David Price has to know better. He’s a five-time All-Star. He’s turning 32 in a month. He’s currently in the second year of the largest contract ever given to a pitcher. He of all people should know that criticism comes with the territory, and that truly fair criticism, rare as it may be, ought to be tolerated if not welcomed, baseball being a public trust and all that.
If Price didn’t know it by the beginning of his 10th major league season, well, surely he should have gleaned it after the public became aware last week (thanks to Dan Shaughnessy) of everything that happened between him and NESN on-air analyst Dennis Eckersley on the team plane in late June. According to Shaughnessy, Price cursed out Eckersley out for a dismissive comment (“Yuck”) he made on the broadcast about a teammate’s performance in rehab starts. “Here he is—the greatest pitcher who ever lived! This game is easy for him!” Price supposedly crowed on the charter, before telling Eckersley to “get the f--- out of here.”
There is something to be said for sticking up for your teammates; there is something to be said for being sensitive. To judge, though, by Price’s remarks to the Boston press corps Saturday night, his first since the Eckersley story came to light, he is simply entitled, thick and obdurate. As ESPN.com’s Scott Lauber has it, Price said that although he could have handled the matter differently himself, Eckersley needs to make a habit of spending more time in the clubhouse. “He’s the one guy I’ve seen in my career that doesn’t ever show his face in the clubhouse. There’s a reason behind that.”
Why, in Price’s view, should Eckersley spend more time in the clubhouse? “If Eck was around, he’d know who we are… I mean if you’re going to say what he says, you know, come around. Just show your face.”
Here Price elides the distinction between legitimate criticism of the Red Sox’ play—of which Eckersley provides plenty—and personal judgments. He’s right that an observer should spend some time in the clubhouse to say with any authority that, oh, Rick Porcello has a poor work ethic. One need not, though, spend any time there to say with authority that Rick Porcello’s 2017 ERA is a disappointing 4.55. It’s a fact!
Besides, whatever the comments in the latter bucket might lack in the rah-rah department, they serve the team’s telecasts well. Hometown fans demand and appreciate honesty. What could be more distant and insipid than an endlessly positive and one-sided account? Just ask Redskins loyalists how much they enjoy or trust what spills forth from Daniel Snyder’s Pravda in Landover.
And yet Price notes that, since the incident—as the Red Sox have gone a middling 13–13—Eckersley “has been really good. He’s said a lot of positive stuff about everybody in this clubhouse.”
Dennis Eckersley is a six-time All-Star. He closed the clincher of the ’89 World Series. He won an MVP in ’92. He’s in the Hall of Fame. In his 24-year career, he produced 62.5 wins above replacement. If David Price excels for eight or nine more years, he’ll have a career output on par with Eckersley’s.
All of which is to say that Eckersley has all the credibility necessary to make any assessment he’d like about the 2017 Red Sox. He is under no obligation to say “a lot of positive stuff.” The fact that David Price thinks he is—it brings just one word to mind: Yuck.
A previous version of this story stated that Dennis Eckersley said "Ugh" instead of "Yuck" as the comment that irked David Price. Sports Illustrated regrets this error.