The version of Kris Bryant we saw in spring training was quite a bit different from the one we saw throughout much of the 2020 campaign, and for good reason. He went from beaming ear-to-ear when asked about the upcoming birth of his baby boy to fighting through wrist and finger injuries as he put up the worst stats of his career.
Trade rumors have circulated since late 2018, when Buster Olney pushed the notion that the Cubs were willing to move their star third baseman that winter. Then you’ve got the constant criticism from those who ignore injuries, cherry-pick specific stats, and believe Bryant sucks if he’s not an MVP candidate. This is the part where I remind you again that being hit in the head by a German Marquez fastball in 2018 is absolutely NOT the nexus of Bryant’s downturn.
Oh, then there was the erroneous report of the huge extension he “turned down,” even though such an offer was never actually presented to him. Not that it mattered, since the repetition of that report has served to cement the notion of his greed in the minds of far too many fans. Add it all up and you can understand why Bryant was feeling a little spicy after hitting a grand slam against the White Sox in the penultimate game of the season.
“I don’t give a shit,” Bryant told reporters afterward. “I really don’t. That’s a good answer. I’m over it. Sometimes I go out there and go 4-for-4 and it’s not good enough for some people so I don’t give a shit.”
This is the part where I remind you that he was not saying he doesn’t give a shit about fans, something that shouldn’t need to be clarified. He was responding to a question about criticism of his performance, so he’s dismissing the criticism itself and not those who level it. Although if we’re being honest, it’d be perfectly fine to dismiss some of those people as well.
Now we come to Bryant’s recent interview with Red Line Radio, which managed to stir up a few things on Thursday. First came the revelation that Bryce Harper had the Cubs at the top of his list of destinations before the Cubs ran out of money and couldn’t pursue him. Then Bryant got a little more personal when asked whether he still finds joy in the game.
“At times, no,” Bryant said. “It really got to me sometimes, the stuff I was hearing. The first trade rumors that started to pop up really got to me. I find myself [thinking], ‘Man, is this even fun anymore? Why did I start playing this game?’ Because it was fun.
“There’s a lot of other stuff involved. You make a ton of money and fame and all this. You have to get yourself back to why I started playing.”
Bryant loves playing baseball and still has a passion for it, but he’s a human being — shocker, I know — whose emotions ebb and flow just like the rest of us. He went on to explain that he’s aware of the situation and is focused on doing what he can to rediscover the joy he once felt. In the end, that’s what not giving a shit is all about.
When you become too concerned with labor negotiations and stats and rumors and some moron yelling out his car window that you suck, you’re damn right it’s not going to be as fun. Despite what I can already bet more than a few people are going to erroneously claim, Bryant’s not bitching or whining about being blessed to take advantage of an opportunity to earn tens of millions of dollars playing a game.
He’s never given off so much as a hint of being upset with his particular station, though he has spoken out against the “total money grab” of service-time manipulation. Nothing he’s said or done has been aimed at hastening his departure from Chicago, though he has gone on record multiple times as saying he loves the city and the Cubs and would love to play his whole career there.
The sad fact of the matter, however, is that the Cubs don’t appear to have the wherewithal to work out extensions with any of their players at this point. So whether it’s a trade or the expiration of his current rookie deal, Bryant may well end up having to find joy with another team in another city. It’s just too bad it’ll take him leaving to make people appreciate what the Cubs lost.