Jacoby Ellsbury made his return to Boston Tuesday night, wearing a different uniform for the first time since his career began in 2007. Ellsbury, instrumental in two of the Red Sox three World Series titles in the last century, left for the greener pastures of New York.
Within the contexts of Major League Baseball, Ellsbury leaving to sign with the highest bidder is par for the course. The Red Sox made a less-than-competitive offer to their outgoing center fielder, knowing they had a replacement in Jackie Bradley Jr waiting in the wings.
This is the way it works in baseball and the Red Sox are no different. They famously let the beloved Pedro Martinez walk after their 2004 World Series triumph and his reputation escaped unscathed.
It seems, from the outside, like Red Sox fans had a different relationship with Jacoby Ellsbury than other players. He lost nearly two full seasons to injury, one of which Ellsbury spent away from the club, seemingly estranged from the team over the treatment of what turned out to be a serious rib injury.
In 2012, it was a separated shoulder suffered very early in the season that put him on the shelf. As J.D. Drew and others can attest, the “soft” or “injury-prone” label can be tough to shake. Signing with the Yankees was the icing on the cake.
So when Ellsbury stepped in as a visiting player at Fenway Park for the first time, he heard boos. He heard more boos than he had any right to hear, but about as many as any rational person would expect. A booing that only intensified as Ellsbury ran from pole to pole ruining the Red Sox collective evening. He owns a .342/.395/.479 slash line this year and pocketed a $155 million contract for a reason.
Are Red Sox fans wrong in booing Jacoby Ellsbury? Yes and no.
The vast majority of fans are just that: fans. The games are a visceral experience thanks to a lifetime of total emotional commitment. Adjusting your monocle and tut-tutting the huddled masses for expressing a standard outpouring of emotion only comes across as disconnected and aloof.
Jacoby Ellsbury took more money to sign with the fiercest rivals of the only team he ever knew. No manner of economic nuance or charitable reading of canned comments can change that. Ellsbury wears pinstripes, the rest is just window dressing.
It isn’t about class or perspective, as the latter is in short supply among sports fans (and writers) at all times. Yes, Jacoby Ellsbury was a crucial figure during the greatest decade in Red Sox history. A good number of fans stood and cheered, letting the new Yankees center fielder know how much we was appreciated by the Fenway Faithful.
But sometimes success spoils folks, and the good times are thought to be a product of the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back. This chicken and egg situation allows great players to slip through the cracks and the mercenary nature of free agency to make villains of players unwilling to forego $30 million in career earnings.
Hopefully the fans that booed Jacoby Ellsbury felt good about it. Hopefully they had some laughs and they truly value guys like Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli who took a little bit less to stay in Boston. Those fans have their allegiances and Jacoby Ellsbury has his money. Why overcomplicate it any further?