You know, secret societies being what they are and all.
Nevertheless, if there is one person who should be acknowledged for being a stand-up dude this season, it is Brad Lidge. After all, no matter how ugly it got on the mound or how frustrating it was following those eight losses and 11 blown saves, Lidge bravely faced the music with his teammates, coaches and media. That's a bit of a rarity these days. Better yet, not only was he consistent in demeanor, he has been accountable and kept his dignity.
In fact, Lidge has been no different in 2009 when talking about his performance than he was in 2008 when he nailed down 48 save chances in a row. He stands there and deconstructs every pitch, indulges every question and relives the horror (or glory) after every outing.
Could you imagine if a politician, a doctor or lawyer had to face the music after a day at work the way Lidge has this year?
Anyway, in the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated, columnist Phil Taylor weighed in on how Lidge has handled the difficult season with great dignity and aplomb. As Taylor wrote:
It's like going to sleep as James Bond and waking up as Inspector Clouseau. "My preparation is the same, my intensity, my focus, my effort, they're all the same as last season, but the results just—aren't," the 32-year-old Lidge says. "There are definitely times when I wonder, What's going on here?"
The rest of us are wondering the same thing, but not so much about his pitching. What's going on with all this self-control? No athlete in recent memory has gone from being perfect one season to putrid the next, so if ever a player could be forgiven for snapping, it's Lidge. Yet he continues to handle his struggles with grace and civility, which is just so ... unfashionable.
Hasn't he been paying attention? That's not the way it's done at a time when rage is all the rage. If you're on the verge of losing to an underdog in the U.S. Open, you take it out on your racket and the line judge, the way Serena Williams did. If an opponent shows little class by taunting, you show even less by slugging him, as Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount did after the Ducks' loss to Boise State. If the kick returner on your team lets a shot at a season-opening upset slip away, you take your frustrations out by spray-painting his lawn, the way Bills fans did after Leodis McKelvin's fumble at New England.
Even with all of those angry precedents to follow, Lidge's stack remains unblown; not once has he had to release an insincere, intentionally vague apology for some embarrassing loss of temper. Manager Charlie Manuel pulled him in a save situation against the Nationals two weeks ago, the first time as a Phillie that Lidge had suffered that indignity. Some relievers might have grabbed the biggest bat they could find and done a little impromptu demolition work in the clubhouse, but Lidge stayed in the dugout, demonstrably rooting on his replacement, Ryan Madson.
Staring out at a light rain last week, Lidge matter-of-factly discussed his performance, his affable demeanor never changing even as he used words like "crappy" and "terrible." After a particularly galling blown save against the Astros, his former team, he had sat in front of his locker so distraught that a Phillies staffer told him it would be fine if he chose not to speak to the media. Instead of taking the invitation to duck out, he took a deep breath and relived the ugly outing for his questioners—facing things, as Manuel puts it, "like a man."
Yes, Lidge has been downright dreadful on the mound this season. In fact, there have been times when it has been uncomfortable to watch him try and get hitters out. Worse, sometimes it seems as if Lidge has been on the wrong end of “pity applause,” which isn’t mean spirited, but it’s infuriating just the same. Last when Lidge would get an out the fans would erupt and celebrate another victory. This year, instead, outs are met with cheers but there is some sarcasm behind them.
Yet Lidge has pushed on. He may be bad on the mound, but off it he’s been the ace. And in the end isn’t that what really matters? Sure, sportswriters and fans talk about things like legacies and history, but that only applies to what happens between the lines.
Maybe that should change? When it comes to a true legacy maybe Lidge is ahead of the game. He’s a good dude and in the end that always matters more than anything a person can do on a ball field.
And who knows, Lidge said a few weeks ago that the true measure of a baseball season is how it ends. If this season ends just as well as last year, Lidge says it will all be worth it. However, it already has been worth it for the folks who get to talk to him on a regular basis.