My New Favorite A.J.*

Until Wednesday evening, I never really thought much about Adam Jones. My knowledge of him was pretty much limited to a) he was dealt to Baltimore during Seattle’s decades of horrific management, b) my youngest son picked up one a faux No. 9 jersey when we were taking my oldest son to college a few years back and c) he was a centerfielder with a nice stick whose defense should have moved him to a corner a long time ago.

That was last month. Today, Adam Jones is one of my favorite players in the sport. All because he followed the less-traveled path originally championed by former First Lady Nancy Reagan. He said “No.”

Tuesday was the major league trade deadline, when contenders try to shore up weaknesses on the field or on the mound for the stretch drive. They do this by dealing with the league’s dregs, who hope to land some low-priced prospects or a lottery ticket A-baller or some simple salary relief for the last two months of the campaign.

Jones’s club, the Orioles, had already entered fire sale mode before the deadline struck, having dealt All-Star infielder Manny Machado to the Dodgers, Jonathan Schoop to the Brewers and Don’t Break Glass In Case of Tie reliever Zach Britton to the Yankees. The dreadful O’s were also shopping Jones to teams looking for a fourth outfielder or bench bat.

But Jones has something that none of those other Orioles possessed – the right to refuse a trade. By virtue of his 10 years in the big leagues and five with his current club, Jones can nix any trade involving him. The Orioles can cut him, but they can’t simply deal him to the A’s for a bullpen arm, at least not without his say so.

And they didn’t get it. Not to anyone. Jones was going to play these last two months in the same city, same ballpark, where he’s plied his trade for the past 11 seasons. God Bless him.

“When players walked out years ago and walked the picket lines and did all that stuff, they did all that for reasons like right now. I earned this and it’s my decision. I don’t have to explain it to nobody. It’s my decision,” Jones told the media following Tuesday’s game.

Virtually every year, players such as Jones are not just asked to waive their no-trade provisions so they can be sent to a contender down the stretch, but pressured to do so by the teams, the local media and the fans. “Why wouldn’t you want to play in a pennant race?” is the usual refrain. And, most players go along, accepting a deal without comment. Fred McGriff did this years ago when he was reluctant to leave his hometown Rays to join the Cubs’ chase for a pennant. A decade later, Ryan Dempster was roasted by Cubs fans when he changed his mind about a deal to Atlanta (he eventually signed off on a deal to Texas).

This is wrong, on many levels.

Players understand that getting swapped is part of the package when you play in MLB. It’s one of the trade offs for being exceedingly well compensated. But the opportunity to refuse a trade, as Jones said, was a hard-won right. It was the impetus of the Curt Flood case that ultimately launched free agency. The Cardinal outfielder wasn’t looking to bolt St. Louis – he didn’t want to go to Philly, with its questionable racial history.

Moreover, the only life that’s truly affected by a swap is the players involved. They’re the ones being relocate to a new town, for a short period of time, on a moment’s notice. If they have a contractual right to reject such a forced move, why the hell should they be pressured by the team that employs them or the fans that root for them? The fans and media have virtually no real stake in the outcome, and the teams much less real share.

Finally, you’ve got this unanswered question: if my boss tells me he no longer wants my services, why should I make it easy on him if that’s not what I wish. Why should I do anything to help what will, upon agreement, become my former team?

And Jones is right about another thing. He owes no one an explanation for his decision. Rather, Jones and big leaguers like him owe their teams one thing – their best effort every night. Jones has delivered that to the Orioles franchise for more than 10 seasons. All he wants is two more months to keep doing that. Hats off to him for resisting the pressure to give that up.

 

*My previous favorite A.J. was, of course, White Sox Super Pest A.J. Pierzynski. Baseball is much better with villains, and no one in my baseball lifetime played that role with more zeal than Pierzynski.

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