Dempster's impact on Red Sox goes beyond numbers

Dempster's impact on Red Sox goes beyond numbers
February 16, 2014, 5:15 pm

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In his first (and only season) in Boston,  Ryan Dempster won just eight games and compiled a 4.52 ERA. He missed time after being suspended for hitting Alex Rodriguez in late August, and by October, he was a mop-up reliever, having been bumped from the post-season starting rotation.
    
But Dempster's contributions to -- and impact on -- the 2013 World Champion Red Sox can't begin to be measured solely on the stat sheet.
    
Dempster was known for his sense of humor, his dedication to his teammates and a slew of intangibles that made his attractive to a team coming off its worst season in almost 50 years.
    
As much as any other single player, Dempster helped change the corrosive culture that had infected the team at the end of 2011 and throughout 2012.
    
"When we signed him,'' said general manager Ben Cherington, "we were trying to do a number of things. First of all, we were trying to add someone to solidify the rotation and he certainly helped us do that. On top of that, we were also trying to collectively find a way to have fun playing baseball again after a tough several months prior to that.
    
"We knew enough about Ryan that he might help us do that. Sure enough, he did.''
    
"I think anybody who knows Ryan Dempster would say that it doesn't take him too long to make an impact,'' said John Farrell. "He's genuine, he's a lot of fun to be around, he's a great teammate, and a strong competitor. He added a lot to the bond that many players have spoken of, of how close this team became with a common goal in mind.
    
"He'll be missed . . . He contributed to a larger group that changed the atmosphere and accountability.''
    
Added Cherington: "I wish some of you could be privy to some of the things that happened off the field, in the clubhouse, on planes and buses . . . all that stuff. He's a great pitcher; I don't want to take away from that. But he also has a great instinct for when the air needs to come out of the balloon for a team. He always picked the right moment to do it.''
    
Dempster could be a cut-up, commandeering the PA system on charter flights to perform stand-up comedy and was a talented impressionist, doing spot-on imitations of everyone from teammates to the late broadcaster Harry Caray.
    
On some flights, Dempster would ride the service cart which served drinks down the aisle, pretending to surf at 30,000 feet.
    
"He's a unique guy,'' concluded Cherington, "and baseball is a lot better with him in it than outside of it and I hope that, at some point, at the right time for him, he finds a new way to be a part of the game because we're all better when he's in baseball.
    
"He was a good teammate. In the game, sometimes you spend years around a player and never really feel you get to know him and then sometimes it's a week and you know him very well. That was the case with Ryan.
    
"I think everyone felt as soon as he walked in the door last winter and spring training, you just sort of felt like you knew him for a long time. I know that's how his teammates felt. They had a lot of respect for him.''
    
Many position players weren't present yesterday as they don't have to report until Tuesday, but about 10 players watched Dempster make his announcement and field questions as a show of support, including catcher David Ross, one of Dempster's closest friends on the team.
    
"It just stinks from a teammate standpoint,'' said Ross. "We love that guy. He's such a good piece for us, such a good person. He makes everyone around him better, everyone he's involved with. You just become a better person. You laugh a lot. He's good for the young guys. Every young guy should get to spend a season with Ryan Dempster.
    
"He's one of the best. I can't overstate that. (Having) him on your team, you're just going to have a better team.''
    
As a first-year manager in Boston, Farrell knew that he could rely on Dempster to set the proper tone.
    
"For the veteran presence that he had, he didn't lead by just talking guys through things,'' said Farrell. "He went out and worked his tail off between starts. He never made an excuse. He was a true professional. On days when he didn't pitch well, he didn't hide behind anything. He stood up and answered the questions. That was the way he conducted himself in general.
    
"A position player could learn as much from him, the way he handled himself, as a pitcher (could). In times of need, he stood up and answered the bell . . . He was the consummate team player and wanted to contribute in any way he physically could.''
    
Dempster could have chosen to soldier through the year, spending time on the DL and collecting his full salary of $13.25 million in the process. But he refused to do that, forfeiting the money he didn't think he could properly earn.
    
"In a career full of earning and building respect,'' said Cherington, "he's ending his time with the Red Sox, at least, in a way that only bolsters and strengthens that feeling about him. It was ultimately the right thing for him to do, but that doesn't mean it was an easy thing to do.''