Ian Kinsler has pulled back the curtain and given us a glimpse of his raw emotion after being unceremoniously traded from Texas to Detroit. The picture that's emerging isn't pretty. When ESPN's Robert Sanchez spoke to Kinsler before spring training with the Tigers, the former Rangers second baseman took the opportunity to vent about his trade and the direction of the Texas Rangers.
Most of what Kinsler said I can deal with. The Rangers asked him to consider changing positions from second base to first base to give Jurickson Profar a spot in the lineup. Kinsler refused. That’s a veteran’s prerogative.
He said the Rangers would rue the day they lost Nolan Ryan. He’s not the first person to say that, either. He calls Rangers general manager Jon Daniels a “sleazeball.” If you believe Daniels pushed Ryan out of the organization, then you probably agree.
Kinsler called Jon Daniels a “sleazeball” and hopes his former team goes 0-162. But his comments about his own lack of leadership are worse.
Kinsler was ticked that he found out about the trade from Dallas media and not Daniels. That’s perfectly understandable. (Daniels says he was flying to Tucson when the trade went down.)
I can even deal with the fact that Kinsler says he loves his former teammates, but that he hopes the Rangers go “0-for-162.” He wants to prove the Rangers made a mistake trading him for Prince Fielder. I get it.
As troubling as all the aforementioned comments have been to others, it was what Kinsler said about leadership that really hit me wrong. First, Kinsler sounded off on the Michael Young trade: "It hurt us," Kinsler says. "He held everything together."
Then he weighed in about being cast as a clubhouse leader: "They wanted me to lead these young players, teach them the way to compete, when the only thing I should be worried about is how I'm performing in the game."
Finally, he addressed his new situation in Detroit: "In Texas, it was almost like my team. I go to Detroit, and it's Miggy's (Miguel Cabrera’s) team, it's (Justin) Verlander's team. I'm just a ballplayer. I can just go play and have fun."
That series of quotes was illuminating, and it made me think the Rangers were perfectly right in trading Kinsler.
Leadership is not required to be a professional athlete, but once an athlete reaches a certain level of maturity and stature, it’s expected. Some thrive in the role; others don’t. Young absolutely thrived in the role after the Alex Rodriguez trade, both by the example he set and by the respect he obviously held with teammates.
When Young was traded, I could see the Rangers naturally expecting Kinsler, Young’s running buddy, to take his place. By Kinsler’s own admission, being a leader either wasn’t a good fit or just wasn’t something he wanted. But it was what the Rangers desperately needed.
Professional athletes rarely go public with the burdens of leadership, at least not in the way Kinsler has. Perhaps he was put off by Young’s trade. A lot of folks were put off by it locally. But at some point you have to get over it, right?
When you put those three statements together it makes Kinsler sound, frankly, a little selfish. He just wants to play? Sure, everyone on the team wants to play. But Kinsler's refusing to help lead young players, just as Young did for Kinsler, well, that was a problem waiting to happen.
Organizations that are successful for years — not just for a year or two — have veterans that show the path to youngsters and, when the time comes, those youngsters, now veterans, do the same. That’s the unwritten rule in pro sports.
Was Kinsler a great player? Yes. Was Kinsler cut out for leading a clubhouse? It doesn't sound like it. If that’s the case, the Rangers were right to deal him.