’ll do it,” and go, “Um…”

Publicly, we have heard it described by both Houck and others as a “personal choice,” much as decisions about whether to attend the White House celebration in 2019 were. To be clear: I have no particular interest in knowing more than that. Life’s too short.


But clubhouses have turned on less. Seeing Kevin Youkilis in the NESN booth this week reminds of the battles he fought during his playing days, when he soured some teammates for being, well, too competitive.

“Some guys disapprove. … They don’t understand how I work,” he told the Globe in a 2009 profile, three years before he was shipped out of Boston amid whispers he was the leaker of the chicken-and-beer story about the 2011 team. “I respect them for how they go about things. I hope they respect me.”

It seems silly, but what about sports ultimately isn’t? In close quarters for six months, nerves get raw. Frustrations snowball. Wounds fester. It matters.

When a fuming Joe Maddon sought to cut at John Lackey following a benches-clearing Sox-Rays game in 2013, he declared the pitcher (with whom he’d crossed with the Angels and who he’d publicly praised months earlier) a “bad teammate.”

“He knows being a good teammate is an important thing for me,” Lackey told reporters.

After the 2015 season, his first back with the Red Sox, the team pointedly asked Hanley Ramirez — whose departures from both Florida and the Dodgers came amid acrimony — to be a better teammate.

Accountability matters. Doing your job matters. Not putting your personal successes over the collective matters. Accepting your role matters. Being a mentor matters. Actually placing winning above all else matters. (Say what you will about Curt Schilling, but that much about him was never in question.)

Put it another way: There are almost certainly players in the Red Sox clubhouse who got their vaccinations due to Canada’s mandate. Xander Bogaerts might not be one of them, but he was vaccinated this offseason and is on record as encouraging teammates to do the same.


How might Houck’s stance, and others who take the same stance, play with a clubhouse leader like that?

I’d love to be able to answer the question, but it’s likely we outsiders will remain as such. Recalling Youkilis again, Bobby Valetine’s first major gaffe in his 2012 managerial stint was daring to call Youkilis out publicly. (Seek out NBC Boston’s “The Bobby Valentine Experience” for a fun little reminder of what an all-level disaster in Boston baseball actually looks like.)

The greatest sin of being a teammate, after all, is daring to question your teammate where someone else can hear. Remember during the 2011 season, when Andrew Ference called out Bruins teammate Daniel Paille for a blind-side hit, essentially sticking up for fellow teammates Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron after they’d been similarly leveled years earlier?

“Keep it to yourself,” Mike Milbury said on CBC.

“They don’t need a guy like Ference,” Don Cherry concurred.

Eleven years on, Milbury and Cherry have been left in the past. Ference was beloved enough in the Bruins’ room to recover, and any divide didn’t keep that team from a parade a couple months later.

I suppose my point is this: These Sox don’t need more molehills to get over as they fight for their identity and a winning formula in 2022. They need to coalesce. Yesterday.

Sure, it’s early. But it’s late enough to know that this year won’t be a magic-carpet ride from go the way 2021 was.

And momentum definitely works both ways.


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