Jose Canseco had one basic question.
“Which ones are they? Can you point them out?”
This is a transient clubhouse where the definition of a Red Sox veteran is a guy with two weeks’ service. These guys literally don’t know each other yet, and now Jose needed a little I.D. help if he was supposed to ostracize someone. On this team, it’s easy enough to walk right by the guy batting after you in the order without knowing who he is, anyway.
The subject was replacement players. On the pretense of needing backups, the Red Sox had brought up replacement outfielder Ron Mahay and replacement shortstop Randy Brown. Management had thrown the match into the clubhouse gas tank.
Or had they?
“I don’t feel too happy about it,” said Canseco. “But I guess every person has a different situation. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Not exactly fire and brimstone.
The truth is, most regulars aren’t going to get too stoked up about this, and for a very simple reason: Most of them are concerned with themselves more than with the Big Picture.
“I don’t know their situation,” said Mike Macfarlane. “I don’t know their stories and I don’t know their reasons. As far as I’m concerned, it’s over and done with. I’ve got other things to worry about. Such as winning ballgames. Such as finding my swing. Anyone seen my swing lying around somewhere? I need it ASAP preferably by the 26th of April.
“Now tell me: Who are they?”
Tim Naehring didn’t sound too happy when he heard the news, but he sounded as if he’d be willing to listen to a reasonable explanation from Messrs. Mahay and Brown. Even Mike Greenwell, who a few days back grabbed some local headlines by saying he’d like to see the so-called “hit list” of replacement players, expressed sympathy for the two newcomers. He recognized that Mahay and Brown weren’t pure replacement players. He knew they were Red Sox system players who had been caught in a vise between the Players Association and management.
“They were getting it from both sides,” Greenwell said.
Then there was Roger Clemens, a vocal supporter of the Players Association during the strike.
“It doesn’t affect me,” he declared. “I’m sure there will be some feelings from the middle-of-the-road guys, and some of the younger guys.”
Well, no, Rog, a shortstop and an outfielder probably won’t have an effect on you personally. But what about association solidarity? What would Donald Fehr or Gene Orza say?
“Whatever comments I have on that will be reserved for the individual personalities or teammates,” Clemens said. “I wouldn’t be discussing it with you-all.”
Perhaps management knew best. Perhaps management suspected that when push came to shove, the majority of Red Sox regulars would accept guys who had been poised to take their place in the event the season opened without the real players.
Perhaps. Perhaps anything. But with only five games left in this shortened spring training, why risk a disruption?
“I wonder what the idea is,” said Canseco. “It’s kind of awkward. There appear to be some head games going on here. Maybe management just wants to see how we’re going to react to all this. It’s just awkward. I don’t know what purpose it serves. I’m sure they have to feel out of place walking around, a little paranoid. ‘Does he know I’m a replacement player?”’
Do the Red Sox need help? In a word, yes. Right now there is no backup center fielder. Oops, what about Troy O’Leary? Isn’t that what he’s supposed to be? You think if the Red Sox had known he was going to hit a home run in Port Charlotte Wednesday, they might have held off on bringing in Mahay? Just wondering.
And yes, they could use a backup shortstop. They’ve got Terry Shumpert, but he’s more of a 3B/2B sort. They played Steve Rodriguez at short Wednesday, but no one has ever seriously suggested he’s anything but a second baseman. Brown did flash some fancy leather a month ago.
But are Mahay and Brown so overtly spectacular the team just feels it can hardly live without them? Please. Mahay will be very lucky to be the next Bob Zupcic, while no one knows whether Brown will lay his bat on the ball against big league pitching. Everyone knows the Red Sox could find other options.