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You are headed out West to the Dodgers. You will be playing on a contender, in a new environment, with a new manager, and new teammates. Is it what you really wanted? I don't know. But just know that you will be missed in Boston (at least by this Red Sox fan), both as a baseball player and as a personality.
As a baseball player, you are one of the all-time greats. Your 7 1/2 years in Boston have solidified your status as one of the greatest right-handed hitters ever. You always killed the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. You played the Green Monster in Fenway just about as well as anyone could. You delivered the occasional gem of an outfield assist and adventurous catches. You helped bring two championships to the franchise after having gone 86 years without one.
Despite the appearance of sometimes not being the most dedicated player while on the field, by most accounts, you put in a lot of work off it. You got to BP before most of your teammates. You are a smart hitter. Until recently, it seemed as though you really tried when it mattered most, winning the World Series MVP in 2004 and hitting a walk-off home run in Game 2 of the 2007 ALDS. Your teammates respected your ability and accepted/tolerated your, um, antics.
As a baseball player, you will be sorely missed by every Red Sox fan. Any who thinks otherwise is lying to themselves. You are basically irreplaceable, from an offensive standpoint.
But I'm sure there are many fans that will not miss your personality... not running out ground balls, adventurous defense, seeming to lack a fire in playing the game. Up until you started intentionally (I feel comfortable in using this word now) taking three called strikes to send a message to management against the Yankees and making ridiculous comments about said management, I was your constant apologist.
Does it bother me you didn't go 100%, 100% of the time? Yeah. Was the Red Sox clubhouse distracted? I think so. Did I ignore it? Pretty much. Why?
Because you served sports fan a very important reminder: that you are playing a game for a living.
There was no doubt in my mind that you had an absolute blast playing in Boston, feeding off the energy of the rabid fans and thriving under the spotlight. Even when you were PUT ON WAIVERS by the Red Sox after the 2003 season, it didn't affect your performance; you led the way to the 2004 World Series title.
I think my favorite You-being-You moment is your now famous catch earlier this season at Camden Yards. Who else could have made an over-the-shoulder catch, high-fived a Red Sox fan, and fired an accurate throw back to first base for a double play? No one. It is so remarkably symbolic of your career: being an excellent player, but someone who never forgets that he's playing a game.
You take yourself seriously, just not as seriously as other ballplayers. In a game mostly devoid of out-and-out personalities, you are refreshing to me, and you never appeared to be a big distraction until recently. In fact, your teammates seemed to embrace your personality. Chad Johnson in the NFL and Gilbert Arenas in the NBA are popular not only because they're good, but because they're fun. You are fun, one of the funnest baseball players of my generation. I challenge anyone to think of another baseball player as fun as you are. Fun to watch is one thing, but pure fun is another.
Fun is the key word here. In the American past time, players with class, dignity and reverence for the game are adored by fans and the media. Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Jason Varitek, and others are quietly successful, and approach the game with the utmost dedication. I'm sure they had fun, but they didn't always show it. Baseball is purely a profession and a passion to them. You're different. You approach it with hard work, but also plenty of perspective. You're always playing a game. Baseball is supposed to be fun! The fun was never an issue, because you continued to be one of the game's best. I love the passionate and classy players just as much the next guy, but you? I can't explain it.
I can't explain why I love you. It has a lot to do with the fact you played for my favorite team, of course. But if you were on another team, would I feel the same? I think so. You're unique, an impossibly talented baseball player with the personality to boot. You're colorful. You're not shy. You're silly. You're the chihuahua amongst bloodhounds.
But my love for the Red Sox is greater than my love for you. Apparently, it got to the point where your personality got bigger than your ability and passion for the game. You though, you were bigger than the game. You started having too much fun, or maybe not as much, and you became frustrated and whiny. You put dollar signs in front of a pennant race. You were selfish. You weren't fun, you were flat out maddening.
When Nomar was traded to the Cubs in 2004, he wasn't my favorite player; Pedro was, because he was a great pitcher and because he was fun. It's different now; I'm as big a Red Sox fan as I am a baseball fan. One of my favorite players is gone.
Thanks for everything. You were great, and will continue to be great, I'm sure. Keep having fun. You will be missed.