A Farewell to James Shields | The Process Report

A Farewell to James Shields

In spring, 2008, Troy Percival wore a handcrafted spring training jersey bearing the message, “Kazmir Shields Garza/Glavine Avery Smoltz.” Referencing the Braves rotations of the 1990s is dangerous. Percival knew the risks of looking foolish. Sure enough, he messed up. Scott Kazmir—with a white-hot flash of brilliance—resembled Steve Avery, not Tom Glavine. That leaves James Shields and Matt Garza to serve as Glavine and John Smoltz.

It doesn’t matter which is which, just know Shields got the short end of the mythology stick. Garza won Game Seven of the American League Championship Series. Kazmir started Game One of the World Series. Shields started—and won—Game Two on the strength of 5 2/3 shutout innings but the memorable pitching appearance of the Game Two came from David Price. By keeping the Rays in the game Shields, to put it in a blunt manner, did his job.

Shields had a habit of doing his job. You never heard him complain or blame someone else, even during a woebegone 2010 season, or on the all-too-common occasion when he lost a game because of the offense’s inability to score runs. He never missed a start due to injury. Every five games you knew Shields would take the mound. You knew that Shields would be the first starting pitcher lobbying Joe Maddon to get into a game that went deep into extras—he’d probably lobby Maddon to see it through if he started the game. Intentionally hitting batters is nothing to be proud of, but Shields considered it his job to stick up for his teammate and manager when Coco Crisp crossed the line during the summer of 2008.

The right-hander gave back to the community through philanthropic efforts aimed at foster children. Shields served as a role model and mentor to the young pitchers on staff. He was a tireless worker with the insane conditioning habits required by a pitcher capable of throwing 200-plus innings each season for six straight years. You never had to worry about Shields showing up out of shape, or leaving a ballgame with an injury. Likewise, you never worried about Shields showing up in the papers for an arrest or public incident.

Shields did his job every fifth day by going deep and keeping the score close. He had his fair share of stinkers—everyone does—but he always faced the media. When it came time to change his approach, Shields did more than go along, he mastered it. Even in his final duty to the Rays, Shields—by accumulating trade value and bringing back a crop of talented youngsters—kept the cycle alive. He did his job.

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