Jonathan Papelbon Reiterates Clubhouse Comments in Interview

Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon has not been shy in voicing his opinion about the team’s clubhouse and the connection it has to their lack of success ever since he inked his four-year, $50 million deal. In February, prior to the start of the 2013 season, he said of the Phillies’ clubhouse, “I haven’t seen any leadership.” In June, he questioned the team’s commitment to getting even the basic fundamentals down. In July, he said he “definitely didn’t come [to Philadelphia] for this.”

Earlier today, Papelbon went on WEEI’s Hot Stove show with Rob Bradford and guest host and former Phillie John McDonald. They asked him a bunch of questions, including what it was like to watch the Red Sox — his former team — win the World Series. He was asked about the Phillies’ clubhouse dynamics and took the opportunity to reiterate what he had said in the past:

“On our team, I honestly believe we have more talent than any other roster out there. But if you don’t take that talent and mesh it together, figure out each others’ little pros and cons and figure out how to make a 25-man roster form into one, nothing will work. I don’t care how much you spend or how many guys you have in the bullpen or how many starters you have and it just doesn’t work,” said Papelbon. “Look at the Red Sox last year. John [McDonald] will probably tell you the moment he walked into the Red Sox clubhouse there was an entirely different feel from when he left Philly. I’m not putting those words in John’s mouth by any means, but when you have a group of guys who go for 162 games plus spring training plus the playoffs, you have to have each other’s backs and know what he’s going to do before the next guy from you is going to do before he does it.”

There’s more:

“I was a new guy coming into the Philadelphia clubhouse. Coming into a new clubhouse, you tend to watch more than you speak. I will say this, I came from a clubhouse where it was in your face, it was ‘this is how we’re going to do it.’ We’re going to yell at each other and when we don’t do what we’re expected of, we’re going to let you know. That’s kind of the way I was groomed into being a baseball player,” said Papelbon. “Then I go to Philadelphia and it wasn’t necessarily that way, and I know that I’ve gotten a bad rap, some of the guys will say I’m not a good clubhouse guy because I’ll get upset and I’ll say something, but I’ve always said what’s on my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever shied away from my beliefs. But I think some of it reporters in Philly maybe take a little bit different because I was used to saying that, hey, this is how I feel, we’re not winning and I’m not happy.”

On one hand, it’s very easy to be skeptical of Papelbon’s comments. Bad clubhouses tend to emerge as a result of losing, not the other way around. If the same group of Phillies, with the same personalities, had managed to defy the odds and make the playoffs, Papelbon likely doesn’t make any of the comments he made in February and beyond.

On the other hand, it’s also easy to believe that Papelbon simply doesn’t fit in with the Phillies’ culture. Every team has a different culture. Papelbon came from a team that was very outgoing with personalities like Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz becoming the core of the Red Sox as they enjoyed success from 2007-09. Papelbon fit in with his weird commentary in the media and his dancing. Meanwhile, with the exception of Jimmy Rollins, the core of the Phillies during the “golden years” was composed of relatively quiet players who led by example — Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, and Cole Hamels rarely went out of their way to say anything beyond cliches in interviews and were not animated on the field. Granted, this is some heavy armchair psychoanalysis, but there are some cultures where some players just won’t fit in, and this may be the case with Papelbon.

That being said, there really isn’t any reason for Papelbon to be going on the air trashing his team. All he is doing is creating a controversy where there shouldn’t be one, and giving his teammates another slate of questions they’ll have to answer when they want to be focusing on other subjects to prepare for the 2014 season. And as long as Utley and Rollins are on the team, Papelbon isn’t going to be changing the culture to meet his expectations. What Papelbon should be focusing on is recovering the 3 MPH of velocity he lost on his fastball over the last two seasons and getting his strikeout rate closer to the 30 percent rate it had been as opposed to the 22 percent rate of last season. If he continues to decline, the Phillies will have a real problem on their hands, with as much as $39 million remaining on his contract over the next three years.

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