PITTSBURGH — Starlin Castro says he heard enough speculation about getting traded that he stopped checking his Instagram account, trying to block out the noise from Cubs fans wondering what’s next for the All-Star shortstop.
The lasting image from this deadline will be New York Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores in tears, thinking he’s about to be traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. Amid a flurry of jump-the-gun reports, Carlos Gomez posed with teammates on a charter flight for a goodbye photo that went up on Twitter and has since been deleted.
That deal fell apart, and by July 30 the Brewers had shipped their All-Star/Gold Glove center fielder to the Houston Astros. The next night, Flores made it through the deadline and hit a walk-off homer in the 12th inning to beat the Washington Nationals at Citi Field.
This in a season where the Boston Red Sox benched Pablo Sandoval for “liking” an attractive woman’s pictures on Instagram during the middle of a game. Sandoval admitted to checking his cell phone while using the bathroom, and it became the perfect storm for a last-place team, an overheated media market and the new guy with a five-year, $95 million contract.
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If you are a young, rich and famous ballplayer, why even bother being on social media?
“I like to talk s--- to people,” Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “People like to talk s--- to me.”
As soon as Arrieta started his bromance with David Price on Twitter, it became part of a larger story about what the Detroit Tigers might do at the trade deadline and how hard the Cubs will pursue the Toronto Blue Jays rent-a-pitcher this winter.
“I like to connect with fans,” Arrieta said. “I don’t use Facebook because it’s all people that I used to kind of know, (back) in high school, third cousins and stuff. I don’t like Facebook.
“With Twitter, it’s more like a fan experience. I can interact with them and people from all over the world. Different businesses, companies, networking, I like to (explore) things I’m interested in, so I do reach out to people, or they reach out to me.”
Joe Maddon started a Twitter account at his old job to help promote the Tampa Bay Rays, and it has grown to around 246,000 followers. The Cubs manager explained his social-media policy in less than 140 characters: “Just don’t get caught.”
“People are going to talk,” said Addison Russell, the rookie second baseman who found himself under a completely different microscope when the Oakland A’s traded him to the Cubs last year. “People are going to share their opinions.
“I myself have a personal life. If I have a free minute, and I feel willing to post something that I’m doing, or something that I’m interested in, I’ll go ahead and post it if it’s not offending anyone.”
Even if it sometimes feels like the game is trending this way, players aren’t robots or only numbers on a screen.
“I still have family and friends back home that are on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram,” Russell said. “I like to let them know how I’m doing from time to time. People are going to talk. They’re going to send you rude messages. They’re going to send you great messages.
“At the end of the day, a ballplayer is another person. We’re just trying to do our job, have some fun and provide for our families. That’s No. 1 for us.”
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Jon Lester engaged with angry Red Sox fans on Twitter last December after signing his six-year, $155 million contract with the Cubs, which amounted to $20 million more than what Boston guaranteed in its final lowball offer.
Lester said: “The important part of that whole deal was to get the Boston fans that truly understood the decision, and that truly support us, and try to give them a response.
“Let them know that they’ll always be a part of our lives and part of our hearts. We’ll never forget our times and our relationships and memories that we’ve had there.
“Obviously, within that, you’re going to get just a few people that ruin it for everybody else. The biggest thing is we didn’t want (to let) them ruin it for everybody else. We wanted to continue with the good ones — and we felt like we could be a little bit of a smartass with the bad ones.”
The smart-ass New York tabloids — Daily News, Post and Newsday — went with pictures of Flores and “CRYING SHAME.”
“That’s kind of awkward, obviously,” Maddon said. “That’s just a product of today’s society and technology. Without social media and everybody having a voice and an opinion right now, something like that probably could not happen — wouldn’t have happened — 10 years ago (or) maybe even five years ago.
“It’s the world we live in right now. There’s a lot of things in today’s existence that I think make everything better. I can’t tell you that social media actually does. You got to live with it.”