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Joe Henderson Columns

Dugout dust-up reveals Longoria is Rays' leader

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 06:29 AM

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ST. PETERSBURG -

They won't put the captain's "C" on his uniform top just yet and there certainly won't be a coronation or parade, but Evan Longoria just became more than the face of the Tampa Bay Rays. He became their leader.

While it's true that there weren't a lot of candidates for the job, someone had to stand up and shout "enough!" That's just what Longoria did when he called out B.J. Upton for his lack of effort in Sunday's game against Arizona.

Real leadership is holding the people around you as accountable as you hold yourself, which is what Cliff Floyd especially did during the Summer of Love in 2008. Longoria just gave us a flashback.

He's the right man for the job, too. Longoria is one of the first players to the clubhouse every day and his preparation is meticulous. Obviously, he's a gifted offensive player but he works at least as hard on defense. He never makes an excuse. He doesn't seek the spotlight but he doesn't shy from it either.

He handled this situation perfectly, the way a leader would.

You've seen the tape of what went on in the dugout, of course. Watch how Longoria initially approaches Upton. No one would confirm what was said, but we can guess. The sentence probably started with something like, "What the ..." and went downhill from there.

What happened next was the best part. While Upton lost his cool and had to be bear-hugged by Willy Aybar, Longoria walked away. There was a lot of testosterone flowing in that dugout right about then but he understood the point had been made.

I had plenty of email from people who expected more emotion in the moment from Manager Joe Maddon. They wanted to see Maddon show something - outrage, preferably - other than California cool. Truth is, Maddon was on his way down the dugout to have his say when Longoria beat him to it.

Maddon said later he was happy to let the players handle this, especially since Longoria wasn't the only player upset with Upton. This was a message best sent by the players.

Longoria handled the aftermath perfectly, too.

First, Upton dismissed the tiff as, "Nothing, man, just a little run-in."

Longoria then appeared in the clubhouse and told reporters, "It's just the by-product of a frustrated team. We're trying to win games. Guys are going to have differences of opinions, it's the bottom line. We've talked about it, we've hashed it out, and it goes no further than today."

A leader knows when enough has been said.

Now it's Maddon's turn, along with Executive Vice President Andrew Friedman. Even though Longoria said what he needed to, that can't be the last word on this subject.

Maddon was clearly miffed after Sunday's game and everyone will be watching to see what, if anything, he'll do before the Rays take the field tonight at Boston.

This is the fourth time Upton has been called out for lack of hustle in less than two years and, well, how many more times can anyone tolerate? It's dangerous to make too much of one incident, but it may be just as dangerous if the Rays to make to little of it, too.

After a while, it isn't the Rays' equivalent of "Manny Being Manny" - or even "B.J. Being Manny." It's who he is.

So here we go.

I don't want to hear that it's only June. The Rays have reached a tipping point in this season.

They just had a 149-pitch no-hitter thrown against them by journeyman Edwin Jackson. They lost five consecutive series and have slipped to third place in the American League East. They aren't hitting, they aren't fielding with the precision we're used to seeing. Their lineup has more holes than a gopher colony.

Someone has to take charge, preferably by example.

It may be strange to think of a player in just his third season as the leader of a team with serious playoff aspirations, but it's not as strange as what we all saw Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field. The moment demanded someone take a stand because that's what leaders do. That's what Longoria did.

Captain of the Rays is not my job to give, but if it was I know what I would say.

"You're hired."

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