Saying goodbye is hard. So let’s raise a glass, cue up The Body Of An American, and do it together. It’s the Over The Monster Irish Wake of Alex Verdugo.
Alex Verdugo, Victim of Unfair Expectations
Alex Verdugo was the primary return for Mookie Betts. Betts was a fan favorite, a future Hall of Famer on his way to becoming a Red Sox legend. For those who weren’t deep on Red Sox Twitter and SoxProspects.com, looking at Jeter Downs and Connor Wong with hope for the future, Verdugo was the return for Betts. His successor. From the start, Verdugo was in an impossible situation. “Hey kid, welcome to Boston. Over there is where one of the best players in team history played. We would rather have you.”
No matter how well he played, he wasn’t going to be Mookie Betts. While he played well, Betts was an All-Star. The Red Sox made the playoffs just once with Verdugo. The Dodgers have yet to win fewer than 100 games with Betts.
Each offseason, the fans urged Verdugo to “put it all together” and hoped he could provide more. Everyone believed he could be an All-Star. He was acquired for Mookie Betts. There had to be more in the tank. It was only a matter of time. Except it wasn’t.
The expectations placed on Verdugo were never fair. He couldn’t replace Mookie Betts, nobody could. Still, he stoked those expectations. He showed flashes, came up in the clutch, had hot streaks, and cursed on NESN. Good baseball players have their moments. For a Hall of Famer, those moments are just another day of work. Alex Verdugo is a good baseball player, who was built up to be an all-time great.
— Jacob Roy
Alex Verdugo, Fan Favorite Who Never Was
There’s a universe in which Dugie is one of the most popular dog names in all of New England; in which we see more jerseys at Fenway with a 99 on the back than a 50; in which your grandmother knows the Red Sox right fielder as “that nice-looking kid from all the furniture commercials.”
Alex Verdugo could have been a real fan favorite in Red Sox Nation. Not necessarily a great player, but the type of foundational, fringe All-Star who engenders loyalty above and beyond what his production would seem to merit. He had so many of the elements that often make up players who end up in the Legends Box on a Tuesday night against the Tigers in June:
- He played an aesthetically pleasing brand of baseball that featured frequent contact at the plate and (last season, at least) outstanding defense in the outfield;
- He had plenty of attitude and wasn’t afraid to show it on the field (or in the post-game interview);
- He was absolutely despised by Yankees fans (hmm, about that. . . );
- And, of course, he was frequently quite good, most notably in the early months of the 2023 season, when he carried the team and looked like someone who might get down-ballot MVP votes.
The ingredients were there, but come dinner time, the meal was never more than half-baked.
When we first started these Irish wakes last offseason, we used the following as the headline convention: “The OTM Irish Wake In Celebration Of Player X.” I began to type out that headline on a draft document last night, but stopped when I got to the word “celebration.” It didn’t feel appropriate for this particular goodbye. Alex Verdugo did not become that fan favorite. In fact, many fans woke up ecstatic today to see him go.
Granted, it was never going to be easy for Verdugo’s reputation to overcome the manner in which he joined the Red Sox (and there were plenty of fans, like myself, who never grew comfortable with him given this shady incident from 2015). But it wasn’t hard to envision a version of his Red Sox career playing out in which he wasn’t totally defined by being the centerpiece of one of the two most infamous trades in Red Sox history. In fact, things looked pretty promising right from the start — he may have been the single best part of that unholy 2020 season, an energetic little bulldog of a ballplayer careening around an empty Fenway Park.
But the universe in which the entryways of various North End restaurants feature photos of Verdugo posing with the front-of-the-house manager never materialized. The defining sentiment of his Red Sox tenure is, instead, a kind of impatient frustration: frustration that he never made the All-Star leap that his talent suggested was possible, frustration that he couldn’t seem to avoid the monthly boneheaded base running mistake, frustration that he wasn’t Mookie Betts.
The short, tumultuous Red Sox career of Alex Verdugo is over. It will be remembered, debated, and discussed for a long time — far longer than his 8.1 bWAR suggests it should be. At least in this universe you don’t have to consider renaming your dog.
— Dan Secatore
Alex Verdugo, Funny Looking Dude
For better or worse, Alex Verdugo is what he is: a pretty good baseball player who will always be in the shadow of a Legend because of a trade. My lasting memory of him will always be this quote (repeated in case X/Twitter goes away fully and OTM is archived in perpetuity) “Congratulations, you traded a Hall of Famer for Hoobastank Trot Nixon.”
Congratulations, you traded a Hall of Famer for Hoobastank Trot Nixon. https://t.co/Kp99ghXyr7— Brendan O'Toole (@unexpectedbass) November 18, 2020
What does it mean? It means exactly what it says. It’s similar to “that’s not right, that’s not even wrong” in its sublime nature.
Hit free agency and leave New York, Alex. I still want to see you succeed. Aside from your games in pinstripes. But hey, with Juan Soto (likely) in town (yuck) you might see a lot of the bench.
— Mike Carlucci
Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda
Being part of the Mookie Betts trade was unfair right from the start; how could anyone have ever lived up to replacing Mookie in our hearts and on the field? It was never going to be possible. It was inherently unfair. Chaim Bloom has a lot to answer for on that point, for not getting a better return for Mookie and essentially forcing one player to shoulder a Nation’s grief and expectations—and inevitable disappointment.
So let’s acknowledge that, then put it aside. Verdugo’s career has been in his own hands except for that moment, and honestly, I found him sort of hard to love.
Yes, I’ve heard him frequently called a “fan favorite” and he did toss a ball to my girlfriend’s kid in Seattle two years ago. I appreciate him for that, I really do. Thank you, Alex.
You were defensively reliable in 2023, and I thank you for that too. It was a rare thing this past season. If you were ever going to find a way into my heart it was going to be because you did your job. Some extra dirt-dog grit would have gone a long, long way with me. You had flashes, sure, and you occasionally said the right thing at the right time—about showing up ready, rededicating yourself to your preparation and focus, and so on. But you also complained (about umpires, other players, the All-Star selection process), showed up late while seeming to disrespect manager Alex Cora’s right to discipline you for that, and often didn’t seem to try that hard (the famous lack of hustle for which you were benched). Nor did you seem to care about not caring. As much sympathy as I was inclined to extend you for how you came to us, you lost me because you didn’t seem to care that much.
So shave your beard, remove your grill. Keep your head down in the big city. They might put you through the ringer in New York, and I think you deserve it.
— Maura McGurk
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make
— Bryan Joiner