No, pitchers don’t have to look like pitchers.
Clay Buchholz has this thing around his neck. It must be one of those necklaces that ballplayers wear to promote good health, but his has a uniquely country vibe. This necklace looks like it was hacked out of a ship’s rigging; you know, maybe it’s more pirate than country; it’s all frayed and gnarly. Buchholz is not an intimidating presence. He’s just not. He’s as narrow as a high school player and he bears a facial resemblance to the infamously craven Theon Greyjoy. (A quick Google search shows, unhappily for Clay, that I’m not the first to notice this particular separated-at-birth occurrence.)
I have to believe that the basic shape of Curt Schilling’s recent criticism – “I don’t think he [Clay] wants to be [an ace]… you have to have a little bit of a dark side…” – was already familiar to the Sox righty. Clay wears his cap pulled down tight and his heirloom from Blackbeard and his scraggly hair, he’s doing his best to play the part, but it still seems like he’s playing the part. He seems like a talented young guy who is trying super hard to perform and be everything people want him to be.
Isn’t it odd, though, that even players put so much stock in presentation, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary? I’d be much more concerned if Schilling inferred that Buchholz didn’t prepare properly.
Think about Greg Maddux. Was there ever a baseball player who looked more like a regular dude? He had that suburban belly and that check-out-my-new-grill grin. Consider Schilling himself, who could usually be found on the bench between innings with an expression of torment that conveyed less a will to win than a need for a jumbo bottle of Tums, STAT. Both guys succeeded at a tremendously high level.
Of course, there have been other greats – I’m thinking in particular of Randy Johnson – who generated an ultra-intense, bordering on bloodthirsty vibe. Not really so many, though, right?
What I’m getting at here is this: Does Clay Buchholz have to demonstrate an apparent willingness to gnaw raw flesh off the bones of his enemies in order to convince us that he can be the leader of the Red Sox pitching staff? Not against a Phillies team that might win seventy if they get a ton of breaks. Clay made them walk the plank. His curveball was a peek-a-boo special all afternoon and the Sox hitters knocked five into the seats.
You’re next, Porcello.
Owen King writes stories, and also has a website.