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Bob Ryan

Sox’ biggest loss is their credibility

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / October 14, 2011

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Has one amazingly awful month undone the good work of the previous seven years?

The championships in 2004 and 2007 remain wonderful memories, but no one likes to be exploited, and how else can the Red Sox’ constituents feel as they examine the current franchise wreckage?

The fans now realize they were asked to root for what has been revealed to be an unrootable team. So will it be instant forgive and forget when we all reconvene next April for the Fenway Park 100th anniversary season?

Fans historically have been resilient. New Englanders have had a deep feeling for baseball, the generational linkage that is played up so often, and, since 1967, the ballpark itself. The Red Sox assumed they would parlay all that into a joyous celebration of the “lyric little bandbox of a ballpark,’’ and they very well might do just that.

A frigid, snowy winter is a conceivable ally. In such an event, baseball would be a welcome concept once March rolls around. People might be willing to tap into the usual emotions and welcome back a sport that has been important here for more than 140 years and a team to whom fans have had an allegiance since it came into being in 1901, immediately outdrawing a National League team that had been quite dominant in the 1890s.

But will people simply hit the mental “delete’’ button after what they have just experienced? Why would someone invest emotionally in the 2012 Boston Red Sox, and never mind the financial aspect?

Don’t the Three Amigos have some ’splainin’ to do?

Over and above accounting for the one homer and eight RBIs during the final month, shouldn’t David Ortiz apologize to everyone for that shameful demonstration of selfishness, when he burst into Terry Francona’s pregame media briefing to moan about being deprived of an RBI by a scorer’s decision the night before?

Shouldn’t Kevin Youkilis take out a full-page ad containing a mea culpa to newly minted Comeback Player of the Year Jacoby Ellsbury for doubting his grit after Ellsbury broke ribs in 2010?

We are told that the center fielder was not exactly Mr. Congeniality among his clubhouse mates this past season. Who could blame him after what he went through the year before? He played in a fury, demonstrating his immense talent and peaking with a fabulous performance in the final weeks. Had Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and John Lackey performed even 50 percent as well, one of them might be on the mound for an ALCS Game 6 tomorrow.

Fans understand that somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. No one - not even followers of the star-crossed Cubbies - understands that any better than a Red Sox fan who lived through such heartbreaks as 1946, 1949, 1967, 1975, 1978, 1986, and 2003 before being rewarded with the glorious events of 2004.

But implicit in the compact uniting players and fans is the idea that as much as the latter care, the former should care even more. And that compact risks rupture when fans learn that three starting pitchers spend leisure moments during games having a good ol’ time in the clubhouse, drinking beer, chowing down on biscuits and chicken, and playing video games.

It is disillusioning and sobering for fans to think the players they back with emotion and money are not as completely committed to the enterprise as they are. Experience teaches all writers and broadcasters that, sadly, that is very often the case, no matter what the sport. Fans seldom believe it when we tell them, but it becomes an easier sell when a fiasco such as this is reported to them. It is possible a great many fans will never feel the same way about either the team or the sport again.

One might ask, in terms of performance, does it really have anything to do with anything? Well, consider this: The stories were floating around during September that the Red Sox - specifically some of the pitchers - had a conditioning issue. You can look it up. We’re also told these gentlemen were less than vigilant in the general work department. None of the three pitchers performed close to a high level (although with Lackey, it’s hard to tell).

So if conditioning was an issue, it is painful to note that had each of them won an additional game apiece, the Red Sox would have made the playoffs.

Apropos of I don’t know what, it’s interesting to note that, as colleague Dan Shaughnessy pointed out one spring, the deciding games of the 2002, 2003, and 2007 World Series were won by John Lackey, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester, with Lackey the oldest of the three at that moment at 24 years and 4 days. We might ask where that fire has gone.

Was once enough in the case of Messrs. Lackey and Lester? And why has Beckett still had only one great start-to-finish season, that being 2007, when he did acquire a second championship ring? We know he has recurrent back troubles. But has he ever totally dedicated himself to taking full advantage of a talent that made him the No. 2 pick in the 1999 draft?

There will never be a complete answer to what happened to the Red Sox in September of 2011. It’s practically voyeuristic to focus exclusively on those three sitting in the clubhouse, doing whatever they were doing. It’s also simplistic to blame it all on them.

Other bad things happened. Had Daniel Bard continued to be the Daniel Bard of June, July, and August, the Red Sox would have made the playoffs. If Youkilis hadn’t been banged up, if Big Papi had driven in a half-dozen or so timely runs, if Adrian Gonzalez had maybe gotten a hit or two off the Rays, if Ellsbury, great as he was, hadn’t run into a stupid out or two, if Carl Crawford, well, where do we start? If Papelbon had gotten one more out, if, if, if . . .

All true, but in the final postmortem, all irrelevant. The image of the 2011 Red Sox will be forever tarnished.

The new manager, Mr. X, has a giant task before him. Winning games is a given, but before that even becomes an issue, he must do something else.

He must restore credibility. The 2011 Boston Red Sox forfeited it all.

Bob Ryan can be reached at ryan@globe.com. Follow Bob on Boston.com at Globe 10.0.

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