The Lazy Boys of Summer

Illustration by Marshall Hopkins

When the Philadelphia Phillies traded their All-Star rightfielder, Bobby Abreu, to the Yankees recently, a lot of Phillies fans were relieved to see him go. Although he was the team’s best position player for more than eight seasons, he was never really embraced by the city. He never led the team to the playoffs. The fans blamed him for that. Mostly, though, they thought he was lazy.

I’ve always liked Abreu. For one thing, his offensive numbers are incredible. As a Phillie, he had eight straight seasons with 20 or more steals, an on-base percentage of .416 and a slugging percentage of .513. According to the stat compilers, he is the seventh-best player in franchise history. I also like that he is from crazy Chavez’s Venezuela. Abreu is a huge celebrity there. At one point, he was engaged to Miss Universe (nee Miss Venezuela) who then went on a Mexican reality show and was caught in flagrante delicto with another man. On TV! ¡Qué estupidez! The engagement was terminated. I like that Abreu is known as Comedulce, eater of sweets. And, truth be told, I like Abreu because he is lazy.

Abreu has blazing speed, but he looks like he is loping effortlessly around the field. He can hit homeruns, but he never appears aggressive at the plate. He won a Gold Glove last year, but he never seems to try too hard for the ball. He smiles a lot. And with his round comedulce cheeks, he looks more like an unassuming kid brother than a world-class athlete.

Of course, this isn’t really laziness. It’s more about style. Abreu is low-key, and the Phillies fans want players to put on a show of hustle. They want players to make it look hard. When Aaron Rowand, the Phillies new centerfielder, crashed into the wall to catch a ball and earned 15 stitches and a broken nose, he became a folk hero — the anti-Abreu, a hard-working white guy with limited talent. I admit it was a great play. Watching the replay over and over provided an excruciating, car-wreck joy. But Rowand missed fifteen games for one out. And he can’t hit. I’ll take Abreu.

I don’t know when Philadelphians started to have this strange attraction to a hard-working façade. The last good Phillies team, the pennant-winning ’93 squad, embodied a slacker ethos. They were fat, beer-drinking, long-haired slobs. Their spiritual leader John Kruk once said he spent the off-season training with donuts and six-packs. Kruk smoked, and when he was admonished about this, he responded, “I ain’t an athlete. I’m a baseball player.”

Kruk’s teammate Lenny Dykstra was known for being more of a hustler, a hard-nose guy who huffed to first base. But Dykstra was also a loafer. The late umpire Eric Gregg told this story about how Dykstra tried to get thrown out of a game:

“Back in ’93, when they won the division they were out partying all night that Saturday night. It was in St. Louis and it was like 110 degrees on the field. Dykstra was upset he was in the lineup. On a play where he was out by 10 feet at second base. He went nuts, calling me ‘Rerun’ and ‘Fat Albert’. I smiled and said, ‘Wait a minute. I know what this is’. He played all two-and-a-half, three hours that day.”

My brother, Joe, has another story about Dykstra. Before game five of the 1993 National League Championship Series, he ran in to Dykstra and his son (whom Joe called “little dude”) at a Taco Bell in Philadelphia. Joe was worried about the pre-game meal. “He was eating a Mexi-Melt,” my brother recalled. “They don’t sell those anymore.” But Dykstra came through. He hit a tenth-inning homerun off Braves reliever Mark Wholers to win the game.

The fans loved Kruk and Dykstra, and they deserved it. They weren’t athletes. They were baseball players. But what about Comedulce? He may seem lazy, but he always wants to play. In fact, he played in at least 151 games in all eight seasons in the City of Brotherly Love.

“I play hard,” he said recently. “I might not dive. I might not run into walls. I play every day. I play when I’m hurt. I hear what people say. They say I don’t play hard. They say I don’t care.”

“I care.” he said. “We’ll see how they feel about me when I’m gone.”

A similar judgement has been handed to Riquelme, yet he’s also effective.
Austin…so, officially on record as a Barca fan…our neighbour status is in serious jeopardy.

John McDowell    Aug 30, 01:13 PM    #

John, I admit I’m just a bandwagon Barca fan. If you buy Ronaldinho, maybe Ill switch over to Real.

— Austin    Aug 31, 11:30 AM    #

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