In the oddest blog post I’ve seen in a while, Joel Sherman says that Phil Hughes came to camp too fat, but then lost too much weight, but then had no work ethic, and that’s why he stinks. Or something:
I talked to a person with strong ties to the Yankees who threw out a theory I had not yet heard on what happened to Phil Hughes’ velocity: He lost too much weight.
This person said that while everyone was focused on Joba Chamberlain’s weight gain and his having to go for individual workouts following the standard spring training workouts in order to shed pounds, it was missed by the media that Hughes also showed up overweight and was dispatched also to what the team refers to as “The Fat Farm.” This person said he believes Hughes is a player who needs the extra bulk to pitch and that it was possible the loss of the bulk explains the decreased velocity.
I asked Yankees GM Brian Cashman about the theory and he essentially said: “hogwash.” He did confirm that Hughes was sent to “The Fat Farm,” but said that he was not asked to drop below last year’s playing weight and, in fact, was still above it a bit when the season began. Cashman insisted that nothing drastic was needed because Hughes was “just a little out of shape.” He said rapid weight loss was not one of the theories the Yankees were considering in trying to figure out why Hughes’ fastball has been consistently 3-6 mph lower than last year.
Regardless, the fact that Hughes did not show up in optimum shape in a season in which he knew how valuable he would be to the team says something, especially because there has been worry about his work ethic in the past. Hughes, for a young guy, is more doughy than chiseled. Cashman says it is still a bit of a mystery to the organization why Hughes’ velocity is down – though Cashman continues to say he is confident that the righty will rediscover the heat – but clearly Hughes needs to become more diligent year-round in taking care of himself.
The bolded portion is what caught my eye, simply because I had never heard this sort of claim about Hughes in the past. Joe Pawlikowski of RAB looked into it:
Anyway, Sherman then dropped a line that he’s dropped before, and so far as I can tell he’s the only one who has dropped it: “there has been worry about [Hughes's] work ethic in the past.” I did a quick search for this, and the only negative mention I found was from Sherman himself, in a column from December, 2007. In discussing a potential Johan Santana trade, Sherman cut to the chase: “Hughes is the surest thing, and he has a questionable work ethic and more of an injury history at 21 than Santana at 28.” Through a few queries and pages of results, I didn’t find any other first-hand mentions of Hughes having a poor or questionable work ethic.
Hughes may have the worst work ethic in the league. But unless Sherman is the only reporter that speaks to anyone in the Yankee organization about Phil Hughes, I’d bet that this is the sort of thing that is written as conjecture at one point, is repeated a few times, and then gets placed into future writing as a fact. More importantly, this sort of claim seems to be levied at every Yankee prospect or young player who struggles for a prolonged period of time. While it could be a giant coincidence that so many of the Yankee top prospects who have struggled at one point have had attitude or work ethic issues, I think there is something else at play.
In New York, the idea that a player is struggling because that is what young players do does not sell papers or drive pageviews. Every struggle needs to have a tangible reason, something that fans can point to and identify as the source of the player’s problem. In the search for that reason, we often come up with theories that we think could explain the player’s issues, and one convenient explanation is that the player is not working hard enough. This canard is frequently turned to because it lays the blame for poor play at the feet of the players and provides for an easy solution. If Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain or Jesus Montero or Robinson Cano or Melky Cabrera or Jose Tabata or Ian Kennedy would just work a little harder and put aside their egos/attitudes, they would be able to take the next step in their development. Once this comment makes its way into the mainstream, it becomes almost impossible for the player to shake the “poor worker” label.
The search for answers assumes that a simple fix is out there, but that is often not the case. Sometimes, the talent is not there, or injuries have played a role, or the player is not connecting with the right coaches. And sometimes the player is actually not working hard. But in New York, it seems that all struggles for young players eventually come back to the “poor work ethic” canard. Unless you believe that the Yankees just happen to produce hordes of prospects who hate to hone their craft, it might behoove us to take such reports with a giant grain of salt.
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