By In Stuff

Ballot 22: J.D. Drew


J.D. Drew

Played 14 years for four different teams

All-Star hit 242 home runs and twice had OPS seasons over 1.000. 44.9 WAR, 25.0 WAA

Pro argument: Good all-around player whose 25 wins above average is better than dozens of Hall of Famers.

Con argument: He couldn’t stay healthy long enough to put up Hall of Fame numbers.

Deserves to be in Hall?: No

Will get elected this year?: No

Will ever get elected?: No.

* * *

J.D. Drew was one of the first Scott Boras clients to crash against the system. Drew was all-everything as a junior at Florida State. He won just about every award — the Dick Howser, the Golden Spikes, the Sporting News award, the Baseball America Award, All-American, everything. He hit 30 home runs and stole 30 bases, he hit .455, this guy put the “Can’t” in “Can’t Miss.”

And so Philadelphia drafted him second overall in the 1997 Draft. (behind fireballer Matt Anderson) and offered him some deal around $2 million. This is generally how things were done then before Scott Boras came along. Draft a star. Offer him $2 million. Go celebrate.

Scott Boras said Drew wanted $10 million.

The Phillies were outraged by this blasphemy. What? Ten million? He had never played a single game in the big leagues! Madness! Outrageous! They only slowly and reluctantly raised their offer until it was around $2.6 million, the largest draft bonus ever.*

*Technically, the largest draft ever was more than $10 million in 1996 to another Scott Boras client, Matt White. But that was a different situation; Boras used a draft loophole to make White a free agent. The Phillies offer was the largest ever for a drafted player.

Boras countered by saying Drew wanted $10 million.

Well, the Phillies had enough. Whatever, they said. Go on and sit it out. Have fun NOT playing baseball. So Drew went to play ball for the St. Paul Saints, and he re-entered the draft the next year, got drafted by St. Louis, and got more than twice the money than Philadelphia had offered.

Offbeat story: I remember asking Kansas City Royals general manager Herk Robinson in 1998 if he would consider drafting Drew the second time around. The Royals were basically at the bottom of the barrel at that point, and they had the fourth pick in the draft. No, they certainly did not have the money to pay Drew what Boras wanted, but if they drafted Drew they would have something else: Leverage. I mean: Was Drew really willing to sit out ANOTHER YEAR? To me, drafting Drew seemed like a bold, all-in poker move.

Herk Robinson, however, was not a poker player. He called me crazy, and I probably was.

Instead, the Royals drafted a different Boras client, Jeff Austin, who held out seven months, and, in the Royals’ opinion, lost quite a bit of his stuff during the holdout. He was supposed to be Major League ready, but instead he stalled and ended up making only seven big league starts. Well, such was the Royals’ life in those days.

J.D. Drew made it to the big leagues with St. Louis and had his first J.D. Drewish season* in 2000 — that is to say, that year he hit .295/.400/.479, with 18 home runs, he stole 17 bases, he played good defense and, somehow, he made almost nobody happy.

*Funny, he doesn’t look Drewish.

Why did J.D. Drew always feel like a disappointment? Well, sitting out a year for more money probably didn’t help perceptions (they booed him mercilessly in Philadelphia). Then, there were the injuries.  Drew just could not stay healthy.

Guess in how many of Drew’s 14 seasons he got 500 at-bats.

Answer: One.

But even more than the early holdout, even more than the injuries, there was a whisper that followed J.D. Drew his whole Major League career. The whisper said: “He doesn’t care enough.” Drew’s talent was overwhelming. He could hit. He had power. He could run. He could throw. But, people whispered, there was something missing. He was aloof. He showed little-to-no enthusiasm. Where was the passion? Where was the grit? Where was the heart? This stuff is deadly serious inside baseball.

Again and again and again and again people around baseball moaned: “Why doesn’t J.D. Drew want to be a great player?”

In 2001, Drew hit .323/.414/..613 with 27 homers — that’s Hall of Fame stuff — but it did not change the perception. Why? He only managed to play 109 games. He hit .154 in the National League Division Series against Arizona. The whisper only grew louder.

In 2003, the whisper went public. In Buzz Bissinger’s book “Three Days in August,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa made the point repeatedly that Drew was wasting his great talent, that he was underachieving like few La Russa had ever seen.

“Later that night …” Bissinger wrote of a dinner he and La Russa had together,  “(La Russa) was brooding about Drew, wondering once more whether there was some way to get to him, let that talent pour out in terrific torrents. He pulled out an index card and began to write down possible things to say to him, all of which he realized he had said already.”

