Kevin Youkilis may be gone now but we should remember him well.
Now that Kevin Youkilis has signed on the dotted line to become a New York Yankee, he deserves a requiem. A requiem, in case you aren't familiar, is a Mass for the souls of the dead. It is frequently, though not always Wikipedia tells me, associated with a funeral. Kevin Youkilis isn't dead. For that I'm glad. His career isn't over either. That I'm also glad about, though maybe just a smidge less so.
It's hard to picture Youk in a Yankees jersey. It's a mental image I'll probably have trouble with even after I see it with my eyes. Youk is a Red Sock. It can be argued that over the last six or so seasons he was the best baseball player in Boston. Narrowing it down a bit, from 2008 through 2010 Youkilis hit .308/.404/.560 with 75 home runs in over 1,600 plate appearances. That's some production right there, jack. Fittingly Youk got All Star nods and MVP consideration during that stretch.
It's that stretch that I'll think of when I think of Youkilis's time in Boston. True he was a member of the 2004 team, the entire roster of which it seems, the Yankees have attempted to sign*. He rushed the field after the Sox won the Championship Series in Yankee Stadium and was one of the first out of the dugout when Boston won its first World Series in 86 years a week later in St. Louis.
But he said he liked 2007 better. That's the year he started 145 games, hit 16 homers, and had a .390 on-base percentage. Oh, and I forgot one thing: he stole four bases. And the Red Sox won the World Series. For as lovable as the 2004 team was, man was watching them stressful. They won the World Series and that was amazing and they were a great team but they may not have been the best team in baseball that year. In 2007 the Boston Red Sox were unquestionably the best team in baseball. They hit a speed bump before coming back to beat the Indians in the ALCS that year, but swept the Angels in the Division Series and the Rockies in the World Series. It was as stress-free a post-season as I can imagine outside of that whole Cleveland thing. The World Series especially. Maybe it was just me but I don't ever recall a moment of doubt about the outcome. In '04 I had nothing but doubt the entire time up to and including the very last out.
Winning in 2007 was about lots of players from Josh Beckett, to Mike Lowell to Jonathan Papelbon (can you believe that happened just five seasons ago? It seems like ages...), and unlike '04 when he had a season pass on the Pawtucket-to-Boston shuttle, Kevin Youkilis was decidedly in that group. That was the start of the excellent stretch I mentioned above, All Stars, MVP votes, Gold Glove, YOUUUUUK chants. We loved Youk.
The funny thing is Youk wasn't supposed to be an All Star. He was pretty much just a guy the Sox drafted out of the University of Cincinnati in the eighth round of the 2001 draft. That was the draft the Red Sox lost their first round pick as a penalty for signing Manny Ramirez. Other than Kelly Shoppach who went in the second round with the Sox first pick, Youk was the only guy in Boston's draft who made it to the majors as a regular which is assuming you count Shoppach as a regular.
Moneyball came out in 2003 and in it Youkilis was given the nickname The Greek God of Walks which was odd because Youkilis is Jewish not Greek. The walks part wasn't wrong though. In 2002 Youkilis played in Single-A, High-A, and Double-A hitting .310/.436/.424. You'll note the on-base percentage is higher than the slugging percentage. That's because he walked 93 times in 603 plate appearances. Thus the nickname. Or at least the correct part of it.
The next season Youk walked 104 times. The nickname stuck. Years later Terry Francona would remark, "I've seen Youkilis in the shower, and I wouldn't call him the Greek god of anything." At least Francona hasn't gone to the Yankees... but I digress.
Supposedly Youk was part of the compensation going to Oakland for Billy Beane taking the Red Sox GM job. But Beane had second thoughts and backed out and Youk stayed put.
For me at least Youk was always an easy guy to like because he was an easy guy to relate to. He wasn't the most talented or at least he didn't look like it. But he was a hard worker, he played hard, and at the risk of falling into cliche, he was grit personified. When Youk busted it down the line you could see very clearly that Youk was busting it down the line. His face puffed up, his cheeks turned red, his arms pumped higher than maybe they should have. And he sweated. Oh boy did he sweat. Sometimes his hat fell off when he ran the bases and the sweat would pour down his face like he was showering. He looked like a guy who really wanted to impress some girl in a bar so he challenged some other dude to a race in a back alley somewhere.
I'm making it sound like Youk was all heart and little talent though and that isn't right. Nobody gets to be a Major League regular let alone an All Star and contender for best player in baseball without lots of talent. For some it takes longer for that talent to shine though, and maybe that was the case for Youk. For a different subset unlocking that talent is grueling work and maybe that was the case for Youk as well. It made him damned easy to root for in either case. They say fans root for players they see themselves in. Kevin Youkilis looks like I think I look when I play baseball. He probably looks like you too. (Minus the production part.)
There are few players on the Red Sox I enjoyed rooting for more than Kevin Youkilis. And now he plays for the Yankees, the team I take joy in rooting against. I can't say I'm happy about that. If I see Youk at Fenway I'll boo him, though not any harder or any longer than Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, C.C. Sabathia or anyone else who dares to step on to our hallowed ground wearing that accursed grey jersey. But, if I see Youk on the street, you better believe I'll smile and tell him thanks for all the great years, great memories, great everything.
Kevin Youkilis may be gone now but we should remember him well. Maybe next year he'll sign with the Astros or something and I can go back to cheering for the guy. Hey Youk, I hear Houston is beautiful in the Summer time. And boo. And thanks.