Don't lump Hamels, Papelbon together

Posted: January 16, 2014

COLE HAMELS does not equal Jonathan Papelbon.

There, I got that off my chest.

I felt the need, since the two men tend to say things that lump them together.

There's a huge abyss between Hamels and Papelbon, though. Hamels is a quirky but intelligent interview. Papelbon is, well, just quirky. And that's being kind. From his rambling defense of gun ownership following the Boston Marathon bombing ("Obama wants to take our guns"), to his "I didn't come here for this" comment amid a slumping July, to his unfavorable comparison of his newer club to his old one on a Boston radio station recently, Papelbon is, in the words of former closer and current Red Sox broadcaster Dennis Eckersley, "A whole different kind of crazy.''

"I came from a clubhouse where it was in your face, it was, 'This is how we're going to do it,' " Papelbon said during the WEEI interview. " 'We're going to yell at each other and when we don't do what we're expected of, we're going to let you know.' That's kind of the way I was groomed into being a baseball player. Then I go to Philadelphia and it wasn't necessarily that way, and I know that I've gotten a bad rap, some of the guys will say I'm not a good clubhouse guy because I'll get upset and I'll say something, but I've always said what's on my mind. I don't think I've ever shied away from my beliefs. But I think some of the reporters in Philly maybe take it a little bit different because I was used to saying that, hey, this is how I feel, we're not winning and I'm not happy."

Some worthy historical reporter notes: The clubhouse Papelbon left was the one where they ate chicken and drank beer during games and choked away first place in 2011 with an awful stretch run that the closer was a big part of. He even blew the save that doomed them in the last game against Baltimore. Which is why they kicked the door open for him on his way out.

Hamels' comments to Philadelphia magazine in September were made in the context of belonging to and improving the team that drafted him, made by someone who re-signed here for the long term two summers ago rather than test the free-agent market that has since proved he left millions on the table.

Papelbon made no such concession to Boston, and now sounds like a customer who bought something he would like to return.

Just about every quote that now has Hamels being lumped with Papelbon as a discontent began with the pronoun "Our.'' As in, "Our hitting sucked.''

It did.

Or, "The energy in the clubhouse changed. It used to be all high-fives. This season, there weren't as many high-fives. There was a lot of bitterness, pointing fingers - 'You haven't played well in a week, why weren't you in here early?' "

It seems to me that Hamels is still paying for his sore-armed 2009 season that, probably more than any other factor, helped keep the Phillies from repeating as World Series champions. But at least part of the reason he was off in 2009 was that he was a horse in 2008, and that should never go forgotten. Yet by many it does, despite his big-game performances since, most notably in the division-series clinching game at Cincinnati in 2010.

"You have to know when to start over,'' Hamels said in that September piece. "Will our fans be happy with that? Probably not. We won't win 100 games next season. But with another wild card, we can definitely get into the playoffs."

Hear that? Hope. More hope, really, than the paying public has expressed. Hamels is far from a discontent. He wants it to be better, he thinks it might be. Really, his words are not much different, if at all, from the ones spoken by Chase Utley on Monday.

"Winning cures a lot, and losing can really get tiresome," Utley said. "It's not a good environment if you lose . . . If you have a good clubhouse, does that create winning? Or does winning create a good clubhouse? That's a question we could all debate all the time. I think if we all have the same determination to win, then the clubhouse will be good.''

Personally, I'm glad he feels the way he does, and I'm glad Hamels does, too. At this point, I'd even rather see Papelbon return than be given away for little or nothing. The Phillies had the wiggle room to play it big this offseason and instead added to the ifs and buts these core players have expressed this offseason.

If Marlon Byrd stays healthy . . . If Roberto Hernandez somehow becomes the pitcher he was 5 years ago . . .

You want your controversy, focus there. Because every clubhouse starts out every spring with a determination to win. In the end, though, it's just as Hamels and Utley say it is. Chemistry doesn't improve talent.

It's a byproduct of it.


On Twitter: @samdonnellon


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