TORONTO — It’s the gall that gets you, more than anything else. The typical Boston Red Sox B.S. is that everybody on the planet wants to play in Fenway Park – North America’s oldest public urinal – and that somehow because of their history they should be above the rules.
Normally, I couldn’t care less about David Ortiz trolling the Toronto Blue Jays with his nudge-nudge, wink-wink, statements about how free agent-to-be Edwin Encarnacion would be the perfect replacement for Ortiz as designated hitter when Ortiz retires at the end of this season. Fact is, Encarnacion makes sense for the Red Sox on several levels. Likewise, the team makes sense for the player, especially with their predilection for giving out big years and big money. The Red Sox used to be Death Valley for Latino players, or at least a difficult environment in that warped Boston kind of way. But that changed with Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez and Ortiz – suddenly, Latino players found a comfort level that hadn’t always existed.
So, if I’m Encarnacion or his agent, Paul Kinzer, I am of course aware of the Red Sox’s intentions with or without the brazen, open lobbying we have seen from Ortiz this season, first when the Blue Jays visited Fenway Park and second at this week’s all-star festivities, where he left a trail of verbal nuggets regarding Encarnacion strewn about, even adding: “Sorry, Blue Jays,” at one point.
So Major League Baseball is right to begin an investigation into whether or not Ortiz’s comments constitute tampering, not because of any actual impact on the Blue Jays slugger’s future employment but because these two franchises have a history. The Blue Jays never filed tampering allegations against Boston when John Farrell asked to be relieved of his managing duties to go to his “dream job” with the Red Sox, but there wasn’t a person in Toronto’s front office who didn’t think there were backchannel advances made to either Farrell or one of the coaches who bailed along with him. The Red Sox reach is long and deep, and includes their media partners such as the Boston Globe and NESN. In the end, the Blue Jays put together a trade that saw Mike Aviles join them from the Red Sox for Farrell, then flipped Aviles to the Cleveland Indians – along with Yan Gomes and, no, don’t get us started about that – for Esmil Rogers.
Blue Jays manager Alex Anthopoulos would never say publicly that he was stabbed in the back, which, of course, he was. But he did say that he learned from his experience with Farrell about the importance of implicit trust in the person you hire as a manager, not just his managerial abilities.
The NBA has been particularly judicious when it comes to tampering – Drake, the Raptors’ official “ambassador” was hit with a $25,000 fine in 2014 for pointing out Kevin Durant at a concert in Toronto and urging fans to show him some love – but tampering is something of a hazy area in baseball. For example, the Chicago Cubs were investigated and cleared of tampering charges when manager Joe Maddon jumped from the Tampa Bay Rays, and New York Yankees president Randy Levine was investigated after making an off-hand comment about the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s Mike Trout.
The commissioner’s office has a wide range of powers to adjudicate in these matters, and in the case of Levine an apology was deemed good enough. The Blue Jays, I’m told, did not complain formally to the commissioner’s office about Ortiz’s comments. President and chief executive officer Mark Shapiro was said to only know what he read about the situation. But then, formal “charges” do not need to be filed for the commissioner to investigate, especially when the statements are made at an event like the all-star game.
“It’s a perception thing, more than anything else, in a case like this,” said a baseball source familiar with the commissioner’s office and its thinking on tampering. “It’s a way of telling everybody to shut the hell up, and it’s especially important to make sure fans feel everything is above board.”
Look, the fact that he is Big Papi and is on his retirement tour as one of the most popular players of his generation (both with peers and the media) will, of course, buy Ortiz some cover. To interview Ortiz one-on-one is to be smitten by the face, the smile and the level of personal engagement. This is a player, after all, who addresses groups of reporters with “What’s up, bitches?” and gets laughs. It’s true that at a time when we’ve lowered our expectations for interaction with players – “See that! He didn’t tell us to go screw ourselves! Good dude!” – Ortiz seems almost on a different level. He just gets it, always has – whether it was disarming much of the damage that would be wrought by Ramirez with media or fans or making an emotional pitch to his city after the Boston marathon bombing. He is a singular personality at a time when the singular gets beaten out of most athletes on the way up. And as I said: Encarnacion will go where he’s going to go regardless of what Ortiz said.
But we are closing in on a seismic free-agent event: the class of 2018, which could include almost every player of significance including bank-busters such as Bryce Harper. It’s the type of feeding frenzy that is going to draw in the big markets and big, big money, and the commissioner’s office wants teams to exercise discipline on the public stage. Might be time to send out a message, especially to that lot in Massachusetts and their overblown sense of entitlement.