A Mr. Personality he ain’t. Engaging with fans? Not a chance. A quote machine with the press corps? Not on your life. An ideal teammate? You betcha!
Zack Greinke simply doesn’t talk. He mumbles. I really never paid much attention to the guy before he came over to the Dodgers. Yes, I was aware of his pitching credentials and I’d heard of his anxiety disorder issues, but I had no idea how reserved and quiet this man was until witnessing the little interaction he had with fans and seeing him in action.
His introductory press conference was about as interesting as watching paint dry. His answers were rather boring. He said nothing earth shattering. No bulletin board material for other teams such as several years ago when Barry Zito after his signing told the San Francisco press corps that he looked forward to beating the Dodgers. When they joked with Zack about playing Magic Johnson one on one, he simply said that he wouldn’t risk injuring himself playing basketball. When asked if he enjoyed the National League and specifically hitting, he simply brushed off the question and reiterated that he was there to do his best pitching.
Spring Training arrived with much fanfare. Dodger fans were excited about the expanded payroll and were entering into the season with an unconventional optimism. I think Greinke was uncomfortable with the open nature of Dodger Spring camp and the fact that players aren’t segregated from fans except for some ropes and recently installed metal barricades. While nearly every player would stop and sign autographs and if not that, acknowledge the fans with friendly hello’s and waves, Greinke was almost completely mute as he walked through the player pathway.
“Good Morning, Mr. Greinke,” people would say to him. There would be no response, or there would be a little lip movement, but nothing audible. Cartainly there was little if any eye contact. Day after day it was the same thing. Fans would shout, “Hi Zack,” and his response would be the same, “(mumble, mumble…inaudible…).” My thinking was that this guy is either 1) super shy, 2) super uncomfortable amongst people or, 3) (heaven forbid) a jerk.
The season arrived and I think I got my answer to that question.
In Greinke’s second start of the year in San Diego, the Carlos Quentin episode occurred and his collarbone was broken. He faced reporters after returning from the hospital. “Quentin says that he said something to him that set him off. What was it that you said?” he was asked. “Yeah, (mumble…mumble…inaudible) I don’t really know…” I remember thinking. “No follow up? That wasn’t an answer. You let him get away with that.” I also realized that Greinke is extremely uncomfortable in interview situations. Frankly, I think he’s uncomfortable around people he doesn’t really know too well.
Early on though we found out that Zack knows baseball. The press corps was told that when Stan Kasten and Ned Colletti interviewed Greinke during the signing process, Greinke talked with them for several hours about nothing but baseball administration, scouting and player development. He knew about the Dodgers farm system and recent signees. He raved to them about recent signee Cory Seager. he spoke in detail about his knowledge of the Dodger lineup and how to pitch to them. Now that I see how he interacts with the media and fans, I’m very convinced that Greinke is G.M. material. He is so tight lipped, I’m surprised a word ever gets out. There is no better G.M. in the world than the one that doesn’t show his cards. It’ll frustrate opposing organizations and the fans to death, but in the end, the secrets of an organization stay put. Zack probably missed his calling by not going into espionage as a profession.
Another thing we have learned about Zack this season, that is quite admirable, is that he’s a great teammate. The June 12th game against Arizona was evidence of that. Puig got hit in the face with a pitch and “boom” Greinke planted some Rawlings horsehide in Montero’s back. If you look at the sequence of pitches that Montero received in that at-bat, Zack was sending a message from the start. First pitch, fastball in on the hands, ball one. Second pitch, fastball in on the hands, ball two. Third pitch, inside corner fastball, fouled back. Fourth pitch, fastball behind Montero, hits him square on the back.
It was a message pitch. It was a no doubt plunk job, special delivery at 92 MPH. It was out and out team protection following the unwritten rules of the game and a body shot that leaves a bruise. No head hunting, no dirty play. Good old country hardball. Greinke’s teammates were shown that their man had their back.
So when Ian Kennedy came up and in at Greinke’s head when he came to the plate the next inning, Zack’s teammates went to war for their man. No wonder Mark McGwire wanted to tear off Kirk Gibson’s head during the brawl. There are brush-backs and there are intentionally hit batters, and then there’s head hunting. What Arizona was doing was dirty, it was head hunting. Even Giants wonks agree with that. On the morning Giants show on their flagship today, their morning show host in an interview with Mike Krukow had this exchange:
Brian Murphy (radio host): “I’m loath to give the Dodgers any kind of credit, but I think they had the moral high-ground last night. When Puig got hit on the nose, that was pretty dangerous. And then they (the Dodgers) hit Montero on the ribs, they handled it the right way, I thought. I thought it was over at that point. But then, for you (question to Mike Krukow)…with Ian Kennedy going up near Greinke’s neck, that to you was the red flag, the worst part of the evening?”
Krukow: “Well, I thought the worst part was when he threw the ball to Puig and hit him up in the face. That’s the worst one, but when you go back a second time and you’re going high again. There’s no call for that…”
Now some will call Greinke a trouble-maker, and I guarantee you that if they do, they didn’t see the entirety of Tuesday night’s exchange. Greinke doesn’t back down and he defends his team’s honor. That is to be commended. That’s the type of player you get in the trenches and fight for. Hopefully, that’s the type of activity that motivates this ball club into a winning streak, (you know, those things that happen when you score more runs than the other team for more than two games in a row). Will we look back at June 12th and identify that date as the day the Dodger season turned around? I hope so. If we do, we can thank Zack Greinke.
What do you have to say about that Zack? I can hear his response now, “(mumble, mumble… inaudible).”