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Not being worth it is big deal to Vernon Wells

The Angels' $126-million man gets emotional when discussing the circumstances that will cost him his spot in the starting lineup when he returns from his rehab assignment for an injured thumb.

July 21, 2012|T.J. Simers
  • Vernon Wells has started a rehab assignment with the Salt Lake Bees, knowing that when he gets back to the Angels there will be no room for him in the starting lineup.
Vernon Wells has started a rehab assignment with the Salt Lake Bees, knowing… (Salt Lake Bees )

SALT LAKE CITY — — The man who has it all, millions and millions and at least 40 more coming, is crying.

He's sitting in the lobby of a fancy hotel here, his hands curled into fists to fight away the relentless tears.

He cares so much he cannot speak.

You know him, of course: "WELLS" across his back when he's playing and you might be booing.

To everyone else in baseball, he's "Vernon Wells, the guy with the big contract who sucks." And he understands.

"That's my name," Wells concedes in acknowledging how it all runs together these days, seven years, $126million and he cannot hit.

This year was going to be different, slow to start but coming on, he says, when he injured his thumb. And by the estimation of many fans, he did the Angels a mighty big favor disappearing.

He's back, but sitting beside Angels Manager Mike Scioscia earlier this week in Detroit. Just the two of them in the dugout, Wells knowing what Scioscia is going to say, but it's still overwhelming.

"You are rehabbing to come back, but then you start watching two freaks on a baseball field take over with Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo," Wells says. "One side of you is like, that's awesome. Then you start thinking there's nowhere for me to play..."

He stops to settle himself, starts and stops again.

"I knew it, but hearing it ... That's the hardest thing for a competitor, knowing I won't have the chance to do what I love every day. I love this game, have so much respect for it and want so badly to be out there.

"But what do I have to argue? I'm Trout and Trumbo's biggest fan. You have two guys who will be in the top four when it comes to MVP voting. There's no room to make it work with Torii Hunter playing well along with Albert Pujols and Kendrys Morales.Peter [Bourjos] deserves to play every day; look how well he's handled things."

As soon as Wells and Scioscia part in the Detroit dugout earlier this week, Wells calls his wife.

"She's always been there for me, and so I just lost it," he says, and guaranteed money doesn't mean an athlete doesn't care.

"She's the wisdom in this relationship; she also has lots of fire and is the first to tell me when I suck. She's been my friend since we were 15 and so I listen.

"She told me to take this as an opportunity and show everyone I'm going to be the same person I have always been. No moping around; the Lord has plans for all of us to prosper."

As badly as things went from the start for Wells here, and as gentle and agreeable as he remains, folks probably know him only as a punching bag.

He uses a chunk of the money he's paid to help single mothers and homeless children, but such information does not come from him. He's just the bum who can't live up to what he's paid.

Placid in so many ways, like Garret Anderson before him, he just doesn't seem to hurt as much striking out as Angels fans are disappointed when he does.

"The fans don't know me," says Wells, pointing to his gut and calling it, "a fire that burns inside.

"They know numbers and I sucked last year. It's not my goal to disappoint. I want to give them something to cheer. Someone boos and I smile. My job is to work hard, and if you get hits, all of a sudden you are a good person again.

"I don't apologize for what I'm being paid," he says. "I know fans are focused on the outcome, but all I can control is effort and doing everything I can to get better and I've never stopped or backed off in any way doing that."

The first thing Angels fans heard, though, when Wells arrived was cheering in Toronto; after the Blue Jays freed themselves from that ridiculous contract of their own making.

Mix in Mike Napoli's name, the guy who rubbed Scioscia wrong and who had to go, and it's just a reminder that all the Angels received in return was a bust in Wells.

"You let it and it can kill you," Wells says. "But hey, everything is on me. My performance last year, getting hurt this year, it's on me.

"I can't get upset with anyone but myself. I put myself in this situation."

Last season after a bad night, Wells would take the 25-minute ride home from the stadium to regroup. So many sour nights, he says with a laugh, "He could have driven all the way home to Texas" looking for ways to regroup.

Project regroup begins anew here. He's playing for the Salt Lake Bees, while his teammates are playing their biggest series of the season to date back home.

"I just had to get past the pride thing when I talked to Scioscia," says Wells, who is buying breakfast, lunch and dinner for the Bees every day he's here.

"Once I got that out of me, it lit a fire under me again. It's a motivator. Without a doubt I still believe I can perform at a high level, so I'm going to work to help the Angels or if something else crazy happens and I'm somewhere else, I'll be ready."

As a veteran, he doesn't have to be in the minors. But he's doing what the Angels have asked of him, getting three hits in his first six at-bats and making a tough catch.

"Now, are the Angels telling me they need me to be down here because they don't want me to come back, or do they want to make sure I'm in shape?" he adds with a laugh. "I don't know, probably a little bit of both."

As the trading deadline approaches, Wells swinging terribly last year but still posting 25 home runs, the Angels probably would have to pick up some of his contract to really make him appealing elsewhere.

"This will be my biggest test," he says. "I'm a believer, so I put my faith in Him. I think this is a test to see how I'm going to handle it."

However it goes, though, he will get $21 million next season, $21 million the

year after that, atop the $21million he's getting this year.

Always the money.

His job is to make everyone talk about something else.

"I know I'm going to get that chance," he says.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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