What is it about sports heroes that make us so quick to turn on them?
I watched last night as Clay Buchholz struggled again for the Red Sox. He looks done. You often can't be sure when a piece of broken mechanics or a nagging injury is all that’s holding a guy back, but sometimes, you can tell that it’s just done. I’m no pitching coach, but Clay looks done. Whispers of demotion are going louder despite his veteran status. He’s circling the drain. But somehow, I was still surprised last night when he was booed. Booed?
Clay’s been through this dance before. A quick perusal of his b-ref page paints a decently accurate story of a guy who was alternately brilliant, hurt, and terrible for the last decade. His status as the nominal ace last year made him something of a bastard/poster child for his GM’s strategy of “seven #3 pitchers makes a cheap rotation”, which failed miserably. So it’s not so hard to see why Red Sox fans have lost patience with the guy, why they’re ready to move on. But still: Booed?
Clay is in his tenth season with Boston, the team that drafted him in 2005. He debuted in 2007, and threw a no-hitter that September. He didn’t make that year’s postseason roster, when Jon Lester instead got the game four world series start, but he did in 2013, when he gutted through an injury to make four critical playoff starts. He’s "only" made about $30 million in his whole career with Boston, hasn’t ever had any particular media problems and seems present in all the charitable circles demanded of the modern athlete. True, Clay never totally fulfilled his promise, but, two titles, a no hitter, a .573 career winning percentage, a career ERA still under 4; Clay Buchholz has been a solid (if occasionally maddening) Red Sox for a decade now, longer than anyone not named Pedroia or Ortiz. Booed?
Of course, I’m naive to be surprised. Red Sox fans, like most half-decent fan bases, have booed everyone from Keith Folkue, who truly sacrificed his arm for the ’04 title, (and was nails while he did so,) to Manny Ramirez, arguably the best big ticket free agent contract of all time, the anchor of two championship lineups and the team’s first world series MVP. But those players at least fucked up somewhere else. Folkue said some garbage stuff on the radio. Manny, at one point or another, said or did just about every wrong thing that a player can say. I can see how they offended to the point of booing. But why boo Buchholz, who clearly has been betrayed by his body, beaten down by the inhuman act of pitching to the point where his fastball looks probably about the same way it did when he was 16?
For some reason, it’s fun. It’s fun to blame someone, to point to him and say “he did it! He ruined my night at the ballpark!” I've for sure done it, and it's easier to do it when you're there, somehow anonymous in the crowd. I suppose it’s the same part of our brain that once made the colosseum a sporty afternoon activity. But it bums me out. He went 12-1 for that 2013 team, and came back to start four playoff games despite clearly still being hurt. They probably don't win that title without him. And now, it’s very possible his final Fenway Park memory will be being booed for daring to allow a third home run to the Rockies some Thursday in May.
I, for one, hope this is not farewell. I've always had a soft spot for the guy. But if it is, keep your oddly-hair-do’d head held high Clay. Thanks for the memories. Sorry about the boos.