Friday, June 11, 2010

Meet the real Austin Kearns

Photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Austin Kearns belted two homers -- and almost a third -- against his former team.
CLEVELAND -- Austin Kearns knows what the folks in Washington think of him. He knows his 3 1/2 years in a Nationals uniform were a complete bust and he didn't come close to earning the $17.5 million contract Jim Bowden inexplicably gave him in January 2007.

Kearns heard the criticisms and the boos through much of 2008 and 2009, a pair of dreadful seasons that saw the outfielder go from a multimillionaire in Washington to a nonroster invitee in Cleveland.

All the while, Kearns knew what most everyone else did not: He was injured. In 2008, he had a stress fracture in his leg and bone chips in his elbow. In 2009, he had a tear in his thumb. All the ailments eventually required surgery, but before he would go under the knife, he insisted on playing through the pain.

Why? Why not just reveal how banged up he was and take himself out of the lineup?

"It's tough, man," he said. "You've got a lot of pride, no matter what. You want to be out there every day. Your teammates are out there. It's tough to say, 'I just can't go out there,' for anybody. I think for any player, that probably gets the better of you sometimes."

So Kearns will always be remembered as one of the worst players in Nationals history, certainly when his contract is taken into consideration. Which made his two-homer barrage in the Indians' 7-2 thumping of the Nats tonight sting all the more for fans back in D.C. who had to be asking why they never saw anything like that during the previous 3 1/2 years.

Oh, and did we mention that Kearns is now batting .307 with seven homers, 31 RBI and a .901 OPS that is nearly 200 points better than it was during his time in a Washington uniform?

"I don't know where we would be without him here," Manny Acta said.

And did we mention that the Nationals' revolving door of right fielders has posted a combined .738 OPS?

You can't fault Mike Rizzo for not bringing Kearns back last winter. After all, he still had a $10 million option on his contract, yet another inexplicable addendum thrown in there by Bowden. The Nats had to cut the cord and move on.

But that doesn't mean they couldn't appreciate Kearns' Ruthian performance tonight and feel good for an ex-teammate who remains a close friend to many on the roster.

"Yeah, I'm extremely happy the way he's playing," said Adam Dunn, who also was teammates with Kearns in Cincinnati at the start of both players' careers. "He's healthy for the first time in three or four years and swinging the bat well. I wish he wouldn't have beat us tonight, but I'm still happy to see him doing well."

Kearns, as always, shrugged off questions about his motivation playing against the team that dumped him. He's always been a bland quote, usually beginning his answers with such noncommittal lines as: "Aw, I don't know. I just gotta keep workin'."

But the Nationals always held Kearns in high regard as a person and appreciated the way he played through pain and never complained.

"He wants to play, obviously, like everyone wants to play," Dunn said. "But he wouldn't make a big deal about why he was stinking, and that's kind of why he had those bad years. That's the only reason it could be."

And what if Kearns hadn't been hurt? What would the end result have been?

"He'd still be here," Dunn said. "He'd still be here, because he's a really good player, and you're seeing it now. If he stays healthy, this is what he does. He hits 20-25 homers, he's going to drive in close to 100 and he's going to hit close to .300. That's the kind of player he is. That's what he's done his whole life when he's healthy."

I asked him after tonight's game if he wishes everyone in Washington had gotten to see the real Austin Kearns. True to form, he took the high road.

"You know, what happened, happened," he said. "I tried to go out there and play, and whatever. I definitely would have loved to play better, no doubt about it. But it happened. You learn from it and keep going."

Nationals fans have a right to consider Kearns a bust, and they have a right to be frustrated by his sudden turnaround this year in Cleveland.

But it's OK to feel a little good for a guy who went through a lot the last 3 1/2 years, took a lot of abuse, and somehow has emerged a better player and a better person for it.


Anonymous said...

I dont remember the opponent, but I will always remember a drizzling evening during the last season in RFK when Austin Kearns completely demolished a catcher while charging home. He played like garbage at Navy Yard, but I always respected the man for playing the game right, and I am happy to see him doing so well now.

dj in Fl. said...

I could not be happier that Austin is doing well.
He gave us a professional effort, even though his injury would not allow him to be at his best. Go Austin, anytime after Sunday please.

PDowdy83 said...

When I think about Kearns, I remember a play last year where he fired a ball from right field to home plate and nailed a runner in Arizona. That pretty much sums him up to me. He played defense above average even when he wasn't playing well offensively and I never felt slighted by him being on the field in RF. I felt like he was over payed but I never thought it was because he was dogging it or anything like that. He is a great person and an above average ball player and if he was adding those numbers in right for us right now we would probably be in 2nd place in the NL East.

Anonymous said...

So, what do you suppose Cleveland wants for him? Let's give him another shot. Guys, Mark, what do you think?

DC Diehard said...

One of my pet peeves: after poor play we learn that the player was injured. Why not send out someone who is healthy? "He would have been great but he was too hurt." But we are still paying money to watch.

