PEORIA, Ariz. — While other baseball players might sit on their couches in the offseason and relax, Brendan Ryan sat on his sofa this winter and, as is his wont, fretted.
Ryan, ever tinkering with his hitting approach, wasn’t really concerning himself with that part of his baseball expe
rience. What did bother him was his being portrayed as a distraction in the Cardinals’ clubhouse, with the upshot that he was traded to Seattle after a number of veterans apparently made it known to manager Tony La Russa that, in essence, it was difficult for them to be his teammate for eight or nin
“Yeah, that was very upsetting,” Ryan said Thursday in the Mariners’ clubhouse. “It was like I was a pretty bad guy. A clubhouse cancer and all kinds of horrible things.”
At this point, former Cardinals and current Mariners teammate Adam Kennedy walked by and cracked, “I think it’s true.”
Ryan still is perplexed by what happened — he was traded for hard-throwing Class A pitcher Mikael Cleto.
“To just kind of sit there and see some of the things that were written or whatever, I think people were looking for reasons why I, in a sense, was dumped,” Ryan said. “People want some closure. The only way it was justified was me looking bad in some way. Just sitting on the couch reading and hearing those things, it was tough, really tough.
“It really kind of crushed me. But what can you do? You don’t have your own TV station or a wireless mike from your living room. But to be portrayed as a bad teammate or a cancerous guy, I could not believe it.”
One remark that especially had pricked Ryan was from Cards reliever Ryan Franklin about, as Ryan called it, his “punctuality (or lack of same).” Ryan called Franklin about the matter and discovered that Franklin had been complimentary at other points in the interview.
These are things Ryan talked about early here Thursday and, as he admitted, “I’m not a morning person.”
Later, in the day, Ryan made a phone call to make it clear he wasn’t bitter about leaving the Cardinals, just disappointed.
“I don’t want to seem like I’m disappointed to be with the Mariners because I’m not,” he said. “You always want to be where you’re wanted. The Mariners wanted me. And the Cardinals clearly didn’t.
“But I’m still pulling for them. And I’ve talked to Tony (La Russa) a couple of times.”
A few days ago La Russa said, “We moved Brendan because he was in a growth process and we felt like it was risky, in case he was still growing. I like Brendan. A lot. I’ve said that many times.
“He’s learning how to control his energy. Every year he’s gotten better. Three or four years ago, he had no clue.”
What have you done lately?
One of the basics in the Ryan situation is that few complaints apparently were aired when he was hitting .292, as he did in 2009. When he hit .223 last year, the process might have changed.
One former Cardinal said, “It’s one of those situations where you say, ‘How much is the headache worth?’ If he’s hitting .300 … then you’re having to deal with it. When you’re hitting .220, then it’s a whole different animal.”
Referring to Ryan’s penchant for tardiness, the player said, “If it happens one time, you say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ When it happens all the time, it’s like, ‘Dude, seriously.’
“He was a big distraction. You’ve got guys walking the other way because they can’t deal with it. But I hope he does well. He’s a talented player.”
Kennedy said he could see how reactions toward a player might differ, depending on what kind of year the player is having.
“That is a fact of life in our business,” Kennedy said. “When you’re different and doing good, it’s a part of your character. And when you’re not, people think about what you could be doing to be better.”
But Ryan insists, “My behavior was exactly the same as in ’09. I didn’t change one thing.”
Except his average changed drastically — Ryan hit under .200 for much of the season — and he beat himself up while he might have been bothering others, too.
“As bad as it was statistically, you just feel like the walls are closing in,” Ryan said. “You’re not helping the team and the harder you try, the harder things seem to get. You feel you’re a burden. It’s just a horrible feeling that you’re not helping the team.
“I don’t want to say I was a victim of being treated differently, but in reality, that was kind of the case. If I had done the job I wanted to do, I feel like things would have ended different. But that wasn’t the case and some things got magnified. They may not have been the good things.”
And he had an acknowledgement.
“The tardiness thing. I did push that a couple of times,” he said.
Making reference to pitcher Chris Carpenter glaring at him and later dressing him down for not being able to find his glove at the start of an inning in Cincinnati, Ryan said, “Obviously, there was one thing that happened on camera,” he said. “I don’t want to bring him into it. I’m not saying he’s crazy about me, but I don’t want to bring him into it. But they know that I genuinely care and have a good heart.”
Kennedy said he never had an issue with Ryan, much as was the case with fans and media who found him unfailingly cooperative and polite.
“Brendan’s a different character but not in a bad way,” Kennedy said. “For a veteran like me, he’s always enjoyable to be around because he livens up the conversation or the energy he brings on the field.
“I’ve always taken it as a good thing about him being a little different and ‘out there’ a little bit. I don’t know if losing (the Cardinals finished second last year) got to them and they were looking for something more — because I know a lot of those guys were disappointed the way last year ended. Who knows? But it’s disappointing that that’s the case over there. You can’t tell him to tone it down. But if there were times when people did, he doesn’t take it personal.”
A new clubhouse
Ryan, 28, will contend with oft-injured Jack Wilson for the Mariners’ shortstop job and signed to a two-year, $2.75 million deal. He also has been fielding some balls at second base and could wind up there.
Former Cardinals star Ted Simmons, now a special assistant to Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik after being a bench coach with Milwaukee and San Diego in recent years, was one of those who pushed for the Mariners to get Ryan.
“The year before, (Ryan) was as solid a hitter as you would want, for as much as he played,” Simmons said. “You’d have to think there’s something between .290 and what he showed up with last year. I figure it’s a nice opportunity for us.”
Zduriencik, asked if he had to check on Ryan’s character, said manager Eric Wedge would deal with any clubhouse issues.
But Zduriencik said, “That’s in the past. Sometimes, you get a guy and put him in a different environment with a different club. You never know. We knew he was talented. You just work through those other things.”
Wedge already likes what he’s seen from Ryan.
“A lot of energy,” Wedge said. “Hard-nosed. Hungry.”
Ryan did say that the Mariners have discussed with him “taking it back a notch,” and Ryan said he has tried to take a deep breath once in a while.
“I almost have to be more tranquil,” he said.
No blaming McGwire
This offseason, Ryan said he decided not to hit at all for a couple of months after engaging in a program with hitting coach Mark McGwire the previous winter. Last February, Ryan felt his right wrist bother him and underwent surgery not long before spring training, surely hampering his start last year.
“I hate to bring up the surgery because it sounds like you’re making excuses. But it really limited my time in spring training,” Ryan said. “I definitely wish I would have done (the surgery) sooner but there was no way to know I needed it at that time. “Do I regret having done it? The only way I regret having done it is because of the numbers I put up. Outside, of that, absolutely not.”
As for his trying to adopt McGwire’s philosophies, Ryan said, “I don’t want to throw ‘Big Mac’ under the bus. I was trying to get better. I tried something new. It wasn’t his fault. The stuff he was teaching wasn’t wrong or anything. I just think I learned that I’m not strong enough to do some of those things.”
After wearing No. 13 with the Cardinals, Ryan is wearing No. 26, his high school number (he also was born on March 26).
“It’s my favorite number,” he said.
Then, smiling, he added, “It’s two times 13. I’ll play twice as good.
“I want to make the Mariners look so good “ and so smart. I wanted to be a Cardinal my whole career. Now, I want to be a Mariner for the rest of my career.
“It’s a fresh start. I want to be respected, be a good teammate and accountable. All of those things.”