Later that same year, the Cardinals traded Drew to Atlanta in a deal that brought over Adam Wainwright.

Drew was a perfect fit in Atlanta. For the first and perhaps only time in his career, he looked entirely at home. It helped, of course, that he stayed healthy — this was his one 500 at-bat season — but it was more than health. He had gone to high school in Georgia, and of course he went to college at Florida State, and so this really was where he grew up.

That year Drew hit .305/.436/.569 with 31 homers, 118 runs, 118 walks, 93 RBIs, 12 stolen bases and excellent defense. It was a season that in many years would win the MVP. He had an 8.3 WAR that year. Yes, J.D. Drew had arrived, and while he still was not running around like Willie Mays out there, well, he looked about as happy as he had looked playing baseball. It seemed like Atlanta was exactly the right place for him.

He promptly signed a five-year, $55 million deal with a team as far away as possible,  the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Then, more Drewish stuff. He missed half of his first season with the Dodgers. But in 2006 he had another nice year. He hit .283/.393/.498 with 20 homers, 100 RBIs. The Dodgers won 88 games and made the playoffs for only the second time in 10 years. Drew told reporters how happy he was. He told the Dodgers how happy he was. It seemed Los Angeles was exactly the right place for him.

He promptly opted out of his deal and signed a five-year $70 million deal with a team as far away as possible, the Boston Red Sox.

I don’t mean to make this sound like Drew was greedily chasing money … in my book ALL players should get every penny they’re worth. Every penny they do not get just stays in the hands of billionaire owners, so I always root for players to max out their deals. Drew did the smart financial thing signing with the Dodgers and then opting out of the deal. Scott Boras knows his business.

But it did add to the already ubiquitous perception that Drew did not care about baseball or about becoming a great player.  

Drew hit .265/.370/.455 in his five years with Boston, he made his only All-Star team, and he was part of the 2007 World Championship team. And all those things that people had said about Drew his entire career — he’s aloof, he’s not tough enough, he’s all about the money — they said twice as often in New England.

After the Red Sox disastrous meltdown in 2011, Drew quietly retired. When asked a year later if he missed the game, he said that he missed the competition but: “I definitely didn’t miss the stress and the pressure and the sleepless nights over whether I could hit a curveball or not.”

Did J.D. Drew really have sleepless nights over curveballs? He never showed that side of himself, but it certainly could be true. It’s just one more fascinating question about a fascinating career.

J.D. Drew’s 25 wins above average place him in the stratosphere of great players (Billy Williams, Dave Winfield, Enos Slaughter etc), but most will never think him as a great player. He made $109 million playing baseball, played in the All-Star Game, won a World Series ring and posted a career 125 OPS+ (same as Yogi Berra and Ron Santo) and yet the enduring memory is of him as an underachiever.

He suffered many injuries playing the game, and still people will think of him as playing soft.

This is simply the Ballad of J.D. Drew. I remember one scout talking about this scrappy underdog player that he loved, and the scout said, “Man, I wish I could put that guy’s heart and guts in J.D. Drew.” It sounded good, this notion that someone else with J.D. Drew’s talent would have become legendary, but I didn’t buy it then, and I don’t buy it now. J.D. Drew was an outstanding Major League Baseball player, one of the 500 best who ever played this game. That’s not nothing.

Drew became an outstanding Major League Baseball player because of his talent … and his heart … and his guts. You can’t separate those things. It’s all one package.

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45 Responses to Ballot 22: J.D. Drew

  1. Mark says:

    JD Drew had the most natural, effotless swing I’ve ever seen. It truly was a thing of beauty.

  2. Johnny P says:

    About Drew: Despite having 5,173 at-bats, his WAR was a very solid 44.9.

    Magglio Ordonez, by contrast, had almost 7,000 at-bats, but his WAR was 38.5.

    Drew had HOF talent, unfortunately, he was never able to stay healthy and put it all together for more than a few seasons.

  3. Terry Rombeck says:

    I sat in the front row for his first minor league at-bat. He whiffed at a pitch, as I recall, and threw his bat into right field. The Wichita crowd didn’t exactly boo, it was more of a mocking laugh. It was hard to take his career seriously after that, but that may be a bias on my part.

  4. Jason says:

    Best $5 I ever spent was to sit in the 700 level at the Vet just so I could boo JD Drew.

