McAdam: Youkilis defined by sweat he gave

McAdam: Youkilis defined by sweat he gave
June 25, 2012, 4:49 pm
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For many, the lasting image of Kevin Youkilis in a Red Sox uniform will be one of his sweating profusely, almost comically so.

And, in a way, that's entirely fitting. Physiological issues aside, Youkilis's extreme perspiration stood for something: the hard work it required for the infielder to become the player he was.

It's easy to think that any player who reaches the major leagues as supremely talented -- better, faster and stronger than the others who failed to reach the game's highest level. And, of course, major leaguers are blessed with a certain innate ability. They possess quickness, flexibility, and hand-eye coordination that most of us can only dream about.

But within the pool of professional players, only a fraction are good enough to get to the majors. Moreover, only the best of the best are capable of nine-year (and counting) playing careers.

For many, their first introduction to Youkilis was Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's obsession with him in Michael Lewis's best-seller, Moneyball. Beane infamously dubbed Youkilis "the Greek god of walks,'' for Youkilis's ability to get on base.

The nickname rankled Youkilis, who was neither Greek, nor happy about being defined cheifly for his ability to get bases on balls. Years later, Terry Francona playfully ribbed Youkilis about the nickname, observing: "I've seen him in the shower -- he's not the Greek god of anything.''

But Youkilis made himself much more than an on-base machine. In addition to his stellar .388 on-base percentage, Youkilis learned to drive the ball, and in the process, he became a slugger and run produer. From 2008 through 2010, Youkilis posted a slugging percentage of .548 or better and averaged 97 RBI, transforming himself from a player who managed to get on base to one who could do real damage in the middle of a powerful Red Sox lineup.

That transformation came from rigorous off-season work at Athlete's Performance Institute in Arizona and countless swings in the cage -- his feet positioned unnaturally close, his bat wiggling impatiently.

It came, in other words, from hard work.

An hour after he traded him to the Chicago White Sox Sunday Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington chose to remember Youkilis Sunday as someone who was transformed from "a good player to an All-Star through sheer force of will and hard work,'' and that's as good a description of Youkilis as could be imagined.

Even Bobby Valentine, whose public zinging of Youkilis created a firestorm in the first 10 days of the season, saluted Youklilis, praising "his work ethic, his dedication, (and) his ability on the field. He never came off the field with a clean uniform and he always gave everything he had.''

That applies to the defensive side of the game, too. Drafted and developed as a third baseman, Youkilis improved himself in the field, and after becoming a plus defender, moved across the diamond in 2006 when the Sox obtained veteran third baseman Mike Lowell. Youkilis took to first like a natural and earned a Gold Glove while setting an American League record for most consecutive chances at first base without an error.

Then, when the Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez a year ago, Youkilis again returned to third.

His departure leaves David Ortiz as the lone player who was part of the 2004 championship team, and as Nick Punto, perhaps Youkilis's best friend on the team noted Sunday, Youkilis is one of a handful of people who can say he was a two-time World Series winner with the Red Sox.

"We did a lot of winning during (Youkilis's) time,'' said Cherington. "On an individual level, I think his legacy is (that of) a passionate player who played every inning hard. He did a lot of good things for this organization for the bulk of the time here, really embodied a lot of things that we really believe in.''

Starting with good, old-fashioned hard work, represented by the beads of sweat that not only covered him at times, but came to embody him, too.