At 16, Reds left fielder Jonny Gomes lost his best friend in a car accident. At 22, he nearly died of a heart attack. He had to fight his way to the majors, battle injuries, scrap for jobs.
In short, he is about the last person who would celebrate another player’s misfortune.
Yet, Gomes spent much of Thursday trying to clear his name after he reportedly sang, “Wainwright is gone! Wainwright is gone!” upon learning that Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright had suffered a serious elbow injury.
Gomes, 30, said he did nothing of the sort. Hall of Fame baseball writer Hal McCoy changed his initial report, removing the quote in question. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, never one to back down from even the slightest offense, said, “I happen to know Gomes. I don’t think he meant anything by it.”
La Russa added that he had not heard what Gomes actually said. Gomes said he did not say anything wrong, and reached out to explain his side Thursday to Reds writers, a Cardinals writer and three St. Louis radio stations as well as FOXSports.com.
He also left a message for Wainwright and planned to speak Thursday night with Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak.
“Once you’re in professional baseball, starting in the minor leagues, you create this brotherhood,” Gomes said. “You’re going through so much, whether it’s a long bus ride in the minor leagues to getting traded to getting non-tendered to battling with an injury.
“I guarantee you that (Wainwright) is going to reach out to other ballplayers that aren’t on his team and ask about their rehab. It’s not about the name on the front or the name on the back in a situation like this. We’re all going through it together.”
How, then, did Gomes find himself in the middle of this mess?
Here is his version:
Early Wednesday morning, he learned of Wainwright’s injury from former major-league pitcher Rob Dibble, who had just interviewed him on Sirius XM.
Gomes, always one of the Reds’ first arrivals, then asked Zach Bonkowski, the team’s director of promotional events, if he could put off a video shoot for 15 minutes, giving him time to work out. Bonkowski said yes, prompting Gomes to put his arm around Bonkowski and sing him a lyric from “The Karate Kid” movie: “You’re the best around. Never ever going to let you down.”
At that point, Gomes said, two other Reds players were in the clubhouse. Some of the team’s beat writers also were present, but not nearby. Gomes asked the first player, “Is Wainwright gone?” Then he posed the same question to the second: “Is Wainwright gone?”
Gomes does not deny singing. He does not deny asking about Wainwright’s status. He denies singing, “Wainwright is gone! Wainwright is gone!”
If anything, Gomes said, he could relate to Wainwright’s plight.
Gomes, when he was a sophomore in high school, was involved in a car accident while riding in the backseat with his best friend, Adam Westcott. The driver lost control of the car trying to avoid another vehicle and hit a telephone pole. Westcott was killed. Gomes later had the initials, “AW” tattooed on his right biceps.
“I’m the leader of the pack of dealing with adversity,” Gomes said. “My best friend, the best athlete I’ve ever known, died in my arms. I had a heart attack at (22) years old. I’ve been non-tendered twice. I’ve had surgery myself.”
Gomes was a 2009 finalist for the Hutch Award, given annually to the major leaguer who best exemplifies the honor, courage and dedication of former player and manager Fred Hutchinson. He also has won the Heart and Hustle Award, presented by the MLB Players’ Alumni Association, as a member of both the Rays and Reds.
The Reds and Cardinals engaged in a vicious brawl last season, but Gomes said the last thing he wants to do is add needless animosity to the rivalry.
“This has nothing to do with the Reds and Cardinals,” Gomes said. “We’re talking about a human being and his health.”