Checking out the chat boards this morning, I find it to be becoming undeniable that Peter Bourjos is the most controversial player among fans in St. Louis Cardinals history.
A certain sect of Redbirds rooters is absolutely convinced there is an international conspiracy in play designed to prevent one of the greatest centerfielders in history from realizing his potential. They’re so divided on the issue that they often demand Bourjos be traded away from the mean old Cardinals so he can blossom elsewhere. Let the fortunes of the team as a whole be damned to give this poor boy some justice.
Why in the world would any manager worth his salt not want to put the best players on his roster on the field?
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And why is it required that fans choose to support either Bourjos or fellow outfielder Jon Jay instead of both?
It's all Mike Matheny's fault that Bourjos never hit his stride because he didn't allow him to play enough. Nevermind that Bourjos in 2014 got the second-most at-bats and played in the second-highest total of games in a single season of his career by a wide margin. And still he managed only to hit .231 with a .294 on-base percentage.
But don't point out the numbers to the stat worshipers. Numbers don't lie -- except in this one particular case, apparently.
If you point out any detail of Bourjos' poor season -- or profess that you think St. Louis' starting centerfielder, Jay, is a pretty decent ballplayer -- you're an idiot, a Kool-Aid drinker or worse.
I don't hold grudges against any Cardinals player who hustles and shows he cares about the game. That being said, while I am a Jay fan, there are few things I would like more than to see Bourjos get on base about 40 percent of the time and steal 50 bases. That's going to help the team as a whole, no matter which way playing time is sliced. But there isn't a lot in Bourjos' file to make any sane person think that's going to happen. Even in his outlier season of 2011, his only year where he played well enough and stayed healthy enough to be a starter, he only hit .271 and got on base 32.7 percent of the time.
That’s the bottom end of possible for an outfielder.
The Cardinals were wise to keep Bourjos around in hope that he's finally past the nagging injuries used to try to explain his halting 2014 campaign. Fortunately it appears that all the venom exists only in St. Louis fandom, not the clubhouse. Have you ever noticed that when Bourjos made a good play, Jay was the first one out of the dugout to congratulate him and vice versa? So there is no rational reason to separate these two talented players.
Even as an extra outfielder, Bourjos figures to get plenty of chances to play with a lefty in center and another in right field.
So let's back off the attacks on Jay, an innocent bystander in this controversy, and Matheny, who we now know had several good reasons to bench Bourjos.
It seemed fairly obvious to me (and also to a guy pretty knowledgable about playing centerfield named Jim Edmonds, if you don't like my opinion) last season that Bourjos was benched at least in part because his slump seemed to be weighing heavily up on him. He was carrying poor at-bats to the field, making uncharacteristic poor defensive plays, as Edmonds noted on several occasions during post game shows. So it seems the skipper was protecting Bourjos by taking off the pressure, not jerking him around for no reason.
Whose best interest would it serve to see Bourjos driven into the ground as his confidence was crushed?
Then we learned after the season that Bourjos was limited by knee trouble that eventually needed surgery. Still there is no reason that can be fathomed why Bourjos wasn't playing every day?
Let's give the conspiracy theories a break. Starting in just a couple more weeks the Cardinals will get a chance to prove who deserves playing time. And the guys who are playing best are going to get it.