That is the only way to characterize Rays center fielder B.J. Upton, who chose to give his home crowd, his teammates, and the game of baseball a giant middle finger last night by leisurely trotting after a 5th-inning line drive off the bat of Arizona’s Rusty Ryal and allowing the ball–which likely could have been cut off in left-center field had Upton sprinted (you know, like someone who makes $3,000,000 a year probably should)–to roll to the wall.
As Rays manager Joe Maddon expressed, “He just did not run as hard as he possibly could have after the ball, that was obvious.”
Understandably, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria was none too pleased by this blatant lack of hustle, and thus, wanting “to know what was going through his head,” Longoria confronted Upton about the incident when he returned to the dugout at the end of the half-inning. What followed, however–rather than the contrite apology from the Rays center fielder that might have been more appropriate–was a theatrical display of yelling and pointing that ultimately concluded with Upton needing to be restrained.
According to Longoria, the flare-up in the dugout was simply just “a byproduct of a frustrated team” and one that “goes no further than today.” However, one cannot help but wonder if this incident may highlight a larger cause for concern.
Since leading the division by 6 games on May 23rd with a 32-12 record–the best record in baseball up to that point–the Rays have gone 12-19 and currently sit 3 games back in the division and in 3rd place. Moreover, on Friday night, the team was no-hit for the 2nd time this year (by former Ray Edwin Jackson, no less), and, to add insult to injury, the team witnessed star left fielder Carl Crawford re-aggravate an injury to his left shoulder, for which the timetable for recovery is unclear.
And, while it is unlikely that the Rays poor play will continue, there looms the larger concern of how competitive the franchise will remain beyond this year. Crawford, first baseman Carlos Pena, and closer Rafael Soriano will all become free agents, and given the Rays market size–they currently rank 23rd in news buzz despite having the best TPVR rating in baseball–it is unlikely that the Rays will be able to retain all, if any, of these players, especially as increases to payroll for players already under contract will be between $7.9-$8.7 million. To make matters worse, the two teams likely to vie most strongly for Crawford’s services–the Yankees and Red Sox–are in division.
As far as World Series aspirations go, it appears that this is the year for the Rays. And, with this knowledge in mind, one cannot discount that this fact may be contributing to tension within the locker room.
Regardless of whether this is the case, however, the dugout incident from yesterday’s 2-1 loss isn’t quite over yet, despite both Longoria’s and Upton’s claims. As Maddon told the media yesterday, he still plans to meet with Upton (who is yet to offer a formal apology and who has been benched before for similar offenses) about the affair.
As Maddon said, “It’s just one of those moments that happen and now it’s up to me to handle it properly.”
Here’s a video of the dugout scuffle: