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Aaron Leibowitz | The Fan

Sympathy for a millionaire

Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 08:11

Warren Buffet once said it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. For Jason Bay, it took six years to build a reputation as one of the top−hitting outfielders in baseball, and three years to blow it to pieces.

Imagine failing so miserably that your employer pays you to leave. Now, imagine failing so miserably that your employer pays you $21 million to leave.

That’s what the Mets last week agreed to pay Bay to get the hell out of Queens and never come back. The 34−year−old left fielder had just finished the third year of a four−year, $66−million contract with a one−year option. It didn’t quite go as planned.

There are busts, and then there’s Bay. From 2004 to 2009, Bay averaged 30 home runs and 99 RBIs with the Pirates and Red Sox. From 2010 to 2012 with the Mets, he averaged 9 home runs and 41 RBIs.

Injuries played a role — Bay missed 198 games in the last three years, mostly because he had a penchant for running into outfield walls.

Still, his fall from grace was nothing short of mind−boggling.

Mets fans — myself included — got used to ridiculing the soft−spoken Canadian each time he hit a weak grounder to shortstop or waved at a breaking ball in the dirt. Sometimes, laughing was all we could do to maintain our sanity.

At the same time, though, it was so sad to watch. Day after day, bad at−bat after bad at−bat, Bay walked around the ballpark with a bewildered look on his face. You could almost hear the voice in his head: “What happened to me? Where did I go wrong?”

After each game, Bay sat by his locker in a daze, staring into the cameras and the faces of reporters, telling them that he was just as confused about his failures as they were. He was going to keep working hard, he’d say, keep searching for the hitting stroke he’d misplaced somewhere en route from Boston to New York. He had to come around eventually.

With the Mets, he never did.

On the one hand, it’s hard to sympathize with someone who’s making more money each year than most of us will make in a lifetime.

Twenty−one million dollars to not play baseball for the Mets? Jason Bay might as well have hit the jackpot.

But I would not want to be him. Failing to live up to expectations — and coming up short by a long shot — can be crushing to a reputation. For athletes, it all plays out in the public eye.

When Bay’s baseball career ends — assuming it’s not over already — he’ll still have a wife and kids and enough cash to last a lifetime. He’ll still have six years of good baseball memories in Pittsburgh and Boston, a Rookie of the Year award and three All−Star game appearances.

And yet, unless he can resurrect his swing, Bay will always be remembered as the guy who forgot how to hit — the guy who, inexplicably, was a good player one moment and a dreadful one the next.

Now, all he can do is hope someone’s willing to give him another shot, whether it’s the Red Sox, the Pirates, his hometown team in Seattle or anyone else. This time around, he won’t be making $66 million. He may not even make $1 million.

For Bay, it’s no longer about the money. It’s about redemption. It’s about pride.

It’s about rewriting a baseball legacy that, in the span of three years, has been so horribly tarnished.

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Aaron Leibowitz is a junior who is majoring in American studies. He can be reached at Aaron.Leibowitz@tufts.edu.

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