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Jonathan Papelbon, 2024 Red Sox Enforcer and Tea Spiller

Our self-appointed white knight defends one Alex, excoriates another, and models his odd trophy case

American League Championship Series Game 3: Houston Astros v. Boston Red Sox Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

In this weirdo offseason where nothing is really happening (and if it is, it’s often happening on another team), I’ve felt pretty up-and-down. You know, periods of malaise and frustration followed by occasional spikes of excitement. Rinse and repeat as needed, and then watch from afar as the Dodgers sign someone else the Red Sox were “interested” in. Ho hum.

I’m a person who takes pleasure in small things, and in an offseason like this the (so far) one-sided feud that Jonathan Papelbon has started with Alex Verdugo has suddenly made it a lot more entertaining. You may recall the dispute began last month with a tweet where Papelbon swore that if he were still pitching and could face Verdugo, he’d throw at him. This was mildly, out-of-the-blue entertaining, but then Papelbon showed up on Foul Territory this week to elaborate.

Pap says he got annoyed when he observed Verdugo arriving at the ballpark at the same time as Pap himself, who of course wasn’t playing, but covering the pre-game as a NESN analyst. He firmly conveyed that this was waaaaaay too late for a ballplayer and hinted that it was a regular occurrence. Thanks, Pap, for confirming what we already knew. Although Verdugo has denied being late, we knew he was lying, didn’t we?

And the details!

Papelbon was clearly irritated all over again as he described Verdugo noisily arriving in “some, like, Charger” (the nerve!) as he revved the engine and drew attention to himself. At the same time as Pap painted this picture of a player who “nobody wants to play with” he pointed to what he sees as a lack of clubhouse leadership that allowed Verdugo’s behavior to flourish. Papelbon was adamant that the clubhouse culture has to change if the Sox have any hope of winning ever again.

Interestingly, he pointed to Rafael Devers as the one player who is gearing up for a leadership role. This is fascinating to me, because I’ve wanted to see Raffy step up in that area for a while now. He specifically applauded him for working to improve his English so that he can more deeply connect across the clubhouse.

And no one knows more about clubhouse camaraderie than Jonathan Papelbon. He said that “The clubhouse is a very, very sacred, sacred place” —this from the guy who choked Bryce Harper in the dugout for not running out a fly ball!

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals
Bryce Harper is grabbed by teammate Jonathan Papelbon in the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on September 27, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

He invoked the “baseball gods” and leaned into the “back in my day” mantra.

This interview is gold, I’m telling you.

And then there’s Papelbon’s trophy room, where he conducts his Zoom meetings, surrounded by various accolades from his playing days. To wit: two of his own bubbleheads. An unopened bottle of Korbel champagne. The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition, which features him on the cover.

Ask me how I know all this. It’s because I took a magnifying glass to the video. Investigative journalism at its finest, combined with the aforementioned offseason ennui.

I mean, what?

One glass trophy made me do a double-take because it looked like it might be a large, elegant bong. Best of all, leering right next to his own face, its hollow, black eyes even with his own, was an elongated silver skull that he earned when he became the Phillies’ all-time saves leader. It might as well be his Dorian Gray portrait brought down from the attic, his deal with the devil, because Papelbon hasn’t aged a bit.

I’ll tell you, I’m here for this.

My original source for locating the interview happened to be an article in the New York Post, which I usually admire for their hilariously trashy-yet-piercing headlines. This time, if you care to check out the article, you’ll enjoy an amazing photo at the end that shows Verdugo leaning into the right field stands at Yankee Stadium, attempting to make a play, while nearly every last Yankees fan recoils in front of him. A beautiful metaphor. This is one of Verdugo’s hometown newspapers now and even they couldn’t resist this dig. Ah, New York. Get used to it, folks; this is your new outfielder! Why am I laughing this hard though?

Anyway, this unexpected rivalry is a gift that I hope keeps on giving during the rest of this slow, slow offseason. Jonathan Papelbon, please keep this up. And I don’t think Verdugo will be able to restrain himself so I’m now actively waiting for his clumsy reply. The anticipation alone could get me to Pitchers and Catchers.