To their credit, the Red Sox are not hiding. They are not downplaying expectations, shrugging them off, dismissing them entirely. Rather, they are embracing them, welcoming them, fueling them.
"Iíve always wanted to be on a team that won 100 games," pitcher Josh Beckett told reporters yesterday at the team's spring training complex in Fort Myers. "I donít think Iím more determined, but this team has a chance to do something really special like that and I think thatís where some of the determination comes from."The Red Sox are loaded, folks. And they know it. This is a positively wonderful thing. Red Sox history has been littered with teams that reported to camp in February with the grandest of expectations only to fall short of them in the final analysis. Over decades, that fueled a culture in which the Red Sox refused to acknowledge any expectations for themselves for fear that it would be thrown back in their faces come autumn.
But now? Now the Sox speak of winning 100 games, something they have done only three times in their history, once since 1915, never since 1946.The Sox are not merely talking about being good. They are talking about being great. Some of this is obviously drawn from an offseason in which the Sox ultimately will have spent roughly $300 million and assorted prospects on two players (Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez). Some of it is drawn from the fact that Red Sox culture has changed considerably in the last 5-7 years. Some of it is drawn from the fact that the Sox are come off a disappointing season in which much went awry.
Think about it: at this time last year, did anyone show up at spring training talking about the potential to win 100 games? Hell no. The focus then was on "bridge years" and "run prevention," conservative terms that blew up in the Red Sox' faces. From principal owner John Henry on down, the Red Sox ended up on The Bridge to Nowhere. The only thing they really prevented was themselves from getting to the playoffs.
Along the way, the Red Sox learned that the half-life of their popularity was precisely three years. From the end of 2007 to the end of 2010, their ratings on NESN plummeted roughly 50 percent.
To their credit, Red Sox owners responded with a vengeance, jacking their payroll to a whopping $180 million while abandoning last year's campaign slogans for something altogether different. In 2011, the Red Sox are out to "restore order." Consequently, they are shooting for the moon. One day after John lackey suggested that the disappointment of his 2010 season was "overblown," it was only fitting that Beckett was the one to cite the 100-win mark as a target.
Say what you will about Beckett - whether you love him or hate him - but know this: he ducks nothing. He makes no excuses and never will. Beckett can be high-maintenance with regard to his catcher and health, but the buck inarguably stops at the locker of No. 19. Every time Beckett beats himself up after losses, he sounds more and more like Bret Saberhagen or David Cone, two of the most accountable and no-nonsense players ever to have worn a Red Sox uniform.
Beckett doesn't run from responsibility. Instead, he often takes on more than he should. He regards himself as an ace and always has known how good he can be, and he doesn't ask anyone else to clean up his messes.
So long as the 2011 Red Sox win the World Series ó or come extremely close ó no one will care whether the Sox win 98 games or 102. But that is hardly the point. Since the turn of the 20th Century, only 93 teams in history ever have won so many as 100 games in a season. Since the Red Sox last did it in 1946, the feat has been accomplished 56 times. Of the 93 occasions since the start of the 1901 campaign, a whopping 19 of them ó or almost exactly 20 percent ó have been compiled by the New York Yankees.
Translation: Over the last 110 years of baseball history, there have been only 74 teams ever to post 100 wins in a season. The number means far more than we give it credit for, and the Red Sox are now throwing it out there in casual conversation with so much as anyone batting an eye.
Again, Beckett could have targeted 95 victories, a number the Sox almost routinely have a cited as an annual goal under the watch of Henry and general manager Theo Epstein. Instead, he tacked on another five. All of that means the Red Sox have even greater expectations for themselves than they usually do ó or than you do ó which speaks to a renewed hunger, urgency and hope.
Of course, the Red Sox should be aiming high. As recently as 2000, the Sox entered the season with a payroll of roughly $80 million. In just 10 years, the large majority of which were owned by Henry, the payroll has ballooned to an incredible $180 million. With those types of dollars come enormous expectations ó just ask Beckett or, for that matter, Lackey and J.D. Drew ó and the 2011 Red Sox now have an unprecedented price tag to burden.
Thanks heavens they are owning it.
To do otherwise would be a very bad sign.
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