‘Big Game’ Over
Big Game James is gone, and that is totally fine. In fact it’s more than fine. The fans were over whatever it was that Shields brought to the table, and it certainly seemed like Shields couldn’t wait to get out of the mess at PETCO. However, it was the way it finally happened that didn’t make a ton of sense to most of us. Sure, Shields was making a lot of money, but he was rarely thee guy fans pointed to as “the problem”, and that in some weird way was “the problem”. Ron Fowler would disagree with this statement, as he clearly had enough of Shields pissing off managers, and not living up to the contract Fowler himself gave; if that is the reason Shields was finally moved we have a few things to figure out.
Back in 2011 I traded for James Shields down the stretch in fantasy Baseball. He was still slinging for Tampa trying to get out from under the shadow of Bret Saberhagen, and was in the midst of his best season in the majors. His arm did in fact get me into the playoffs however; I did not make it out of the first round. (A not so interesting side note: A week after I made that trade, I dropped Bryce Harper for Francisco Liriano.)
The next year, I couldn’t keep Shields and our relationship ended, until 2015, when he became a Padre. It was a strange signing for everyone involved. Most Padres fans weren’t even that excited about it, they were just more surprised. Shields should’ve gone to the Cubs, but didn’t. He should have gone to the Dodgers, but they passed on his price tag. He should have stayed in Kansas City, but they didn’t really have interest. It seemed like everyone knew what we also knew, but didn’t want to admit – Shields’ best days were behind him, and as we quickly learned Shields is also unable to admit that.
From his very first start with the Padres, things didn’t seem right. Something was off. Perhaps it was just his age catching up to him, or maybe he didn’t have the same desire to pitch in San Diego, or its very possible that he just hated pitching for Bud Black and Darren Balsley. Whatever the problem actually was, Shields definitely wanted to own it without owning it at all. And, that kind of sums up the twilight of Big Game’s career: He wants to be the guy, but he just isn’t.
“The guy” the media focused on, and went to for comments, and he seemed to want that really badly from day one. He seems like a nice guy, a good guy, and genuinely wants the best for every team he’s on, but James Shields wanted to be the face of a franchise for the first time, and picked the exact wrong time to try. In Tampa Shields was overshadowed by guys like Longoria, and Price, the on-going struggles of Melvin Upton, and of course Joe Maddon (Which, is a situation he’d once again avoid by never settling with the Cubs.). He then moved to Kansas City, where it looked like he’d be the headline, but Sal Perez, Ventura, Moustakas, and Cain quickly made him “one of the guys”, and he never stood out. Finally, he was heading to little ‘ol San Diego where he could be thee number one guy for a fledging franchise. He’d be looked at as a savior, the leader, and of course the guy who liked to ‘mix it up’ in the clubhouse. Then two things happened:
1) His contract. He should’ve signed for less. And, I say this purely for his future. He knew once he signed that deal, he had to live up to it. However, his career was at a point where he needed to prove he still “had it”, instead of what he did do, which was pretending he never lost it. And, don’t get me wrong I think James Shields is a very good pitcher, and for a long stretch a great pitcher, but at 33 you’re going to start to see some declining features and that is okay. I’m fine with that, I’m just not fine with paying him a lot of money to pretend to be an ace, and that’s what he did, and everyone but Shields seem to understand this.
2) The 2015 season. Not only was 2015 more disappointing than normal because for the first time in a long time we had a team, that on paper, was a contender. Not World Series champions, but contenders. But, once again Shields couldn’t be “the guy”, he was surrounded by Kemp, Upton, Kimbrel, and even Myers. What he appeared to desperately want, was once again unattainable.
Shields tried to make waves by calling out Bud Black, and was the catalyst for that firing, but new skipper Andy Green laid down the law fairly quickly by naming Ross the ace of the 2016 staff. This time it was Shields who was being called out. He finally got to be “thee guy”, but for all the wrong reasons.
Now, he’s a member of the White Sox, and it’s a great move. Not just for the Padres, who rid themselves of a 34-year old “innings guy” that is just that and only that, but they also get some spare change to go after some young talent. However, it’s also exactly what Shields needs. He’s going to a team that has an ace, plus a lefty who could be the ace on a few other teams (Padres included) and a young stud pitcher who isn’t going anywhere. Shields is put into a rotation that really doesn’t need him, and will look to him for a serviceable 6-7 innings a start and that’s it. If they get more – then that’s a plus! He can’t be “the guy”, and he can’t be “the headline”, and he has to know this going in. He is now a pitcher in his mid-30’s and he can finally begin to come to grips with that.
The final piece of this weird personnel puzzle is Ron Fowler. Fowler pulled a stunt San Diego hasn’t seen since Kroc got on the PA and apologized to fans for how bad his team was. Fowler did something that is an everyday occurrence in sports markets like Boston or Chicago, but not here. We actually need big names (bigger than James) to come to San Diego. We need players to want to come play for Fowler, and Dee, and whoever else. We as fans can’t really afford to let the owner go nuts and call out players, because after a short while, no players will want to play for them. I’m sure Fowler is beyond frustrated, but at the end of the day he said yes to all of this. He gave his million-dollar stamp of approval. He hired the miserable failures. And, it doesn’t matter who he’s referencing as a failure because he hired the guy who hired the other guys, who then hired more people. He is the catalyst for how his franchise will continue to operate, and right now he’s acting like an asshole. But, it’s his team, and he can do whatever he wants. The crazy thing is, I agree with him! He’s right. He just can’t expect to attract top tier talent, while being an asshole.
This organization is being run so poorly that I don’t blame Big Game James for taking shots, calling out his bosses, or Matt Kemp for recently reacting the way he has. It’s making a lot of fans throw their hands in the air, and legitimately not care. The team keeps saying “building” instead of “re-building”, which is basically saying you’re “washing” dishes instead of “cleaning” dishes. When things like this happen it makes a lot people wonder if anyone over there at Friar HQ knows what they’re doing. They seem more interested in creating craft beer nights than scoring runs. Creating social media memes than winning games, and giving fans free fedoras than a relevant product. And, again they can do whatever they want, it’s their team, but once the downtown stadium is built and the Chargers season starts, it’s the Padres that will have to once again compete for fans. So, give away as many fedoras and Dick Enberg themed flash drives as you want, but soon there might not be any fans left to give them to.
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Oh my God, this was brilliant. It just makes me that much more sad that this team is being operated by people like Fowler, Dee, Partello, and the like. I hope this gets noticed by the right people who can do something about it. Well written!