Peter Gammons: Ellsbury returns to Boston a person few really know

jacoby ellsbury yankees

The Red Sox training staff claims that in his last game in a Red Sox uniform, Jacoby Ellsbury broke a small bone in his hand but refused to come out of the game and was in center field when Koji Uehara struck out Matt Carpenter for the final out of the 2013 World Series.

So ended the seven season Red Sox career of one of the most dynamic players to ever wear the uniform. He never mentioned it, because Jacoby Ellsbury always spoke like silence.

He won two World Series rings. He stole 70 bases one season, 50 another, and stole home against Andy Pettitte and the Yankees on national television. 241 in his Red Sox career. He won a gold glove, he probably should have won the MVP in 2011 when he hit 32 home runs—ok, the only time he’s ever hit double figures—and he gave them a dimension and intrepid presence they clearly lack in this offensively-challenged 2014 season.

And yet there will be boos from the beer lines this week because he is wearing a Yankee uniform, as if any one of those two-fisted lager guys wouldn’t have jumped when someone else offered him twice as much as the next highest bidder, the Red Sox. It won’t be as vicious as the black eye Fenway received for its treatment of Johnny Damon, but there will be some silly, embarrassing nastiness, forgetting that to win that second ring he played through a serious foot injury and the hand, with his eye on the World Series trophy, not the contract Scott Boras could and would get him from the Yankees.

Ellsbury will say nothing that will be the story. He never did. He is and has always been reserved, going back to his days playing for the Falmouth Commodores in 2004, the summer that opened the Red Sox eyes to drafting him in the first round the following June. That’s who he is. He and his family remain fiercely loyal to Steve Brocklebank, the Falmouth physical therapist with whom he lived with in Falmouth. He is a loyal friend to his Oregon youth travel team teammate Jed Lowrie. He never forgets those who stood by him.

But even in those relationships, there is a caution flag. He never opens the door more than halfway. Lowrie, Brocklebank understand. Anyone who has known and appreciated him for a decade or so gets it. He is a private man. We didn’t spend part of our lives on a reservation, so we don’t judge, we simply appreciate.

Ellsbury went through a time period in Boston that would have caused most of us to lash out, to, in the heat of the ceremony of the horseman, hold a public grudge, which he did not. When Adrian Beltre, for whom any baseball field is a runaway truck lane, crashed into him in April 2010 and bashed his ribs, the then-medical staff announced he’d be back in three to five days. One of the medical community’s leading osteopaths, who had suffered broken ribs in a biking accident, the next day knew the ribs were broken and the recovery period was a minimum of two months, yet Ellsbury became the center of a controversy that never should have been a controversy.

He was trashed to Patriots media voices for being soft, and a talk show focal point. It got so bad between Ellsbury and the doctor that Theo Epstein sent him to Arizona for rehab, and Ellsbury was then criticized for not being with his teammates, and, instead of lashing back, chose to remain silent. Even the following spring training, he declined to comment on what had happened.

In 2012, hustling to break up a double play, he suffered a dislocated right shoulder when Reid Brignac kneed him trying to jump over the takeout slide. As Dr. Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic, who performed the surgery, noted the following spring, because it was his right, lead shoulder it would impact his swing for more than a year, Ellsbury again took heat, again declined to respond.

Jacoby Ellsbury is not Dustin Pedroia, he is not Jonny Gomes. He is who he is, which happens to be a guy who in seven years put up a .297/.350/.439/.789 line with 241 stolen bases and more World Series rings than any of the numbers on the right field roof, and did so for less than he’s making this season. He returns a person few really know, and he wanted it that way, because even when he was a skinny kid playing left field in Falmouth, you’d sit there with him and get the distinct impression that this is someone who knows too much to argue or to judge.

  • kasdad

    Very nicely done. And the Bob Dylan references were even better. You are one of the few writers who actually exceeds their reputation.

  • cindy hawkins

    Jacoby Ellsbury played with his heart and soul for the Red Sox. I don’t think many people thought he would be back with the Sox. It just stings a little more because he signed with the Yankees. Thanks Jacoby for all the wonderful years you were here in Boston.

  • eweeeee

    He stayed in the game because he was looking for a contract. God these articles get dumber and dumber the more I read. If it was anything but a contract year Jacoby would have been on the DL and you know it

    • VtBob

      Its not the articles that get dumber, its people like this!

    • Kat_4Real

      His stats already spoke loudly enough for him to get a great contract, he didn’t need to play with a broken hand to do it. If it was really only about the contract, he would have come out of the game, saving his hand from further injury, and ensuring his big money the next year.

  • Judy

    Love the Dylan references, too! And I totally agree with kasdad that you’re the best at what you do… Ellsbury is a class act & one helluva ballplayer. Although I’m not a Yankees’ fan, I am a Jacoby fan. (And I really enjoy your music tweets as well since I’m also a music fan.) @librarian120