Jonathan Papelbon did something last week that a professional athlete simply cannot do in Philadelphia. He placed his own interests above his team and his city. He did not fulfill the responsibilities of his $51-million contract, and soon he will pay the price for his actions.
A prickly type in the best of times, the Phillies closer has been insufferable through most of his two-plus seasons here, whining about the state of the team, pouting about how he has been used, and generally acting like a world-class grump. Even before the last 10 days, he didn’t appear to like Philadelphia, and the feeling was mutual.
But when he informed manager Ryne Sandberg on May 11 in New York that he would not be available to pitch because of “general soreness,” he tested whatever patience the fans still had for him. After the Phils blew a 4-1 lead in the ninth inning – his inning – against the Mets, he became the focal point for his team’s failures.
The subsequent report that Papelbon had been “out late” in Manhattan the night before the game in question and had compromised his ability to pitch – a story that no one on the Phillies has refuted, including him – is extraordinary in many ways.
First, Sandberg has done nothing to defend Papelbon’s actions; on my WIP radio show, the manager said “my hands are tied” when a player decides he is not physically able to perform. Sandberg is not Charlie Manuel. When a player does something wrong, he is held accountable. Sandberg deserves a better team than the one he has right now.
Second, none of the players has addressed the situation publicly, suggesting a serious lack of leadership. Chase Utley is in the best position to do something – or at least say something – but he has looked the other way. Never have the Phils needed a leader, a Darren Daulton, more than they do right now.
And third, Papelbon’s lack of concern for his own actions reinforces the perception he created last summer, when he said “I definitely didn’t come here for this” as the team fell out of the pennant race and below .500. The closer has also said he can pitch his best only in big moments, something the Phillies may not be able to provide in the foreseeable future.
Where this Papelbon story is heading should already be obvious. Even though he has performed far better than busts like Ben Revere and Domonic Brown, he is easily the most disliked member of a disappointing team. If the closer were to be traded, the city would probably be “out late” that night itself, celebrating his departure.
Ultimately, that is the price Papelbon will pay for his lack of professionalism and his obnoxious personality. Soon, he will be leaving Philadelphia, the best place he has ever played. It’s just a shame he has never realized it.
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