J.D. Drew And Perception

How unfortunate circumstances made one player hated by two different cities, for contradictory reasons.

J.D. Drew (Flickr.com/-nanio-)

Perception is a funny thing.

Dale Murphy was a two-time National League Most Valuable Player Award winner. He went to seven All-Star Games and won five Gold Gloves and four Silver Sluggers. Last week, 106 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted for Murphy for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

J.D. Drew finished sixth in the NL MVP voting once, in 2004. He made an American League All-Star team in 2008. When Drew hits the Hall of Fame ballot in 2017, he might receive a couple of votes; he likely won’t garner the five percent needed to stay on the ballot.

According to Baseball Reference, Murphy compiled 42.6 WAR in 18 big league seasons. That’s tied for 358th all time. Murphy’s peak WAR – or his total WAR from his top seven seasons – was 39. His best season came in 1987, when he produced 7.4 WAR.

Drew compiled 42.4 WAR in 14 seasons, tied for 362nd in baseball history. His peak WAR was 30.8, and his best season came in 2004, an 8.1 WAR campaign for Atlanta.

Comparing the two, Murphy’s prime was clearly better than Drew’s; though Drew’s best season outpaced Murphy’s. They produced roughly equal value throughout their careers, but Drew was more consistent. Drew also produced more value on per-year basis, again speaking to his consistency.

Murphy is one of the most beloved players from his generation, credited for playing the game the right way and his likeable personality with fans and the media. It’s the reason why veteran Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Bob Brookover voted for Murphy – and only Murphy – on his 2013 Hall of Fame ballot.

Drew, on the other hand, is one of the most disdained players of his generation. And he’s hated by two different cities – for two different, almost contradictory reasons.

In 1997, the Philadelphia Phillies selected Drew with the second overall pick in the June Amateur draft. A star outfielder at Florida State University, Drew was the first player in college baseball history to hit 30 homers and swipe 30 bases in the same season. He was the answer to the prayers of desperate fans across the Delaware Valley.

But with super agent Scott Boras pulling the strings, Drew refused to accept the Phillies’ $2.6 million dollar offer; he wouldn’t take anything less than $10 million. He never signed in Philadelphia, and instead played the 2007 season in an independent league.

In 1998, Drew was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals and signed a $7 million contract. He effectively dissed one of the most passionate and unforgiving fan bases in the country, and he never lived it down.

Drew made his first appearance at Veterans Stadium in 1999, and drew a wild amount of boos (and raining batteries) from the outraged crowd. It was unprecedented hatred of an opposing player, even for Philadelphia standards. Every time Drew came back to the City of Brotherly Love, the boos came back to greet him.
Now flash forward to 2007, when Drew signed a five-year, $70 million deal with the Red Sox. At this point in Drew’s career, he had established a persona of quiet consistency. He wasn’t flashy, but he could clearly hit, having not posted an OPS+ under 126 in his previous four seasons.

But apparently, this was not good enough for Sox fans. Despite putting up OPS+ of 105, 138, 134 and 109 in his first four seasons in Boston, the Fenway Faithful inaptly labeled him as “soft.” The nickname “Nancy Drew” became the standard. Somehow, even though Drew was one of the more patient hitters on the team during his tenure, he became known as the guy who would leave the bat on his shoulders in clutch situations.

To recap: Red Sox fans hated J.D. Drew because they thought he was a bad baseball player. Meanwhile, Phillies fans hated Drew because he dissed them. But if Drew really were a bad player, Phillies fans would have no reason to care; they’d actually be relieved that he never signed there. In effect, Phillies fans hated Drew because they thought he was a very good player.

And so Drew remains one of the most hated players of his generation, by two different cities, for the opposite reason. He was a quiet guy, who did his job, did it pretty well, and never asked for anything. By no account was he brash with fans and the media; but there’s nothing to suggest that he was a superlative personality, either.

Drew and Dale Murphy were identical players on the field. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find two players more comparable. They were both very good; not great.

But thanks to perception, one is an all-time favorite, a Hall of Famer to one-fifth of the sitting voters. The other is a guy who ran into unfortunate circumstances and a misguided public.

Categories: Baseball Hall of Fame Boston Red Sox Dale Murphy J.D. Drew Philadelphia Phillies

As the resident non-Red Sox fan of this blog -- my allegiance lies 300 miles South in Philadelphia -- I aim to provide completely objective analysis without letting my heart or any of my other organs get in the way. "Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear." Think about it.

