In case you missed it, J.D. is not his usual slugger self thus far this season. He’s on pace to finish the Red Sox’ 60-game slate with a .244 batting average, zero homers, and 15 RBIs. Martinez has not driven home a run since Opening Day, two weeks ago. He has 13 strikeouts, only four walks, and a puny OPS of .720.
Oh, and he also has an excuse.
Seriously. Players can’t review their in-game at-bats on video this season, and this has J.D. out of sorts. Because of both the pandemic and the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, there are new protocols in place, and Martinez is lost without the ability to retreat to the video room and break down his swing in between plate appearances.
He is Roy Hobbs without Wonderboy. He is Wade Boggs without chicken. He is Nomar Garciaparra without batting gloves to tug on.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment for me,” Martinez said last weekend when the 4-8 Red Sox were in New York. “It’s something that’s a big part of my routine and it’s a big part of who I am, the studying everything. It’s kind of one of those things where you kind of have to have a new routine.”
Additionally, J.D.‘s pregame preparation has been impaired because other new rules stipulate that players can’t get to the park more than five hours before the first pitch. Five hours. As if he needs to be at Fenway at noon for a 7:30 p.m. start in order to study his swing?
It’s a crisis. According to Alex Speier in Thursday’s Globe, “instead of permitting the sort of in-game video historically available at a BATS [Baseball Analysis and Tracking System] terminal, [players'] iPads are restricted to video of opposing pitchers that’s uploaded before games and remain offline during games . . . Away from the park, players can access the BATS system — but the variety of synchronized angles that had typically been available to players in real time are now available only on a delayed basis, if at all.”
Oh, the humanity! How is a guy supposed to hit against Oriole pitchers without this sophisticated video breakdown?
A better question might be . . . how did Ted Williams bat .344 lifetime without studying his swing path on video for 10 hours a day?
Or, even better than that, maybe J.D. could tell everybody whether he refused to pinch hit at the end of Sunday night’s excruciating loss to the Yankees. It sure sounded that way when manager Ron Roenicke said, “It’s a little harder to get J.D. quickly loose . . . we talked to him about it. He’s used to certain routines that he goes through . . . ”
Huh? A Red Sox slugger won’t go into a close game in New York and everybody is OK with that? No thanks. Look at what we did to Nomar when he pulled that stunt in 2004.
J.D.’s home plate paralysis owed to loss of video privileges goes into the pantheon of whopper excuses offered by baseball players through the years.
Adrian Gonzalez was a beauty in this department. Gonzo, a.k.a. “The Cooler,” told us the 2011 Red Sox were burdened because they had to play so many late Sunday night games on ESPN. This was the same guy who explained the chicken-and-beer fiasco with “a man’s gotta eat,” and justified the Red Sox’ final flameout in Baltimore in 2011 by telling us it was “God’s will.”
When the John Harrington Red Sox built the massive “600 Club” behind Fenway’s home plate in 1989, Boggs and Mike Greenwell insisted that the structure diminished the power of Red Sox hitters. “Ever since they put that Club up, it’s been harder to hit the ball out,” said Greenwell. “There’s no doubt about it. It’s especially worse for lefthanded hitters like myself. Something changed about the wind patterns out there.”
Imagine what it was like for Johnny Damon trying to play center field at Fenway in the summer of 2005 after an enormous stage built for the Rolling Stones ruined the sod (though Damon himself did not complain).
Orioles third baseman Doug DeCinces had a similar situation when the team shared Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium with the NFL’s Colts in the 1970s.
“You should try playing third base on that grass when it gets all torn up by the Colts cheerleaders,” DeCinces said after he made a couple of errors after a Colts home weekend game.
It happens all the time in baseball. Everybody needs an excuse. Roger Clemens was out of sorts because Sox players had to carry their own luggage on road trips. Nomar couldn’t perform if anyone interrupted his compulsive routines. The 2008 Red Sox got off to a horrible start because they opened the season in Japan. David Price underperformed because Dennis Eckersley made fun of him and the club took away his clubhouse Fortnite privileges.
Now we have J.D. at a loss without his video tablet.
Makes me long for the days of Manny Ramirez, who had just a few simple thoughts on hitting: See the ball. Swing the bat. Hit the ball.
It worked for the first 100 years of baseball. It can still work today.