Hi, I’m Jordi Scrubbings. You may remember me from such links as “Where are Carl Crawford’s triples?” and “Tropicana’s Where I Lost My Heart”. Cork has brought me aboard to spice up your weekends and add my own perspective on a few things Rays-related. Of course, in typical Rays fashion, I was signed to a very, very team-friendly deal.

Today I am going to talk about all things BJ Upton. I am not going apologize or attack, defend or denigrate. What I am going to do is tell why he is the most interesting player on the Rays.

The Devil in BJ Upton

One of the biggest problems with baseball is that it’s long season tends to grind out all sense of personality. While players start the season with pep and vigor, by the dog days of summer most of their individual uniqueness is all but washed away. There are some traits however that endure the season. Some of these labels even stay attached to a player for their entire career.

These traits and how players perform under their guise is what makes a player’s career all the more interesting. If we say Derek Jeter is a leader, and he fails to motivate the Yankees to overcome some obstacle, is he still a leader? If so, how will he be defended? If we say David Eckstein is a scrappy hustler, how do we react when he doesn’t dive during a day game in August in St. Louis where the temperature is over 100 degrees? Do we let him slide? And then of course, there is a label of “clutch”, which seems to have a life of its own, clinging like kudzu to players who have come up big at some point in their career.

There is no more labeled player on the Tampa Bay Rays than BJ Upton. Since becoming a regular in 2007, he has been the most fascinating player to watch. Sure, Evan Longoria has become the Hollywood face of the team, Carl Crawford has been a model of consistency, and not since the early 90s Braves staffs, has a pitching staff wowed the world with its youthful talent. However, it is BJ that remains the most interesting.

BJ is a collection of skills and personality rarely seen on a baseball field. Where there are similar comparisons is on the hardwood. Basketball players such as Allen Iverson, Greg Oden, Dwight Howard, and LeBron James have all had their talents and motivations poked, prodded, and analyzed to the point of overkill by dozens of writers, commentators, and the blogging bourgeoisie. Among the best of these is FreeDarko.com, a collection of intellectual bloggers who take a meta view of the NBA and its employees.

BJ Upton is a FreeDarko writer’s dream subject.

BJ is a similar to basketball player standing 6’10 with insane ups, a smooth jumper, a knack for rebounds, excellent ball handling, and the ability to thread the needle with a key pass. He has all the physical tools to be great, yet never achieves perpetual greatness. The NBA is full of players like this. Players who, if they had the killer instinct of Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, would redefine their position and possibly the game.

BJ Upton is Lamar Odom in cleats.

Whereas Lamar Odom has found a place in the shadow of Kobe Bryant and in matrimony to Chloe Kardashian, where the occasional superstar performance is enough to suffice, BJ Upton is still stuck with the “loafer” label. It was a label also stuck on former Met outfielder Kevin McReynolds throughout his career, even as he finished third in the 1988 MVP race.

Like BJ, there was talk McReynolds wasn’t “in love” with baseball. That he would rather be doing something else, but baseball paid the bills. With McReynolds, it was hunting and fishing. BJ, meanwhile, is filming commercials to gather support to bring the World Cup to Tampa Bay and is involved in other soccer-related promotions. Perception is a cruel wind to temper.

Upton detractors also have two other arrows in their quill. One resides on the societal third rail of race and the other is based on BJ’s own flesh and blood.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention BJ Upton as a reflection of our still-lingering perceptions on race. Although made mainstream by African-American writer Scoop Jackson in a poorly worded October 2008 ESPN article, the BJ race issue has taken on many of the same traits of the Obama presidency. Like him and be labeled a “new wave intellectual”. Attack him and face being labeled a racist. There was a definite irony in last week’s rumors that had Upton, a Virginian, in a trade for a white man named Lee.

From the seed of Father Bossman comes another obstacle in the acceptance of son Melvin Emanuel, Jr.  As his own sibling prospers in the same chosen field, many have compared one to the other, even going as far as claiming the Rays got “the wrong Upton”. That is amazingly unfair. There are very few instances where the comparison of brothers is warranted. As far as I know, the Upton family didn’t tinker in the field of genetic manipulation and create two clone sons and DNA doesn’t work like that. Just ask the Brothers Aybar, who are seldom publicly compared.

There is more to BJ Upton than any stereotype, be it familiar or racial. He is, as I discussed, a complex collection of physical attributes. His one weakness, however, may be that he relies heavily on the approval of his peers. He was the little brother to Cliff Floyd during Uncle Cliffy’s time with the team and still appears to follow the lead of Carl Crawford, especially on the field.  This is important as only four years ago BJ was surrounded by the nefarious trio of Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes, and the ghosts of Josh Hamilton’s career.