    I’d take Pat Burrell — which the Phillies did, with the compensation pick the following year — any day over Drew.

    • Karyn says:

      Only because Burrell didn’t have the injury issues. Drew was a far superior player when on the field.

    • moviegoer74 says:

      Burrell was not the compensation for Drew. Burrell was the #1 overall pick in 1998 just because the Phillies sucked in 1997. The compensation pick for not signing Drew was #42 overall (in between 1st and second rounds). The Phillies used it to take Eric Valent.

  5. Richard Aronson says:

    In fairness, Drew walked a lot and had five seasons with 539 or more plate appearances and two more where he almost qualified for a batting title. It is also worth noting that his best seasons were in hitter’s parks. I can forgive any hitter for opting out of Dodger Stadium as it was configured at the time and going to Fenway instead. These days they’ve added more rows of seats, pushing home plate towards center field and reducing the huge foul areas. Mike Piazza, not known for his speed, once scored from second on a wild pitch because it was so far from home plate to the screen where the pitch stopped. It wouldn’t have happened with the newer configuration. I often thought Piazza should have gone free agent and signed with Colorado just to win an MVP or three; his lifetime average in Coors Field was .374, and it can’t all be because of Rockies pitching.

    What really hurts Drew’s HOF candidacy (aside from switching teams at the drop of a dollar, which does bother some folks for reasons that escape me) is he only made one All-Star team. If instead of 14 injury riddled seasons he had ten mostly healthy ones with similar stats, then retired young, he’d LOOK a lot better with those career numbers. Ten seasons with that WAR averaging over 600 PA/year playing a lot of center field, now that would gain a lot more consideration. It’s not as though Drew wanted to get hurt.

  6. Jeremy says:

    Agree with everything Joe said, but special mention should also be made of the huge Grand Slam he hit in Game 6 of the 2007 ALCS (he even did a fist pump while running around the bases to show that he cared 🙂 True, he was maligned in Boston, but (for this Sox fan at least), he’ll always be most remembered for what he did at that moment rather than what he didn’t do the rest of the time.

    • MikeN says:

      Not just the $14 million grand slam. He had more clutch hits in the playoff than people remember.

    • MikeN says:

      That was also the moment I realized Bill Simmons had lost it.
      ” I write about sports for a living. When I’m watching a game, I have trained myself to look for every possible angle and every conceivable scenario. I am thinking about potential jokes, observations, column angles and everything else. I am prepared for everything. I am a trained professional at watching sports and eventually translating my feelings into words.

      So believe me when I tell you this … from the time Drew walked up to home plate to the time that ball landed in the center-field stands, I never even considered the possibility of a grand slam.

      • Jeremy says:

        That’s interesting, because I have trained myself that no matter who’s up with the bases are loaded (except maybe Duane Kuiper…sorry Joe 🙂 I’m thinking about at least the possibility for a grand slam. Now granted, in Drew’s case the count was 3-1 (& Carmona could get wild) so I was realistically hoping for at least a walk and a 1-0 lead. But to that point Drew had hit 173 regular season HRs in his career, so to declare his “trained professional” brain said there was no possibility he could go deep there is just Bill being an ass.

        • KHAZAD says:

          Just last year, my Wife (who is a big baseball fan, but not always knowledgeable about the details of the game) and I were watching/listening to a Royals game. The bases were loaded, and she texted me “Grand Slam!” I texted back “Jarrod Dyson doesn’t hit home runs” and just after I pressed send, he hit a grand slam.

          It is always a possibility.

        • MikeN says:

          Yup. Although my reason for saying he lost it was because of how much he was writing about what a writer he is.

    • Oilcan23 says:

      Red Sox fan here.

      He really had a miserable season up until that point. It was one of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen. (I don’t mean that in the grand scheme of things; 2004 on a different scale.) I mean, I never considered the possibility that he’d do anything other than strike out. (I would have expected a double play if not for the fact there were two outs.) (Equally shocking, playoff edition, were Victorino’s grand slam when he was hobbled and that time Koji gave up a walkoff homer to the Rays’ backup catcher.)

      And I actually liked Drew in a lot of ways, but he did seem like a guy for whom the old school stats better described his talents than the newer ones. In 2007, he had 64 RBIs mostly batting fifth for a team scored a trillion runs. I appreciated the walks and the quietly excellent defense. (What a contrast with Trot Nixon!) But, I swear, if he had regular-season 64 RBIs that year you’d have to have a hell of a memory to recall a single one. That’s JD Drew.

