As a former player, there is little I can do but shake my head when hearing the comments of Arizona Diamondbacks Managing General Partner, Ken Kendrick. In a recent radio interview with XTRA 910AM, Kendrick took brash shots at Diamondbacks players Justin Upton and Stephen Drew, essentially making them scapegoats for this season’s early struggles. Listen, I fully understand when you’re two of the highest paid guys on the team you’re expected to take a heavier load of the criticism. But what I don’t agree with is the manner in which Kendrick publicly undressed his stars with his hasty and callous words.
When asked of his thoughts thus far on Upton’s play, Kendrick responded:
“I think Justin is an enigma at this point. I know he had an injury early on and may be a little bit of a nagging injury. But he’s played. He’s certainly not the Justin Upton that he has been in the past and that we would expect of him. He’s 24 years old and it’s time for him to be a consistent performer and right now this year he’s not been that.“
I found it strange Kendrick came out right away and called him an ‘enigma’, turning the tone of his remarks quite negative right off the bat. He then went on to mention how Upton has dealt with a troubling thumb injury all season, but essentially dismissed the notion the thumb could be the reason for his struggles. I mean, ‘he’s played,’ right? Given the fact Kendrick reportedly later addressed these comments with Upton via text messages, and having admitted never talking to Drew this season, it seems reasonable to believe Kendrick has very little personal contact with the players. Yet, Kendrick is evidently so confident the injury is not the reason for Upton’s struggles that he goes on a radio show and calls him out. Why?
What if Upton’s thumb has been bothering him all season, yet because of the pressure to live up to his big-time contract, he feels the need to play through it? A thumb injury is not the type of injury that gets better over the course of a baseball season. No matter how much rehab one may do, constant swinging and catching will only prolong the recovery period. If Upton has been in pain all season, you can only imagine his dismay when Kendrick went on a radio station and took shots at him. But while the Upton situation was not ideal, it pales in comparison to what Kendrick had to say about Drew:
“I’m going to be real direct about Stephen. I think Stephen should have been out there playing before now, frankly. I, for one, am disappointed. I’m going to be real candid and say Stephen and his representatives are more focused on where Stephen is going to be a year from now than on going out and supporting the team that’s paying his salary. All you can do is hope that the player is treating the situation with integrity. Frankly, we have our concerns.”
Wow. Shots fired. There are so many things Kendrick brought up, I don’t know where to begin. First, he believes Drew should have been out there playing by now. In case you forgot, Drew experienced one of the most gruesome ankle injuries in the history of baseball last July… to arbitrarily create an expected timetable for Drew’s return seems a tad unfair. Secondly, Kendrick implies Drew and his representatives are more worried about his next contract than fulfilling his contractual duties this season. Why would Drew ever do that? How is Drew going to prove his worth to the Diamondbacks and 29 other teams if he doesn’t play this season? Wouldn’t Drew want to play well this season so he could become a prized free-agent and reap the benefits? Not according to Kendrick. Thirdly, and most damning, Kendrick questions Drew’s integrity. There are a lot of things that are fair game with athletes – questioning one’s work ethic, one’s hustle, one’s concentration, or one’s preparation are all part of the business. But when one makes matters personal and questions another’s integrity, that crosses a different line. I loved interviewer Brad Cesmat’s follow-up question, ‘So have you talked with Drew?’ Kendrick responded, “I have not, really, I don’t think it’s my place to do so, but others have.” So let me get this straight… It’s not Kendrick’s place to talk to Drew, but it is his place to question Drew’s integrity on a radio station? Really?!?
During the interview Kendrick questions why Drew is taking so long to come back, and also states Drew should be ‘supporting’ the team paying his salary. But I ask, if Drew is not 100% healthy, why would he ever rush back? Drew’s contract has a mutual option for next season that both the Diamondbacks and himself must exercise in order for him to return. If Drew were to come back early and struggle because he is not at full-health, do you think the Diamondbacks pick-up that $10 million option? Would they support a player whose career got derailed while playing his butt off for the organization? Maybe, maybe not.
Like it or not, baseball is a business. We’re talking about the long-term good of the franchise and/or the livelihood of players and their families. Playing hurt this season could tarnish Drew’s value on the open market, potentially costing him tens of millions of dollars. Just like Drew owes it to the Diamondbacks, he also owes it to his family to make the best long-term decision. If not rushing back before he is 100% is the best long-term move for his career, then this matter becomes not a question of integrity, but one of common sense.
My final thought on the matter is that Kendrick simply needs to be more careful of his comments in the future. The Diamondbacks are not the New York Yankees. They don’t have endless piles of money lying around to lure in big-time free agents. George Steinbrenner was one of the most outspoken owners in the history of the game, yet was still able to attract talent. But, you know why Steinbrenner was able to attract premium talent? It was because he backed trucks full of money up to player’s bank accounts and filled their coffers. Yankees players could handle getting called out by Steinbrenner because he was paying them more than anyone else ever could. The Diamondbacks can’t do that. If Arizona becomes known as a place where the Managing General Partner will call out your struggles publicly and/or question your integrity when returning from a career-threatening injury, it is going to be difficult to attract players to come to Arizona. If Kendrick is frustrated by the team’s play now, just wait a couple years for when he’s burned bridges with his current stars and no other ones want to deal with his untactful proclamations. I ask – who will be the scapegoat then? That’s that.