Keith Foulke already found out all about the barbecue in Birmingham. Maybe this time, he can tell us about the Burger King in Brighton.
For as sure as he ventured to Alabama in search of better ribs than Redbones’, Foulke’s coming back to Boston for knee surgery, his season hanging by a thread flimsier than his ACL. He’s made no secret of his disaffection for the local cuisine – or at least, for the people who cook and serve it, pay good money to come to Fenway, and ostensibly cheer him on, and all without the benefit of a free truck for blowing a bunch of hot air on the radio – but he stands to eat quite a lot of it while he rehabs and tries to throw another meaningful inning for the Red Sox.
Wasn’t Foulke supposed to be the the antithesis of the sort of professional prima donna that the Boston brass had run out on a rail along with Trader Dan Duquette and He Who Must Not Be Named? Foulke’s antics make you long for the days of Dante Bichette and Jose Awfulman – never mind Jurassic Carl and the Dominican Diva himself. Keith Foulke was supposed to be different. Here we had a hard-nosed workhorse, a man of the people. As a lights-out closer for the White Sox and A’s, he was supposed to solve the problems that plagued Boston’s relief corps in years past.
Yet this wasn’t just a slow start, like he experienced in 2004. When blown save after blown save began piling up, when it was obvious that Foulke was serving more meatballs than Bertucci’s to the dregs of the division, the questions began again in earnest.
The true Sox fan can be forgiven for holding Foulke accountable for his team’s bullpen struggles lately. After all, Alan Embree and John Halama have been lousy all year. Matt Mantei pitched through his injuries until they became too much to bear. The difference is this: when confronted, they took responsibility for their own failings. What did Foulke say?
"I'm more embarrassed to walk into this locker room and look at the faces of my teammates, than I am to walk out and see Johnny from Burger King booing me."
By the next day, he had the Internet going nuts. Rarely has a player fallen out of favor so quickly in Boston, this most mercurial of baseball burgs – even Bob Stanley managed to avoid this kind of alienation after his famous anti-fan screed in 1986. You expected to see #29 jerseys burning in effigy in the Twins store, little kids in the suburbs quitting hockey (as if they still remember what it was) in order to further distance themselves from the disgraced Phoenix Coyotes fan. Right now, his postseason heroics – that single earned run in fourteen innings – seem like ancient history.
You can still stick a fork in the rest of the AL East. Just as the sun will rise tomorrow over that BK in Beverly, the Yankees, Orioles, Jays, and Rays will lie withering under the heat lamp like so many of yesterday’s Croissan’wiches. But Foulke needs to realize that the guy opening up that Burger King – good ol’ Johnny, the guy who pays his salary – won’t be gripping grain in the extended-cab Dodge Ram Foulke gets for a half-hour of his time every Friday on WEEI. If we’re looking for heroes, look no further than the fast-food joints. Don’t expect to find one on the Fenway mound in the top of the ninth.
We ought to wish him the best in his rehab; when healthy, there are few closers in the game who are better. But with a healthy knee, let’s hope he gets an attitude adjustment as well. We’ll welcome you back to Fenway with open arms, but it takes grinding to be a king, Keith Foulke. Don’t forget that.
Dan Shaughnessy is a frequent contributor to ESPN the Magazine.