It goes back to September, when Ozzie Guillen openly disagreed with the decision to shut down Peavy after the Sox were essentially eliminated from the AL Central race. This is the headline-garnering dig:
"I would never quit on a team. … Ozzie didn't finish the season with us the last (two) games. So I don't know who quit on who."
It's been a wild offseason for Peavy and Guillen. Their dialogue already had careened from "blunt assessing" to "super-supportive one-upmanship." Now it's tilted back the other way, with Peavy pointing a finger at Guillen in response to Guillen's finger-pointing in September.
I would call the exchange exhausting, but this one is actually useful, even though I'm not certain of the objective truth.
According to Peavy, shortly after his glorious-but-short-sighted four-inning relief effort against Washington ("In hindsight, it probably wasn't the smartest thing to do," he said), he could no longer throw bullpen sessions, and he couldn't play much catch, either. So after Detroit swept the Sox in early September, some people thought it would be a good idea for Peavy to stop straining himself and popping anti-inflammatories in hopes of pitching so-so baseball.
Here's who was for the decision and who was against it:
- For it: Peavy, Don Cooper, Kenny Williams, Herm Schneider.
- Against it: Guillen.
But Peavy says Guillen wasn't present when this was discussed, adding, "I'm not sure if he had something going on or what." When Peavy told Guillen about the strategy that was agreed upon, Guillen responded as though Peavy was bailing on him.
The above pullquote is great for generating controversy, but in terms of understanding what went wrong, this one resonates much more:
At the end of the day, Ozzie didn't really know what goes on ... in the pitching realm of things, he didn't have a whole lot of input and know what was going on.
Assuming Peavy is correct that Guillen wasn't around for the decision in any way, these words are open to interpretation.
If you're in the pro-Guillen camp, this might explain why Guillen thinks Cooper stabbed him in the back. A manager should be present for the meeting Peavy had with Williams and Cooper. It's unclear whether Guillen skipped it, or whether it was arranged without his knowledge. And if it's the latter case, that puts the manager in a powerless position.
But then again, when it comes to Guillen's last month, you can't ignore the Florida Marlins behind the curtain. From Guillen lying about his future in his farewell press conference to Williams expressing relief that nobody asked him about tampering, there was clearly a pre-existing arrangement. It's just that nobody knows how early it was plannned. If Guillen already knew he would be managing in Miami by early September, maybe he'd already checked out and felt like obstructing anybody he felt had wronged him.
We're probably not going to know what really happened, because even the third-party accounts haven't lined up with anything. It does underscore the idea behind hiring Robin Ventura. Even if you're immensely skeptical of the Ventura decision and only believe he's a patsy for Williams, that will be a marked improvement over the last year of the Guillen regime, because at least everybody will be in the same room when key decisions are made.
Listening to Peavy is an interesting exercise. Like any athlete who knows his words are going to be parsed, he tries to stick to safe platitudes and sports-talk speech staples ("It is what it is," "At the end of the day," etc.).
But unlike Paul Konerko or Mark Buehrle, who always sound the same answering any question, you can hear Peavy shift into a genuine gear when the right question is asked. He searches for words and starts some sentences over, and that's when it's time to listen more closely.
If you don't care about the Guillen stuff, there was a five-minute segment earlier in the interview that's a lot more applicable to the future. Rongey had some good follow-up questions regarding Peavy's (in)ability to hold himself back, and specifically asked whether he's willing and able to lower the demands he puts on his body.
Peavy avoided giving a "yes," and explained it this way:
It's such a fine line, Chris. If you stay out there, you are that competitor, you're this guy ... if you get hurt or do something bad, you're hard-headed, you're stubborn. But you know, if you don't, you're a bulldog, you know? You're that guy everybody wants.
And if you're the opposite, and you're like, "Man, I'm tired. I might need to come out of this game," you can be labeled soft. It's such a fine line, to where you don't want to be labeled as this guy, you're coming out of games and stuff, maybe your teammates and coaches think you can do more, so it's a fine line.
If Peavy, Ventura and Cooper haven't already discussed this, it should be at the top of the to-do list in spring training.
It's long past a matter of desire. Peavy's body just won't allow him to be the bulldog he once was. But given what he went through to come back, the "soft" label is out of the running, too. In fact, he's so far away from "soft" that it would be great to see him leave after six innings and 90 pitches once in an while.
This is what needs to be expressed and understood by two of those three people, more so Ventura and Cooper. Based on the events of the past two seasons, nobody can expect a message of restraint to register with Peavy while he's in his adrenaline-addled, mound-stomping, self-reflexive-profanity-dropping game state.
Ventura and Cooper can use that version of Peavy to their advantage, if they can get past the in-the-moment influences. Ventura can tell Peavy to give him the ball at 94 pitches, Peavy can argue his case on the mound and in the dugout afterward, and everybody will know whose decision it was. Essentially, they can make Peavy look every bit the bulldog he wants to be, minus the part that ruins him.