13 Responses to “J.D. Drew And Perception” Subscribe

  1. Chris January 18, 2013 at 9:32 AM #

    Maybe it was because Dale Murphy actually played over 150 games a year for ten straight years, as opposed to Drew's 120 a year for the Sox. It's not like we were getting JD's awesome OPS+ every day… more like 3 out of every 4 days.

  2. Dan Podheiser January 18, 2013 at 10:27 AM #

    @Chris:

    Drew actually played 140, 109, 137 and 139 games in his first four seasons in Boston. In his fifth season, injuries caused him to only play 81 games. Prior to coming to the Red Sox, Drew had played 140 games in a season just twice — in 2004 and 2006.

    • Chris January 18, 2013 at 11:46 AM #

      I acknowledge your point about JD playing more games for the Red Sox and including the last year is a little unfair to his games per year number. I'm just saying that the knock on JD wasn't his average performance (OPS/OPS+), it's just that he didn't seem to play enough or get enough plate appearances in the later years for those averages to shine through. In 2010, he played 139 games, but 35 of them weren't complete games (and roughly 15 of those were 6 innings or less).

  3. Hammyofdoom January 18, 2013 at 11:38 AM #

    I truly never understood the hate felt towards JD Drew. Yes, his first season as a Red Sox was not spectacular and I understand that first impressions are set in stone for a lot of people, but his defense alone was worth giving the guy some props. His June of 08 was something the likes of which I have NEVER seen before by a Red Sox player: OPS of 1.3, 12 home runs, 21 total XBH, .462 OBP and that alone made me like the guy.
    Why is it that he gets raked over the coals for missing time when Kevin Youkilis, the dearly beloved Red Sox, missed almost the exact same amount of time during that span? Because Youk would get pissed and toss his helmet more often? I get it, JD is quiet, he doesn't talk much, he was never flashy, he seemed a little aloof, but dammit I always liked the guy because he just went out there and did his job. I guess I never saw it as "he didnt care" but more along the lines of "Man, he has a lot of stuff going on". It really is unfortunate how much flak he gets, especially for the contract… he was actually WORTH it

  4. Jim L. January 18, 2013 at 11:45 AM #

    I am one Red Sox fan who liked Drew. I'll never forget one season, I can't remember the year, where Big Papi went down in June and Drew went on an absolute tear while Big Papi was out.

  5. Dale Sams January 18, 2013 at 12:24 PM #

    JD Drew, patient hitter, smart baserunner, excellent defender, very good arm.

    As for the "I got a hangnail Skip…I'm not feelin it." stuff? Well, I guess we got about five days to wait until we get the low-down on that.

    No personality, doesn't dive (He didn't have to, he so good) doesn't seem to care…I don't give a shit about that stuff.

  6. wsk January 18, 2013 at 6:27 PM #

    part of murph's charm was the progression from from catcher to firstbase to centerfield.
    ain't never happened, before, or after.

    • MWR February 15, 2013 at 2:00 PM #

      what about the man who shouldve been voted into the HOF this year? Craig Biggio C 2B CF.

  7. Daniel Poarch January 18, 2013 at 10:57 PM #

    Yeah, I know Bill Simmons fell victim to that too. I remember him writing about how Drew hit a walk-off homer one game and quietly ran the bases without really celebrating. I like Simmons, but of all the things to complain about…

    He seems to me like a guy casual fans just couldn't appreciate, because everything he did well didn't really fit with what people consider "exciting" baseball.

    I know I probably didn't appreciate him enough while he was here, myself. It was too easy to get sucked into that narrative. Certainly didn't deserve the hate.

  8. Cory January 18, 2013 at 11:43 PM #

    His personality didn't fit a passionate fan base like Boston. Don't forget he played well in the 2007 playoffs.

  9. Jeff C January 22, 2013 at 10:45 AM #

    People only like players who "make it look easy" when they're spectacular. If the way they play comes off as casual and "easy" but their performance is only good, not great, it looks like they're not trying hard enough. It looks like they could be spectacular but they're too lazy. This was Drew's problem in Boston.

  10. cleaner100 May 19, 2013 at 8:04 PM #

    I'd rather have a player of Drew's caliber 3 out of every 4 days than a weaker player every day. Say what you will, but Drew never missed a playoff game. Without the injury issues, Drew would be a HOFer.

    A .384 OBP with power and solid defensive capability is pretty outstanding.

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