It's always tough reading that a player you like has been traded—particularly if that player has acquired that coveted "binky" status. (You may substitute "wooby" or other assorted name of your choice.) There's nothing rational about rooting for a binky—they're not a player who's guaranteed to be successful, and they're certainly not destined for greatness. (Okay, anybody who had Tom Brady as a binky before the 2001 season hereby is granted a free pass to tell us "I told you so"—even though I don't really buy that.) They're usually one of the last guys to make the team; an underdog even in a league where everybody by definition is an above-average player who has beaten the long odds. They're the players who you root for because of their persistence, their spirit and work ethic, and their love of the game.
Unfortunately, binkies do get traded; it happens all the time. They don't leave by free agency—by definition, if they've stuck with the team long enough to get a new contract or leave in free agency, they can't really be a binky anymore. But during that vulnerable stage pre-arbitration? It's rough, and it reminds us why many fans (myself included) would not necessarily make a good baseball general manager.
So, of course, I was not at all pleased to hear that the Red Sox traded Jed Lowrie to the Astros yesterday as part of the Mark Melancon trade. (And I'm not really going to like to see HOU after his name when the auto-link magic does its work.) No, I'm still not really ready to accept that a binky is gone. I understand it's business, and I understand that the Sox felt that their needs at reliever were more important than keeping an extra shortstop when they already had Marco Scutaro and Mike Aviles. It still doesn't assuage the sting.
I remember the 2008 season, when Jed Lowrie made his debut, filling in for Mike Lowell on the roster and driving in three of Boston's five runs in his very first game. He was not a flashy player, but he was reasonably solid. He did everything well enough. Unfortunately, his run came to an end when he was sent down following Lowell's return. During the interceding period until his return in July, the nexus—the bane—of Lowrie's career occurred: he was hit in the left wrist by a pitch while playing at Pawtucket. His career would never quite be the same: the same injury sapped his strength at the end of the 2008 season, and cost him essentially the entire 2009 season. It also gave him the dreaded "injury-prone" label, even though it was essentially one injury mistreated (by all parties involved, including Lowrie).
Now the reasons why he was a binky? Well, first off, when he was healthy, Lowrie could flat-out hit. In spring training in 2009, he was hitting balls everywhere. In those heady days in mid-2008 when he subbed in for an ailing Julio Lugo, he was driving in runs in ones and pairs, and was a great doubles hitter. He and Jason Bay will retain a place in Red Sox lore for their 2008 ALDS Game 4 heroics. It should be said that while I greatly appreciate Terry Francona's tenure in Boston, I will begrudge him for 99 percent of forever his decision to substitute Lowrie for Cora as the final out of the 2008 ALCS.
But exhibit A in defense of Lowrie's hitting was, of course, his unreal April this year, when he was hitting like the reincarnation of Ted Williams. His numbers were so outrageous as to be laughable: he was hitting at levels that would make Albert Pujols' jaw drop if he kept it going for an entire season. Unfortunately, a collision with Carl Crawford put an end to his heroics, and once again his season went on a downward spiral thereafter.
I'll certainly admit he wasn't the best defender, but I never got the feeling that he wasn't trying or that he didn't care. He certainly proved his perseverance back in 2008, when he was playing everyday with a wrist at times he could barely lift. He also showed a willingness to do whatever was asked of him defensively, whether that meant playing at shortstop, third base, second base, or even first base. (In doing so, he joined the ranks of recent multi-position Boston-sports binkies like Danny Woodhead, Dane Fletcher, and Julian Edelman.)
But he was also undoubtedly an intelligent player. Forget the fact that he went to (and has since graduated from) Stanford—he also used his intelligence in studying the game. His ALDS-clinching hit against the Angels came because, in the previous game, he had struck out on three curveballs, and then rationed that he'd probably be served up a curveball the next night. He also could think strategically—he's just about the only guy on the roster in the 2008 through 2011 seasons who really understood the concept of hitting a sacrifice fly. He could also do it on a regular basis (hurting his own stats a bit while helping out the team).
There was a lot to like with Lowrie, and what hurts is the feeling that there was a so much untapped potential because of all the time lost to injury. However, the rational part of my brain reminds me that it's impossible to keep waiting for the player of the future to arrive—you need a player for the right now, too. Unfortunately, Lowrie's time with the Red Sox has passed for the present. Perhaps we'll see him again some day; this is the Red Sox, after all, and players do have a surprising tendency to make a return visit long after we think they're gone (Gabe Kapler, Doug Mirabelli, and Kelly Shoppach all say hello).
But baseball returns anew each spring, and while the current binky may now wear another team's laundry, that doesn't mean there won't be another binky awaiting his turn. And that's part of what makes baseball fun: the unalloyed and utterly irrational excitement that come from watching a Darnell McDonald or Daniel Nava or Jed Lowrie pull off the sublimely ridiculous—or the ridiculously sublime.