David Price came to the Boston Red Sox on a 7-year, $217 million contract. His time under the magnifying glass of big-market East Coast media scrutiny has seen him shrink like an unfortunate ant that wandered near a mischievous kid. His decent on-field production (5-3/3.82/1.274 in 11 starts this year) has been dwarfed by his combative soap opera with reporters.
Dan Shaughnessy on Sunday published the most detailed rundown of the long-whispered-about in-flight confrontation between Red Sox pitcher David Price and NESN analyst Dennis Eckersley on a flight from Boston to Toronto in late June. It includes this incredible passage.
For Price, the tipping point came when he learned Eckersley said “Yuck” when Eduardo Rodriguez’s poor stats were flashed on the NESN screen after a rehab start in Pawtucket June 29.
On the day of the episode, Price was standing near the middle of the team aircraft, surrounded by fellow players, waiting for Eckersley. When Eckersley approached, on his way to the back of the plane (Sox broadcasters traditionally sit in the rear of the aircraft), a grandstanding Price stood in front of Eckersley and shouted, “Here he is — the greatest pitcher who ever lived! This game is easy for him!’’
When a stunned Eckersley tried to speak, Price shot back with, “Get the [expletive] out of here!’’
Many players applauded.
Eckersley made his way to the back of the plane as players in the middle of the plane started their card games. In the middle of the short flight, Eckersley got up and walked toward the front where Sox boss Dave Dombrowski was seated. When Eckersley passed through the card-playing section in the middle, Price went at him again, shouting, “Get the [expletive] out of here!’’
When Price was asked about it the next day, he said only, “Some people just don’t understand how hard this game is.’’
After his next start, Price said, “I stand up for my teammates. Whatever crap I catch for that, I’m fine with it.’’
Eckersley, if you’ve forgotten, put together a Hall of Fame career over his 24 seasons. During that time, he did it all. Started. Closed.Rose to incredible highs. Was humbled on the biggest stage. In fact, if one were to sit down and make a list of pitchers who do, in fact, understand the difficulty of the game, his name would be near the top.
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More than that, though, as Shaughnessy points out, the 62-year-old’s marathon career and lifetime in the game has included battles with alcoholism, the failure of multiple marriages and plenty of other real-world obstacles exacerbated by the pressures between the lines. Eckersley never failed to stand up to the heat after his failures.
Contrast this with Price, the self-appointed defender of honor, who apparently lacks the backbone to speak with the media. The difference is stark, especially in the cortex-thickness department.
Look, Price’s desire to stand up for his teammate –whether it be totally genuine or for show — is understandable. But the idea that he’d take things so far over the line with Eckersley is laughable. Of all the critical voices in Boston, the former sidearmer’s is neither the loudest or most unfair. In reality, he’s the guy with the most latitude to give an honest assessment of the situation.
Lingering bad blood between Price and the media has felt like a non-important sideshow as the Red Sox continue to put together a division-leading campaign. Shaughnessy’s reporting, however, at least raises the possibility that there’s a disturbing disconnect with reality going on inside the worldview of the lefthanded pitcher.
What did he conceive the Boston experience to be before signing? Did he really think it would all be rainbows and butterflies and bright lights would never be trained in his direction at inopportune times?
It’s one thing to take issue with unfair shots levied by the media. It’s another to make an international incident out of fact-based criticism coming from those who have a thorough understanding of the game and have walked countless miles in a player’s cleats.
Eckersley’s fatal transgression here appears to be saying “yuck” in response to a Rodriguez rehab start with this line: 3 IP, 6 R, 5 ER, 9 H, 3 K. If that doesn’t merit a “yuck,” what does? And, again, Eck is not some glorified basement blogger turned pundit. He is not a local columnist trying to bait someone into a contentious locker room outburst and bathe in the sweet, sweet web traffic.
It appears Price is not alone in his bizarre war on the media. Shaughnessy also recounts this tidbit from 2015 involving centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.
Two years ago, when the Sox were in Detroit, Bradley set up Eckersley. After going 2 for 3 with a homer in an August 2015 victory, Bradley asked Sox publicist Kevin Gregg if he would arrange for a photo with Eckersley. Gregg made the request for Bradley. Eckersley thought it was odd, but posed with JBJ on the tarmac before boarding.
Once on board, Bradley sent out a tweet which read, “Huge thanks to @Eck43 for saying all the things I “can’t” do these past few days. People like you is what drives me :)”
The tweet was accompanied by the photo of Eckersley and Bradley, standing and smiling. In the photo, Bradley has his right arm around Eckersley’s back.
When Eckersley was shown the tweet, he confronted Gregg, who expressed surprise.
“I had no idea, none at all,’’ said Gregg.
That is such a terrible look for Bradley. It shows how little reverence he has for the history of the game — or at least how little he had back then. I’ll be careful not to paint with a broad brush here, but it feels like the Red Sox have dove headfirst into an unprincipled war not on the media as a whole but any negativity.
Perhaps this is generational. Perhaps it’s not. But Price and Bradley are doing little to counteract the argument that players today are softer than those in previous generations and are pierced by even the fairest and well-placed critique.
This seems like an unhealthy approach to being part of the Boston media crush. It also doesn’t bode well for future adversity, which is surely to come as a World Series is chased.
Most importantly, though, is the fact that childish responses don’t change the reality of the situation. They just add another problem to the pile. Outbursts will be covered ad nauseam and reputation will suffer. Critical media then have another avenue to explore.
A guy hitting .230 does not improve his average by telling off the media. More often than not, he simply becomes a jerk hitting .230.