Wednesday, June 28, 2017

1991 Topps Mike Greenwell

On May 18, 2016, I got the above card in my mailbox and wrote the following on Facebook later that day:

The game is afoot! Look who I found in my mailbox today. I hope I get a Phil Plantier tomorrow.”

Yeah. It’s not Shakespeare, I know. I was still trying to find my footing with this whole Baseball Card Bandit (BCB) thing and wasn’t sure exactly where this thing was going*.

* To be honest, I still don’t know. At Aly’s 40th birthday party dinner on Saturday, someone asked me if I knew who the BCB is, I said that I did and told them a name. The entire room stopped, everyone looked at me and shook their head and told me I was one thousand percent wrong. So I’m not sure whether they were all screwing with me by trying to throw me off the scent or whether they were being truthful.

It reminds me of the Epimenides Paradox. From 19th Century English academic Thomas Fowler via 21st Century academic Wikipedia: “Epimenides the Cretan says, 'that all the Cretans are liars,' but Epimenides is himself a Cretan; therefore he is himself a liar. But if he be a liar, what he says is untrue, and consequently the Cretans are veracious; but Epimenides is a Cretan, and therefore what he says is true; saying the Cretans are liars, Epimenides is himself a liar, and what he says is untrue. Thus we may go on alternately proving that Epimenides and the Cretans are truthful and untruthful."

Back to Mike Greenwell. Greenwell played 17 games in 1985, 31 in 1986 and was part of the American League Championship Series and World Series roster that year. I know a lot about the Red Sox, I’m no Thomas Fowler, but I know a bunch about the team. I remember Greenwell whiffing badly in Game Six of the World Series, but if you had told me that he got into 31 games that season, I would have thought you were lying – like Epimenides!

Greenwell didn’t really come into my fan consciousness until 1987, when he and Ellis Burks teamed up to be “The Gold Dust Twins V2.0”*. It was thought that not only was Greenwell going to carry on the Boston leftfield legacy for another generation (Ted Williams to Carl Yastrzemski to Jim Rice to Mike Greenwell) but that he and Burks were going to be the second coming (though mirror images) of Rice and Fred Lynn.

* Every time the Red Sox have two rookies come up in the same year and experience a little bit of success, the Boston Media falls all over itself to call them the incredibly clichéd “Gold Dust Twins”. It happens all the time. From Greenwell and Burks to Mo Vaughn and Phil Plantier to Mookie Betts and Xander Boegarts, you can bet your mortgage that someone (probably Boston Herald writer Steve Buckley or Globe scribe Dan Shaughnessy) is going to write a breathless column wondering if this new duo is the next GDT. Guys, I’m begging you, come up with a new name. Please.

Things were looking pretty good for Mike Greenwell in his first two years. He was an All-Star in 1988 (and 89) while finishing behind Jose Canseco (who was the first player to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases when that was a HUGE thing) in the Most Valuable Player race*. Injuries took its toll on the Gator (that’s what he was called I guess because he was from Florida**) and he never reached the heights of that magical 1988 season.

* In the 2000s Canseco admitted to using steroids during the 1988 season, Greenwell began banging the drum that HE should now get the 88 MVP trophy because his former teammate (they ended up on the Sox together in 1995) was a cheater. That seemed kind of dumb, a waste of time and a bit desperate. Greenwell knew that he wasn’t going to retroactively get the award, right?

He was out of baseball at the age of 32 in 1996.

Greenwell was an interesting player and drama always seemed to find him. He was a butcher in left field and there were times when it seemed that he was going to inadvertently kill Ellis Burks** when the two would chase a fly ball. He would constantly say dumb things to the press and then get into fights with reporters over what he said. He got into a fight with Mo Vaughn while they were taking afternoon batting practice because Vaughn didn’t “know his place”.

** According to Wikipedia, he found an alligator, taped up its mouth and threw it in Burks’ locker room. I’m not sure if this is a true story, but if it is, do you see what I mean about him trying to murder Ellis Burks? What the fuck, Mike? Jesus.

That wasn’t a racial thing, but more a veteran-rookie thing. I guess in the baseball world if a veteran wanted to hit BP, he’d just cut in front of a rookie and the first-year guy was just supposed to shut up and take it (baseball players are just the worstthey really are). Vaughn never took any crap from anyone so they exchanged words which led to the rolling around on the dirt in Anaheim. It was kind of a big deal in the papers that week because by this point the Red Sox sucked, the Patriots stunk and it was too early to figure out whether Larry Bird and Cam Neely were going to suit up for their respective winter teams. So, it was all Gator and Mo, all the time.

At that point, I was pretty much done with Mike Greenwell. He devolved into an injury-plagued iron glove who didn’t hit with much power, but carried himself as top echelon guy. He was an extremely destitute man’s Wade Boggs, without the defense and the eccentric behavior. Greenwell also seemed to embody every dumb stereotype of Florida in one package: he loved NASCAR, he had that dumb, unironic mustache, that slow drawl and cackle.

Mo Vaughn was from the Northeast and he had that East Coast swagger. He was the future of the Sox and everyone knew it.  Mo talked big, he hit big and this hulk of a dude was going to lead the Sox somewhere. The Hit Dog (as Vaughn was known as) also seemed like a genuinely good guy—we all knew about his charity—and he sounded smart (though later we found out he did a lot of dumb things) especially compared to the Gator (both nicknames were pretty dumb in retrospect). When Mo chucked Greenwell around the Big A, it felt as if it was a palace coup and Vaughn was now in charge.

Unfortunately, Mo lead the Boston Red Sox to the same place that Greenwell did: an ass-kickings in the first round of the playoffs.

Looking back on Greenwell, he had a decent career: he hit for a better than decent average, had an okay batting eye, could drive in runs (he holds the all-time record for most Game Winning RBIs in a season with 23 in 1988, a record that will never fall because Major League Baseball no longer recognizes it as a valid statistic) and made $22 million. I’d take that.

And to be honest, it probably was unfair of me to project my feelings onto a guy I never met and only “knew” through 30-second soundbites. Greenwell probably wasn’t an Everglades Einstein, but who cares. The guy was paid to hit and he did a relatively decent job at it.

What's crazy to me is that Greenwell's son Bo was drafted by the Indians in 2007 and spent six years in the club's minor league system before going over to the Sox in 2014. His baseball career is done. Damn it, I feel old. 

Ever since John Henry and his crew came to own the Red Sox, they’ve done a lot of outreach with Red Sox alumni, even ones that left town acrimoniously (and there are a lot that have done just that). But the one guy you never see at the ballpark is Mike Greenwell. The guy played his entire career with one team: the Boston Red Sox, he was a star when the team desperately needed new ones and with better PR, he could have been the first version of Kevin Millar.

Come back Greenie, all is forgiven. Mostly. 

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