At first blush, it sounds a bit like psycho-babble and empty of true impact, calling an athlete a "high character guy." So you can give him your wallet and he won't steal your money? Yeah, OK. Great. Whatever. You can trust him with your credit cards. That's nice but, really, how much is a high character guy really worth?
In Jonny Gomes' case, that would be $10 million. Which shows you how precious the commodity is in pro baseball. Yes, a commodity. An asset. A high character guy unites a clubhouse, dissolves factions, promotes responsibility. No team in baseball has so routinely ignored that kind of player and that kind of attitude than the Boston Red Sox, yes, the Red Sox, 25 players taking 25 different cabs after a game. As if 25 players were speaking 25 different languages with no translator and no inclination to find one.
Or, as the Sept. 21 headline over an MLB.com story read: "2012 Boston Red Sox Are One of the Most Dysfunctional Teams in MLB History."
That's why the Red Sox went after Petaluma's Gomes the way a thirsty man goes after a bottle of water. Gotta have it. Need it. Won't make it without it. Talk to any big-league manager and he'll tell you the same thing: His biggest challenge is getting his players to play for teammates first, themselves second.
"I am someone who wears his emotions on his sleeve," said Gomes, an outfielder and designated hitter. "I am someone who is just as happy when a teammate hits a home run as when I hit one. I am someone who has the back of his teammates. I will defend them. You have to be a bit of a chameleon, able to handle different personalities from different cultures, especially now that baseball is global."
Money has changed all of pro sports but never so dramatically as baseball, where the average player's salary in 2012 was $3,440,000, according to CBSSports.com. With nearly every player his own mini-corporation, the tendency can be for a player to pay more attention to what a teammate makes, as opposed to how he plays.
"I am surprised no one has picked this up: Jonny is the perfect teammate," said Gomes' brother, Joey. "If you want him to be team captain, he'll do it. If you want him to be a role player, he'll do it. If you want him to bat leadoff, he'll do it. Jonny never complains about playing time. Jonny can't understand the whining. You're still getting paid, aren't you? You're still on the team, aren't you?"
That selflessness is at the core of Gomes' appeal. Of course, if Gomes' value was just inspiration, the Red Sox would have signed motivational speaker Tony Roberts to play left field. Gomes can hit rocket shots, not as often as he would like but enough that he is a game changer and someone to be respected. Which leads to a most obvious question — with Gomes' short answer a relevant insight into his personality.
How does Gomes resist the temptation of trying to send a ball over Fenway's Green Monster, the left-field wall only 310 feet from home plate?
"You don't," Gomes said. "You go for it."
That's Gomes all the way. He goes for it, every play, every day. It's his nature, of course, with added fuel coming from almost dying of a heart attack in 2002, not to mention being drafted in the 18th round of the 2001 amateur draft, which is almost like not being drafted at all. Adversity has been the coal in his furnace and he will never forget how much water was thrown into his furnace.