It’s a safe bet that if ballots were left in front of each locker in the Red Sox clubhouse, asking players to rank their teammates in order of importance, 25 ballots would soon find their way into the nearest trash can. Or 24, with one preserved to shove down the throat of the person who passed out the offending ballots.
The nature of the sport, in which the success of playing every day for six months is predicated on 25 players -- or more likely, 35 to 40 players -- all doing their share for the common good, discourages such exercises in assessing the importance of the individual vs. the collective.
Sure, Dustin Pedroia is obviously more important than Quintin Berry, but who’s to say that with a championship hanging in the balance, Berry won’t be the one asked to steal a base with the Sox facing elimination [Dave Roberts, hello.] This isn’t the NBA, where Pedroia can demand, like LeBron James, that he take the last shot, or the NFL, where Jacoby Ellsbury can call his own number in the huddle. Jon Lester can throw a complete-game shutout in Friday’s division opener, but it will all be for naught if John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy get knocked around the next three games, or the Sox offense is shut down by the other team.
Still, the exercise is not entirely without merit. It’s a given that when Boston’s opponent in the first round of the playoffs holds its advance scouting meeting, pitchers will be told, ‘We’re not going to let David Ortiz beat us.’ Or, ‘Don’t wait till the ninth to get to the Sox bullpen, because by then, with Uehara on the mound, it will be too late.’
Value judgments are made all the time. Pitch around this guy, run on this catcher, take the extra base on this arm, wait out this pitcher. So, we’ll add our judgments, too, with the caveat that they be taken seriously only as a starting point for conversation and debate, not as a reckoning of a player’s true worth to the team. The Heat can’t win an NBA title without LeBron playing at his best; the Sox can win with Craig Breslow pitching out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth, or Jonny Gomes hitting a pinch homer in the 11th. In baseball, in fact, you can count on those things happening.