The Silent Storm Known as Bobby Abreu

For the most part, Bobby Abreu has escaped having too much criticism thrown his way. He has also avoided – for the most part – the boos that accompany many players that spend any amount of time in Philadelphia. Now, with a team that figures to be the best that Philadelphia has seen in a long time and with Pat Burrell putting up strong numbers, the roving eyes will look for problems. It won't take much more than a passing look to see that Abreu represents some potential problems.

Maybe it's his charming little smile. Who knows what it is, but for some reason, Bobby Abreu has been the Teflon Right Fielder. Nothing has really stuck. Early in his career, he was constantly late for practices – maybe he was hanging out with Allen Iverson – and after games, he set speed records in leaving the park. It became an issue and the Phillies talked to Abreu about it and even sat him down for a couple games here and there to send a message. No real repercussions and the fans never really let Abreu hear about it from their seats.

On a couple different occasions, the Phillies have looked desperately for someone to take over as their leadoff hitter. Even though the stats show that out of all the positions in the order that Abreu has hit, his best numbers have come as a leadoff man, he didn't want to do it. Terry Francona tip-toed around the issue and got Abreu to take the job on a very limited basis, the limits of which were set by Abreu. Even Larry Bowa took somewhat of a hands-off approach and used Abreu as a leadoff man in just a couple spots. Then, it was back to third or some other place in the batting order. Again, Abreu even showing his somewhat selfish approach to the game never really felt the heat from the fans or the media for that matter.

This is a guy that has huge potential. This is a man that in 2001 became the first Phillie to ever have more than 30 homeruns and 30 stolen bases in a single season. Think about that. In the entire history of Phillies baseball, Abreu put up numbers that nobody had ever accomplished before or since. Perhaps, that's part of the reason why he has been handled with kid gloves. Abreu has put up solid career numbers, hitting .310 in six seasons with the Phillies and has averaged 22 homeruns, 90 RBI and 27 stolen bases. The numbers are definitely there and haven't slipped at all even when Abreu's attitude didn't seem to be the best.

Defensively, Abreu has been hit and miss. He has a cannon for an arm, but his throwing accuracy has gone down over the past couple seasons. Still, he has one of those outfield arms that runners don't want to challenge. He makes great plays look routine, but will sometimes make routine plays look rough or even impossible. The debate has raged about whether Abreu is dogging it at times or whether he's just so good that he makes it look easy. Let's just say that there are varying camps on that issue.

Probably the biggest reason why Abreu has escaped the wrath of Philadelphia fans is that the numbers have been there. You can argue that he hasn't hit his potential or that he dogs it or however you want to put it, but his numbers have been there. Now, through the first week of the 2004 season, the numbers aren't there. Abreu is hitting .091 (2-for-22) with 1 RBI. Of course, nobody has checked if hitting fifth in the order rather than third is okay with Abreu. Maybe that's the problem. If the only thing that has kept Abreu from becoming a lightning rod in Philadelphia is his numbers, there are problems ahead for Abreu if he doesn't pick up the pace.

Abreu won't be dealt with the way Pat Burrell was dealt with when he slumped miserably last season. Burrell has always shown that he was hustling and never was hit with accusations of uninspired play. The problem with Pat Burrell last season was perceived as nothing more than a horrible, horrendous slump that some players hit early in their careers. The Philadelphia fans dealt with Burrell in a perfect way and he has returned to reward their patience with a hot start to the 2004 season. In fact, it's safe to say that Burrell will likely be greeted with the most applause of anybody when the Phillies are introduced prior to the opener at Citizens Bank Park.

Abreu's honeymoon will likely continue in the early games at CBP because the fans want a winning team and they want players that play hard, but their enthusiasm will be kept high because of their new surroundings. Pretty soon though, the patience with Abreu will wear thin. Fans will start to talk about his attitude of the past. His unwillingness to appear to be a team player. His five-year, $64 million contract will also be called into question.

You have to also figure that the Phillies themselves won't take a struggling and seemingly disinterested Bobby Abreu very well. They too have been patient with Abreu, but there is an end in sight to that patience. Of course, the Phillies hands may be somewhat tied with Abreu since his contract also includes a full no-trade clause, meaning that Abreu would have to approve any deal that the Phillies might want to make.

The bottom line is this. Bobby Abreu has little room to manuever before he becomes the poster boy for all that may be wrong with the Phillies team. Throughout his career, Abreu has put up the numbers and has been a fan favorite. If the numbers part of that equation falls apart, the fan favorite part of the equation could fall apart as well and it could all happen very quickly.

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