    • Adam says:

      My favorite JD Drew moment with the Red Sox was after Game 6 of the ALCS against Tampa Bay – 2008 I believe. The Red Sox made a ridiculous comeback from down 7 in the 8th, and Drew had the game winning hit, a line drive over the head of the right fielder. In his post-game interview, he was holding his son, and there was lots of excitement and celebration all around them – people rubbing Drew’s head and patting him on the back. His son looked up at him and said “What did you do daddy?” And Drew just smiled, probably a bigger smile than I had ever seen from him during his time with the Red Sox (and watching almost every game). I don’t think you need to wear your heart on your sleeve to care. I think this moment showed that JD Drew was a great person and a great ballplayer, and that he took a lot of pride in being both.

  7. Pat says:

    Some notes:
    “J.D.” Drew’s first name is actually David, and his middle name is Jonathan. Don’t know why he’s not D.J. Drew other than maybe he thought it sounded like a turntablist.
    Drew was the first Red Sox RF who made me realize how good you have to be to play right at Fenway. Michael Schuur mentioned this on a recent Poscast, but the Red Sox really do need two CF, one to play center and one to play that gargantuan right field.
    A Braves fan friend credits Chipper Jones for Drew playing full-time while in Atlanta. Specifically, the story goes that Drew begged off as injured, and Chipper knocked him into a locker and said “that $#!+ won’t play here.” No idea if that’s true.
    I always thought the Drew nagging was mysterious. The guy got on base, played awesome defense in an important part of the field, ran the bases expertly—all those things are quintessences of “playing the right way” and doing the little things. My first guess was the lack of passion resulted from his attitude at the end of at-bats. When he was in Boston, his teammate Kevin Youkilis never took a called strike three at less than 100 degrees. The guy was heated. Drew, though, heard “strike three,” turned around, and was walking to the dugout by the time he heard “yer out!” I think I saw him yell once in four years, but I have little confidence in that memory. Sox fans, I was sure, saw that professionalism and thought, “No heart.” (Didn’t help that he’d replaced the polar opposite in Trot Nixon. Even took Trot’s #7.)
    Years later, another Sox fan said something that explained it to me. I forget the argument, but my buddy said that Drew pissed him off because if, say, Dustin Pedroia had the talent J.D. Drew was given, Pedroia’s drive and passion would have turned him into Ted Williams.
    You notice that? J.D. Drew, Dustin Pedroia, Ted Williams. Think about it another ten seconds; you’ll get it.
    This is a Sox fan intimating that Dustin Pedroia doesn’t have a dump-truck-load of talent, which is absurd. What my friend was talking about—what a lot of Drew critics were talking about—was Drew’s swing, and it really might have been the prettiest since Williams’s, which somehow got translated into talent. Dustin Pedroia has talent… and a huge, looping swing. It doesn’t matter for him; he puts the barrel on the ball and gets hits. But there’s something about that tight needle-stitch of J.D. Drew’s swing that just hypnotized some people, because only gods get a swing like that… and when they didn’t see it wielded by a god, they started to think he was really a devil.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Yes. Chipper Jones did call out Drew in Atlanta, in the press, for sitting out with minor ailments. And it DID seem to have an impact. He started playing every day, and as noted, had a full monstrous season. That’s the thing. Drew’s “injuries ” were those unexplained injuries. Sore hamstring, tightness in his back, etc. Every player might have these once in a while. But with Drew, it was all the time. The suspicion was that he was resting himself to make sure he didn’t end up with a serious injury that would jeopardize his next contract. And worse, that maybe Boras was coaching him to do so. Even after the monster season, Braves fans never warmed to him and weren’t that sorry to see him go. Of course it’s always viewed as a bust trade too since Wainwright ended up being a star. Pretty ironic that his best and most complete season wasn’t enough to make his trade be considered a positive in any way.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        The Braves would not have won the division that year without Drew. It ended up not being a good deal because Drew left and Wainwright became Wainwright but he was a great player that year.

      • Rick Rodstrom says:

        That’s the thing about the injuries—they were undiagnosable. No breaks, no tears—Drew didn’t play hard enough to break or tear anything—just the everyday aches and pains that gamers play through to help their team win. How many other players could have raised their stats by only playing when they were feeling 100%? Or removing yourself from a lineup because a tough pitcher is starting? Yeah, that’ll help keep your stats up. Because Drew didn’t care one whit about helping his team win. He didn’t like baseball (he preferred football), he didn’t care about the fans, his teammates, anything. He’d be interviewed after a big win or a big loss and be like, whatever. It didn’t matter to him. He was in it for himself and for the cash, period. JD Drew was the most lifeless, gutless player I have had the displeasure of watching on the baseball diamond.