Guzman in 05 -- couldn't see.
Willy Mo Pena in 08 -- arm not connected to his shoulder
Kearns in 09 -- hurt thumb, could not grip bat
Who else?

natscan reduxit said...

... okay. I know when to say I'm wrong. Yesterday, I was tempted to argue with those of you who wanted, even demanded, Mike Morse to be in the lineup. I would have suggested that since this was an inter-league game, and maybe Riggs wasn't up to scratch on the Tribe, he opted for defence (Harris) over offence (Morse). If that worked out, then he could come back with MM to his advantage.

... yikes! I was wrong, and you guys were right. Now if we can just break into Cleveland's clubhouse, to spike Manny Acta's Gatorade, maybe we can convince him to sit Cowboy Austin for the next couple of games.

Go Nats!!

LoveDaNats said...

Jason Marquis. Another disappointment that turned out to be an injury.

JayB said...

Kearns issue was created by Jimbo's way overpaying for him for no reason at all. He would have signed for half that amount and Acta insisting on playing him even when he proved he could not produce. Kearns was a good teammate and a good fundamentals player. He did the little things to play the game like nobody else we had at that time. I liked him but when Acta played him even when it was so obvious he was not able to play, that is when everyone here learned to hate Austin Kearns in the line up.

2007-2009 were dark years and there is accountability to assign here.

If he was a 3 Million dollar a year injured player out for the year and a free agent in 2010 with no $10 Million option hanging over the Rizzo's head he would be our RF right now. Jimbo and Acta both have the largest share of blame for the Kearns debacle.

Anonymous said...

DC Diehard said...

One of my pet peeves: after poor play we learn that the player was injured. Why not send out someone who is healthy? "He would have been great but he was too hurt." But we are still paying money to watch.

Guzman in 05 -- couldn't see.
Willy Mo Pena in 08 -- arm not connected to his shoulder
Kearns in 09 -- hurt thumb, could not grip bat
Who else?
I'm probably wrong, but I think there's something wrong with Nyjer Morgan right now. When I watch him run he just doesn't seem to be running as fast as last year. His running doesn't seem to flow like last year, it almost seems labored. He doesn't get to first as quickly on bunts, he doesn't get between bases as quickly on steals, and he doesn't get to balls in the outfield that I swear he would have gotten to easily last year. Everyone is looking for reasons for his decline, and my guess is there's something wrong with him that we'll find out about later. Unfortunately, they're so thin in the outfield he has to play, either that or, like Kearns he's not telling them about it.

Hal Mangold said...

Am I the only one who gets pissed at this pigheaded "I can't let anyone see I'm injured, so I'll just play crappily instead" attitude? Seriously, when you play sub par because you are injured you are HURTING the team you profess to want to give your all for.

Admit your injury. Get treatment. Get better. PLAY BETTER.

Matteo said...

I always liked Kearns. As others have said on this post he played the game the right way. I watched him with the Reds and when my buddies said he was a crap player I said he must be hurt or something. He just looked different when he played for the Nats the last couple of years. But the guy always had heart and played good D which counts for something. Especially when you watch our outfielders throw the ball all over the place without any idea it seems as to what the RIGHT play is. At Least Austin knew how to hit a cut off man and when to test a runer or not.

Anonymous said...

Anon: I'm right with you on Nyger. Don't know what's up but something is.

Anonymous said...

I imagine one reason Kearns wanted to keep playing last year was because he saw that $10M club option floating away. I'm glad he's making a comeback, just not for this weekend please.

Avar said...

I always like AK and still do. Total class act, great defender and when healthy a good hitter.

However, totally w/ DC Diehard on this one. Annoys the crap out of me when an established sucks, knows he is injured and tries to play through it. What is admirable about playing lousy when you're hurt? If you're hitting .200 an extended period and you're hurt, go see Dr. Andrews and get right.

I REALLY hope that Rizzo can change this mindset, but don't really know his take on this issue one way or the other. It was good to see that Marquis didn't suck for long before he got some treatment. Hope that's a trend.

Wendell said...

I think Zimm and Pudge sitting out when they were hurt sets a good example for the team. Play for the long term & if you're hurt, get better.

Doc said...

There's a baseball macho that says that you get professional respect when you play 'injured'. Since the net effect for the team is reduced production, it's hard to justify respecting it.

With all the paid physicians attached to teams, I don't see how 'playing with undiagnosed injury' is of any value for the team, or the fans.

The GM's need to forget the macho and get some realistic medical answers--starting with players like Stammen, Kerns, and the mysterious decline of Nyjer Morgan.

Anonymous said...

I like Nyjer, but I think a lot of his problem may be in his head.

natsfan1 said...

Despite the game's results, I was happy for Kearns. I always liked the guy. I was thinking of when he hit the walkoff last year and the entire dugout emptied. He was a bit choked up in the sideline interview after the game. I was happy for him then, too.

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