Barring any drastic change in personnel or personality, 2011 will be one of the most interesting years in the career of BJ Upton. If Carl Crawford departs as expected, BJ will be the senior Ray. Will he ally with Evan Longoria in Crawford’s departure? Will they be the Castor and Pollux of the Rays, the twin constellation in a galaxy of Rays stars? Or will Upton still bear his crosses, struggle with perception, and carry with him the stigma of being one of the few position players left to wear the title “Devil Ray”?

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12 Comments

  1. Joe D. says:

    Very interesting, synopsis of BJ, I especially found the picture that you choose of BJ interesting.

    It sounds cliche, but I just want to see BJ having fun again.

  2. Kyle says:

    Wow, great read. You’re a fantastic writer. Keep it up.

  3. Mark says:

    Refreshing to read a take on BJ that doesn’t entirely lambast him.

    I agree, he’s a fascinating player with all the tools needed to excel. I’m glad they didn’t jump the gun and trade him and am one of the few fans that see light at the end of the tunnel for BJ.

    I consider him a very valuable member of this team who just needs to work on his consistency and plate discipline. Like Joe D said, BJ just needs to forget about the batting average, the strikeouts and the critics and just needs to start having fun again.

    Here’s hoping the Longoria spat was overblown and might instead motivate and propel BJ towards concluding 2010 with a strong second half and carrying that momentum into 2011!

  4. KillaTapes says:

    Very fresh read and I agree with the above comments!

  5. Myrna says:

    Refreshing and positive! Loved it!

  6. Don says:

    You know a lot of the fans problems with BJ is how he was presented to them by the media….basically as the next “star” for the Rays…
    Just think if he was presented as a decent fielded, with some speed but would probably only hit .220-.240….everybody would like BJ…
    He is NOT a star…basically a bad hitting outfielder…and about as far as being a leader on the Rays as you can get….accept it as is…

  7. Gus says:

    BJ would be LaMar Odom if he hit .270-22-85 with 25 sbs and loafed around on the bases and occasionally in CF and looked like he barely cared.

    At this point, I would kill for BJ as LaMar Odom. He’s actually more like Greg Oden — a chronic injury early in his career, flashes of brilliance and potential mask the fact that he’s not very helpful to your team. Oden is little offense, all defense. Upton same way. Except baseball it is tougher to carry a black hole on offense and still survive.

    Put it this way, when he was up with bases loaded in the 9th, did you have any confidence he’s make the called for baseball play and get the run home?

    Sticking with the basketball theme, for the second half, the “Upton rules” should be as follows:

    1. Never bats higher than 8th
    2. Sits down against hard throwing right handers
    3. Is not allowed with 500 feet of Desmond Jennings when he is called up
    4. Must make some concessions to his approach at the plate, learn how to bunt and otherwise come to the reality that the kid with the crazy pop in his bat isn’t coming through the Trop again.

  8. Jordi says:

    Thanks for the comments, folks! I really appreciate it and definitely want to thank Cork for having me aboard.

  9. Jordi says:

    Hey folks, thanks for the comments! They are much appreciated. I also want to thank Cork for having me aboard!

  10. Clark Brooks says:

    You’re right, there is no more polarizing topic in Tampa Bay sports right now. If you have an opinion, it’s going to be taken as an all-or-nothing, even if that’s not how you feel. I took some heat recently for a blog post at http://tampabay.sbnation.com/ where I said I can’t defend B.J. any longer. I don’t know how hard he does or doesn’t work. I don’t know how mentally focused he is or isn’t. My exposure to him is what I see during games. I don’t want to run him out of town. I think the Rays right now are better with him than without him. But others don’t feel that way and plays like the one that led to the discussion in the dugout with Longoria are, for me, indefensible (by the way, I wrote that blog post about that play, not what happened in the dugout afterward).
    Great write-up, Jordi.

  11. Sublime says:

    Good Write-up Jordi:

    Problem with being a Ray’s fan is that we have a tendency to want to Blame one or two people for all the problems with this team. When we’re doing well, we mention how this is a good team, When the team get’s no-hit, It’s BJ, Pat Burrell, and Navi’s fault. Not the team, just those individuals. Well two of the three are gone, just leaving BJ to catch the brunt of the chatter.

    My issue with BJ is his lack focus, Gus mentioned that he’s chronically hurt, I look at the fact he played with a Torn Labrum and didn’t complain or miss any real time for such a serious injury. Jameer Nelson missed 4 months with a Torn Labrum, while BJ played everyday. Maybe to his detriment, his once quick back appears to not be as fast, maybe due to compensating for his bad shoulder.

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