"I had a dream. Crazy dream.
Anything I wanted to know, any place I needed to go...
Hear my song. People won't you listen now? Sing along.
You don't know what you're missing now.
Any little song that you know
Everything that's small has to grow.
And it has to grow!
California sunlight, sweet Calcutta rain . . .
Honolulu starbright - the song remains the same."
- Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin, "The Song Remains the Same" Houses of the Holy - 1973
The Red Sox will be lucky to reach purgatory this season, never mind find a stairway to Heaven.
The song has remained the same for the Red Sox since Robert Andino's base hit dropped in front of a sliding Carl Crawford in shallow left field at Camden Yards in Baltimore, sending Nolan Reimold home with the winning run in the early minutes of Sept. 29, 2011. Four minutes later, Evan Longoria homered to finish off Boston's historic collapse.
Since then, the Red Sox have taken chicken and beer to stratospheric levels, disposed of managers Terry Francona and Bobby Valentine, swapped out GMs, dumped a quarter-billion dollars of payroll in one move last August and completed their worst season since the Beatles released the "Rubber Soul" album.
They remain now exactly where they were then in the hearts and minds of anyone - through choice or genetics - who is a member of Red Sox Nation.
Terry Francona's book has re-opened all the wounds that have never really healed from the smoldering wreckage of 2011. The fallout generated by 7-20 and the Rays' historic win in St. Petersburg moments later 484 days ago has become radioactive again with the official Tuesday release of "Francona: The Red Sox Years" co-authored by Dan Shaughnessy.
"The way it ended wasn't all that great," Francona told Boston.Com's Boston Sports Live on Wednesday.
The debate lingers as to whether or not the 2011 choke was worse than what happened to our older brothers, uncles and fathers in 1978, 1986 or 2003. But there's no arguing the long-term effect it has has on this team, organization and fan base. The Red Sox won 91 games in 1979 (finishing in third place), before struggling for a couple of years in the early 1980s. The 1987 Red Sox stumbled despite keeping much of the lineup from 1986. But the basis of the roster remained intact and Boston won the A.L. East in 1988. And we all know how quickly the Red Sox recovered from Grady Little and Aaron Boone's Game 7 antics in 2004.
The 2011 Red Sox remain woven in the fabric of the 2013 Red Sox. On the personnel front, the biggest reminder of that is the fact that John Lackey is going to be - for better or worse, like it or not - the linchpin of this rotation. How terrifying is that? Even though Lackey is a No. 3 or No. 4 starter, there's not getting rid of him nor can the Red Sox afford to shelve him if he's recovered from his Tommy John surgery. Lackey will be under a blistering microscope as soon as pitchers and catchers report in three weeks.
How much does he weigh? Is he in shape? What type of influence will he have on the rest of the pitching staff, even with Josh Beckett in Los Angeles? Red Sox fans love their history, but those questions mean more to this team right now than Tito's interesting and enlightening anecdotes about 2004.
Each time Lackey pitches, everyone watching will automatically be taken back to the days of Popeye's and Bud Light. The revelation that he was double-fisting in the clubhouse last season during his rehabilitation, when he wasn't even on the roster, set off sonic booms on sports talk radio and page-view surges across the digital media spectrum.
Meanwhile, the lineup will go as David Ortiz goes. Not much new there, with or without Gonzalez.
The most relevant part of Francona's book to any of us who are focusing on the 2013 Red Sox are the quotes attributed to Theo Espstein about the type of players the Red Sox coveted. Espstein has since said they were taken out of context. But it's hard to believe that that the core of what he said still isn't a guiding principle on Yawkey Way these days. "They told us we didn’t have any marketable players, that we needed some sizzle,” Epstein said, according to Francona. “We need some sexy guys. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. This is like an absurdist comedy. We’d become too big. It was the farthest thing removed from what we set out to be.”
Then there's the infamous $100,000 marketing research project the Red Sox commissioned in 2010 which allegedly led to the acquisitions of Carl Crawford and Gonzalez. The report was intended to figure out a way to stop the ratings slide on NESN: “(W)omen are definitely more drawn to the ‘soap opera’ and ‘reality-TV’ aspects of the game ... They are interested in good-looking stars and sex symbols” Francona's book quotes the report as saying. For some reason, the "sexy" reference was pointed at second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
Dustin Pedroia - sex symbol. That's just how screwed up things have gotten.
I'll take the book at its face-value and focus on what was actually written, as opposed to the spin being offered by Francona this week.
You can click here or here for a book review. Francona made several appearances on Boston media Wednesday and he appeared to back some off the most incendiary remarks released last week when the book was excerpted in Sports Illustrated. “I actually think they’re really good owners. I was disappointed in some of the things, in my communications with them, I was very disappointed. That doesn’t mean they’re not good people or good owners," he told WEEI's The Big Show.
That's quite a departure from what he actually wrote in the book: "I don’t think they love baseball. I think they like baseball. It’s revenue … It’s still more of a toy or hobby for them. It’s not their blood. They’re going to come in and out of baseball."
One thing is for sure, the Red Sox have given their viewers one of the great baseball soap operas of all time in the past 17 months. Bobby Valentine was epic as Erica Kane - considered the ultimate soap opera diva and "bitch goddess."
But that soap opera didn't help much when it came to winning. John Farrell can't hurt and he has as much chance of turning around Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Lackey as anyone. Whether or not Farrell is as slick as Valentine, calm as Francona or somewhere in between won't matter if he can't resurrect the starting rotation.
Again, Ben Cherington is a real-life Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) in "Wall Street," who was named president of Bluestar Airlines just in time for the airline to be liquidated by Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). Cherington is about to start his 15th season with the Red Sox. Perhaps he's hoping just to ride out this this storm and stick around and emerge as team president if/when the team is sold. He's already survived one ownership change and watched Epstein and Dan Duquette (who hired him in 1999) permanently exit the premises. Until then, he's merely a by-stander.
It's mind-boggling to think that despite the departure of Crawford, Gonzalez and Beckett last August, the Red Sox are already carrying a $160 million payroll for 2013 and have $142 million in guaranteed deals for 2014 (trades notwithstanding). So much for saving for the next big free-agency market. All those three-year, $39-million deals eventually add up.
They're sexy even if we didn't know it.
Mike Napoli = man candy.
Francona's tome reinforces the somber point that Tom Werner, John Henry and Larry Lucchino are still calling the shots for the Red Sox. There's no reason to believe this ownership group has stopped the quest for "sexy" players or no longer pine for gripping finishes and thrilling storylines to bring in more female viewers. And it's hard to counter the claim this ownership group carries more passion for the pitch at Anfield than the pitcher at Fenway Park.
You can make book on that.
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