Six years ago, it seemed like Khalil Greene would be an All-Star shortstop. Drafted 13th overall by the Padres in the first round of the 2002 draft, ahead of youngsters who proved to be good players—Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Cole Hamels, James Loney, Denard Span, Joe Blanton, Matt Cain. It wasn’t a bad call. Greene spent about 1.5 seasons in the sticks, showing good pop for a middle infielder, and in 2004 he took over a shortstop position that had been a revolving door for the Padres since the decline of Gary Templeton 15 years earlier. He hit .273/.349/.446 as a rookie, including .301/.353/.543 away from the difficult Petco Park, and finished second to Jason Bay in the Rookie of the Year balloting. The Padres seemed to have had a shortstop they could build around.
What they really had was a problem. Selectivity had never been a big part of Greene’s approach, and after his rookie year he went backwards, fishing for pitches in order to generate power. He hit as many as 27 home runs, but he had trouble getting his on-base percentage above .300. From 2005 through 2007 he hit .250/.301/.446. His approach still worked on the road, where he hit .273/.328/.500, but he just couldn’t cope with the distant walls in San Diego and hit a painful .227/.273/.389 there. This bifurcation led to some very strange results, as in 2007 Greene became the only shortstop in history to have an OBP under .300 while driving even 60 extra-base hits.
In 2008, his hitting went completely off the rails. He exacerbated frequent injury problems by trying to punch out an equipment chest, breaking his hand. He batted only .213/.260/.339 and for the first time he was helpless on the road as well. That December, the Padres traded him to the Cardinals, getting the useful reliever Luke Gregerson in the exchange. St. Louis would seem to have been a great opportunity for Greene, a competitive team that needed a shortstop that played in a less punishing park. Instead, the season turned into a nightmare as Greene played poorly, the apparent result of his developing social anxiety disorder.
This offseason, Greene moved to the Rangers as a free agent, hoping to get his career restarted in a utility role. Instead, he’s been unable to report due to his continuing anxiety problems. Today the Rangers moved to void his contract. They have no expectation that he will report any time soon, if at all.
When Greene was young, you used to hear occasional references to the serenity given him by his membership in the Bahá'í Faith. No doubt this is still true, and yet the things that have always comforted you can be no protection against anxiety. The frightening thing about anxiety disorder is that it acts like a computer virus taking over your mental operating system; you have sensations of fear even when you rationally know that there is no reason for your brain to be sending those signals. It’s like the ancient "You are about to be mauled by a bear, caveman!" software has been switched on, and you can’t turn it off even though you know you’re not a caveman and there are no bears around. It is incorrectly viewed as a psychological problem; it’s more of a chemistry problem. As such, medicine can help, but for those for whom the condition is chronic it can make everyday living quite difficult.
Anxiety disorder can make it very tough to get out of bed, so it’s not surprising that Greene would have a problem swinging a bat in front of 30,000 people, or traveling all around the country. I have no great insight to offer here except that ballplayers have never been immune to these kinds of things, going back to the earliest days of the last century, when a future Hall of Famer named Elmer Flick had to retire due to undefined stomach problems that sound a heck of a lot like anxiety disorder from the descriptions. Greene has options available to him, like psychotherapy and pharmaceuticals, not available in Flick’s day, and we can be hopeful he will be able to take full advantage of them and get back on the field.
Sometimes when I criticize a player’s performance, I get email saying, "Why do you hate Joe Schlabotnik?" My reply is always that it’s never personal, it’s about the bottom line, which for a ballclub is winning. I wish every player well, and Greene is an example of why: ballplayers are human beings, just like anyone else, with the same frailties. The least we can do in life is to try to have a little patience and generosity for everyone.
WRAP ALEX RODRIGUEZ IN MYLAR, SAVE HIM
Six words to offer on Thursday’s A-Rod presser: Cody Ransom, Angel Berroa, Ramiro Pena. Brian Cashman took a huge gamble last season trying to survive the absence of Alex Rodriguez with this troika of mediocrity. They hit .202 and the Yankees had a losing record for the month Rodriguez was gone. Good ballclubs have failed to come back from such decisions, and even the Yankees might have been crippled by that call in seven out of 10 other seasons. Instead, they won a championship. This year, no such gamble will have to be undertaken, at least not with Rodriguez (knock wood and all that). If you’re looking for extra reasons that the club will repeat despite the changes wrought by the offseason and another year of aging for already-old starts, 28 extra days of A-Rod should be reason number one.
NO INNUENDO, PLEASE
Yes, you too can have a scoreboard for a bed. My only question is, who is pitching for the visitors, Kyle Farnsworth?
THE CHAT AND OTHER ENCOUNTERS
• I’ll be back here later today, chatting away with you, at 12:30 p.m. ET.
• Wholesome Reading has been updated. Warning! Politics!
• For those in the New York-New Jersey area, I’ll be talking baseball in person on Sunday and Monday, along with my BP colleagues Kevin Goldstein, Christina Kahrl, and Jay Jaffe. On Sunday at 3 p.m. we’ll be at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center at Montclair State University, New Jersey. If you haven’t been there, it’s a great place to see Yankees memorabilia, as well as fat, bearded sportswriters in captivity.
• On Monday, we four will be in New York City at the Barnes & Noble at 18th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan, beginning at 6 p.m. I hope to see you on one or both occasions.