Everett brings unique brand of leadership to Montreal
by Jerry Crasnick
VIERA, Fla.--In an age of media saturation, strong opinions expressed with little forethought can lead to world records for backpedaling. Just ask Jack McDowell, who thought Mark Prior's Achilles problems might be a sign of steroid use, then changed his mind when the fallout was sudden and severe enough to make him realize he sounded like an idiot.
McDowell did what any self-respecting ballplayer would do: He issued a half-baked apology, then tried to divert attention from his gaffe by blaming the players union.
In this respect, you have to admire Carl Everett, who became a source of ridicule a couple of years ago when he expressed doubt about the Apollo moon landing and the existence of dinosaurs roaming the earth. Everett's skepticism was based solely on the fact that he never witnessed either event. It's hard to say where he stands on Mrs. O'Leary's cow, the Kennedy assassination or Bobby Thomson's home run.
Conspiracy Carl craves conflict, and takes great pride in deviating from mainstream thinking. "I don't go with the majority," Everett said during an interview in spring training. "I form my own opinion. If 15 people say it's blue and I say it's green, then to me it's green."
And if thousands of people say the Expos are a band of vagabonds doomed to mediocrity and bad travel and he sees them as scrappy competitors who had a genuine need for his services, try convincing him he made the wrong career choice.
Montreal has traditionally been a redemption station for misfits who felt free to be themselves in the city, quirks and all. Bill Lee, Pascual Perez, Oil Can Boyd and Otis Nixon are among the players who arrived with checkered pasts or oddball reputations and found acceptance and an opportunity to thrive. Now it's Everett's turn.
After losing Vladimir Guerrero to free agency in December, Montreal general manager Omar Minaya was thinking more about what Everett would add to the team's lineup when he made his recruiting pitch. The Expos considered Juan Gonzalez and Raul Mondesi as right field options, but Everett was always their No. 1 post-Vlad target.
Minaya was aware that Everett brings the kind of baggage that customs agents typically can't inspect. He placed numerous calls and received several glowing endorsements, including one from Jerry Manuel, who managed Everett with the White Sox last season.
"Montreal isn't a New York or a Boston, where little things sometimes can be overblown," Minaya said. "I checked around to see what people thought. I checked with teammates. I checked with general managers. I checked with writers and managers, and everybody had a positive report about Carl Everett."
Everybody? Minaya must have missed Jimy Williams, umpire Ron Kulpa and the staffs of the Boston Globe and Boston Herald. But you get the picture.
Everett's bizarre worldview and reputation for volatility didn't scare off teams in search of a corner outfielder with pop. After agent Larry Reynolds spoke with the Devil Rays and Cardinals, Everett signed for two years and $7 million with Montreal because he considered the Expos more forthright than the other organizations.
"The Expos didn't play me against another player like the other two teams did," Everett said. "I talked to St. Louis and about two hours later they signed Reggie Sanders. Tampa was using me to get (Jose Cruz Jr.). They never wanted me."
This is what the Expos got: A switch-hitter with a .278 career average, 161 homers, two All-Star Game appearances and no hesitation about replacing Guerrero in the cleanup spot. Everett is ready to drive in big runs, run into walls, bend his teammates' ears and remind them of the commitment necessary to win.
Follow Everett around during batting practice, and he's invariably cackling about something or yelling good-natured insults at Expos hitting coach Tom McCraw. He brings a welcome edge and assertiveness to Montreal, where the team's best players--Guerrero, Jose Vidro, Orlando Cabrera and Javier Vazquez--have been soft-spoken Latinos who grew up in the organization. Last September, when the Montreal players were upset that Major League Baseball wouldn't allow them to add reinforcements from the minors for the stretch run, it fell to Todd Zeile to make the requisite noise in the papers. Zeile was just passing through town.
"We haven't had a so-called 'veteran vocal leader' in this clubhouse in a long time," said outfielder Brad Wilkerson. "He brings that to the table."
Judging from Everett's previous stops, clubhouse sentiment is generally positive. Most teammates hold him in high regard because he plays the game with such passion, he plays hurt and he so clearly burns to win. He also feels a responsibility to pass along accumulated knowledge and tips to young players. "There's a very generous side to him," said a former teammate.
It's the other stuff that gets tiresome after a while. Everett's penchant for coming on strong helps explain why he's destined to move every couple of years. "He's a guy who needs to vent," the former teammate said. "If you disagree with him on something, you better do it tactfully. He can explode, and it isn't pretty. But he'll come in the next day and it's all forgotten. Maybe not for you, but it is for him."
At the Expos' spring home in Florida, where the pace is so slow even the cows are bored, Everett was in camp barely a week before he saw something that disturbed him: Day after day, the clubhouse food spread consisted of sandwiches. So he dipped into his pocket, and suddenly the Expos were eating like big leaguers. One day the tins in the middle of the clubhouse were filled with seafood. The next day's menu featured pasta. Rumor has it that Everett even prevailed upon Vidro to help subsidize the effort.
"The tuna and eggs weren't cutting it every day, so he voiced his opinion," Wilkerson said.
The gesture immediately won Everett points with his new Montreal teammates, in much the same way Andy Dufresne won points with his fellow Shawshank inmates by wangling a few cold bottles of beer to make prison roof-tarring duty more enjoyable.
"I asked the clubhouse guy to do something different, that's all," Everett said. "I was taught that closed mouths don't get fed. As long as you're silent about it, nothing can be done."
Other crises are sure to arise as this season progresses. The Expos' travel will get old, the team will be prohibited from acquiring help at the trade deadline, and someone will have to step forward and make a statement. The betting here is on Carl Everett. As long as he has a mouth--and it's open--something provocative is bound to come out.