In watching the Boston Red Sox’ season opener on Saturday, I was mostly interested in the performance of John Lackey, who’s coming back from elbow surgery, as well as the team’s two top rookies, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. The Red Sox gave a nice all-around performance in a losing effort, with Lackey looking decent and rookies Jeremy Hazelbaker and Jose Iglesias getting key hits. But the thing that drew my attention more than anything else was the lackadaisical play of new first baseman Lyle Overbay.
The 36-year-old Overbay was brought in late in the off-season on a minor league deal with the hopes that he would provide a veteran presence on the bench and serve as an adequate backup to 1B Mike Napoli and DH David Ortiz. In Saturday’s preseason debut, he did neither. Maybe I’m making too much of this so early in the season, but the display really bothered me. I couldn’t help but think that this was a direct, perhaps subconscious, reaction to the fact that the Red Sox traded for 1B/OF Mike Carp on Wednesday—a move the seriously diminishes Overbay’s chances of making the team.
In his first at-bat, Overbay struck out swinging. The strikeout by itself wasn’t a big deal, but the at-bat as a whole was very cringe-worthy. The left-hander took two fastballs right down the middle without taking the bat off his shoulder. He then gave a sorry excuse for a swing on an off-speed pitch in the dirt, before sulking back to the dugout. It was more of a wave at the ball then a swing, and it was embarrassing to watch. The at-bat was an ugly one to be sure, but it still wouldn’t have been reason for concern—except for the fact that he did the exact same thing in Thursday’s exhibition game against Northeastern University.
In his second at-bat, Overbay hit a ground ball right up the middle. Much better, right? Not really. The ball ricocheted off the pitcher and rolled to the shortstop, who scooped it up and made a nice throw to first to get the out. It was one of those tough-luck plays where the batter gets robbed of a hit. The problem? Overbay couldn’t be bothered to run to first. By the time the first baseman caught the ball, Overbay was only about halfway up the basepath—this after slowly jogging out of the batter’s box. This certainly is not the veteran presence that the Red Sox had in mind when they signed him.
Listen, I know it’s the first game, but Overbay has to know that everybody’s watching—especially all those rookies in the dugout. In the very same game, another veteran who I’ve been down on this spring—Jonny Gomes—also hit a roller to shortstop. Gomes busted it down the line and nearly beat the throw. Had it been a regular season game, the “out” call might have warranted an argument.
Gomes showed how the game is supposed to be played, and he’s a guy that has a guaranteed contract. If anyone needs to be giving an extra effort, it’s Overbay. I didn’t see that on Saturday, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. The Red Sox should think about just letting Overbay go at this point, and give his valuable preseason at-bats to someone else.
(JM Catellier is the author of the book Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructuring the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball and Facebook, and check out his site: www.fixingbaseball.com)