        • invitro says:

          This kind of opinion is why I said Drew is practically in the Basket of Deplorables… I think I’d still rather have him than a player who produced, say, 1.0 less WAR than Drew. Maybe. I somewhat believe in clubhouse chemistry and so I would never have someone like Dick Allen on my team at any salary, so Drew’s cowardice might make me discount him even more.

  8. invitro says:

    I started reading that Bissinger book, and I think it’s the stupidest book I read this year. Bissinger is stupid, La Russa is stupid or close to it, his lineup choices and the Cubs’ are both stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I’m not going to read Friday Night Lights or any other Bissinger book because of how stupid this book is.

    Drew has the 5th-highest WAR/PA of the players on this ballot, after Bonds, Walker, Bagwell, and Martinez. He wasn’t just a great player when he played; he was a easy HoFer when he played.

  9. Bpdelia says:

    Most of those guys you compare him to played much longer and so both compiled stats and also kept those rate stats even after playing for YEARS past their physical primes. Drew was a very very good player but comparing him to yogi berra is absurd and even Winfield is crazy.

    Winfield was a productive major league caliber player for twenty years.

    Drew’s really not particularly close.

  10. Rob Smith says:

    Interesting comment that Drew was stressed by his concern about hitting curveballs. That was the thing. Drew would absolutely hammer fastballs. You couldn’t throw one fast enough to get it by him. But he was vulnerable to the curve. His usual strategy was to take them. So pitchers had to throw curves for strikes. If not, Drew would walk, or hammer the 3-1 fastball. He definitely had a big hole there. His patience hid it, but it was always there.

  11. Josh Mayfield says:

    JD Drew = Jay Cutler?

    I watched Drew closely his first couple of years in St. Louis. The ease with which he could put a ball in the deep seats, the effortless speed around the bases, the surprising arm, it was all there. At one point during his second (I think) season I remember making a bet with someone that he’d win an MVP in the next 3 years. As Joe says, he had an enviable career. But it’s hard, having seen the ability, not to wonder about what might have been.

  12. birtelcom says:

    Fewest career PAs by a retired player with 44 or more baseball reference WAR:
    4,940 John McGraw 45.6 WAR
    5,103 Frank Chance 45.6 WAR
    5,527 Gene Tenace 46.8 WAR
    5,695 Shoeless Joe Jackson 62.3 WAR
    5,772 Buck Ewing 47.7 WAR
    5,804 Jackie Robinson 61.5 WAR
    5,905 Thurman Munson 45.9 WAR
    6,036 Art Fletcher 47.0 WAR
    6,098 Hank Greenberg 57.5 WAR
    6,116 Nomar Garciaparra 44.2 WAR
    6,153 J.D. Drew 44.9 WAR
    6,208 Mickey Cochrane 52.1 WAR
    6,256 Ralph Kiner 49.3 WAR
    6,299 Larry Doby 49.5 WAR
    6,352 Ernie Lombardi 49.5 WAR

    • invitro says:

      We were just talking about Gene Gene the Walking Machine.

      • Rob Smith says:

        Tenace is an interesting case. The odd thing was that he was the MVP of the 1972 World Series after a terrible season (.225/.307/.339) as a part time catcher. His power was mediocre and he didn’t even walk a ton. So, OK. Lousy players sometimes have big moments. But after that, he actually was a really good player. I honestly didn’t see that coming, even after the big World Series.

  13. Mark Daniel says:

    Maybe Drew was a follower of Marcus Aurelius: “When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.”

  14. Ross says:

    My favorite illogical quirk related to JD Drew: for years and years, Phillies fans mercilessly booed his brother, Stephen, any time he came to the plate in Philly, just as an extension of how much they hated JD. Haven’t been to a Stephen Drew-in-Philly game for a few years, but for all I know they may still do it.

  15. E Yu says:

    I’m sad I didn’t see this earlier, but after the first year of his Red Sox career I grew to love him. I ended up finding it truly endearing how much like a robot he was (he didn’t have batting music, and look at this post game interview after his walk off win in the 2008 ALCS, where the sox came back from an 0-7 defecit: He’s not even excited!). Always on an even keel, he was great.

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