From Bucky Dent to Bill Buckner to Grady Little to this black September, some things never, ever change. When the Red Sox lose, they usually lose big. And the damage is so great that no one escapes unscathed.
Terry Francona is gone folks, if for no other reason than that is how professional sports work. The lawyers can word it however they see fit. Francona must take his share of blame for the debacle that was the 2011 Red Sox season, but the Red Sox have endured hard times before. One of the things that seemed to distinguish this regime from the previous ones was that the Sox worked through them together, or so we thought.
But now we know the truth: as a manager, you can’t go much more than four full years in Boston without a world title before you get tossed out with the unpopped kernels and cardboard cups.
Yet, with Francona gone, there is still a great deal to fix with the Red Sox. They have more issues, not fewer. If Red Sox owners and administrators are truly worried about the culture of the Red Sox clubhouse in the wake of a historic late-season collapse, they too need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Theo Epstein alleged as much on Thursday, and we can only hope now that the Sox live up to their general manager’s words. Sox officials are exceptional when it comes to producing rhetoric, but organizational actions in the last few years have belied whatever garbage they’ve been spewing.
The truth? The Red Sox haven’t won a playoff game in three years. When John Henry first bought this team, the Red Sox were passion and a priority for him, the way the Patriots always have been to the Kraft family. They were truly championship-driven. But in the last few years especially, the Red Sox have seemed far more interested in promoting their brand than in truly improving their baseball team, the Sox becoming just another stock in a portfolio that includes Roush Racing and Liverpool.
Earth to John: if money is what drives you – and a recent feature from Steve Wulf in ESPN Magazine suggests that it is pretty much the only thing – then sell the team. You might think you’re George Steinbrenner, but you’re not. Big George wanted to win on the field more than he did on the accounting ledger, and he set the tone for his entire organization in the process. Maybe he meddled too much. Maybe he was obsessive. But it never felt as if he were collecting teams and boats as if they were bathtub toys to satisfy his childish needs. The Yankees were his dearest possession and he generally treated them like it.
You? You’ve fallen asleep on this team over the last few years as much as anyone else has. Don’t delude yourself about that. The September collapse clearly stirred you from your slumber, as it did all of us, which is the good news. But if the Red Sox are not going to remain a priority for you, then cash out.
With regard to the baseball operations, there is also the need for serious reform. Carl Crawford is a good baseball player – certainly a better one than he showed this year – but there was always the feeling that he was signed more for declining TV ratings than anything else. His skill set just doesn’t quite fit with organizational philosophy. The Crawford signing only amplifies the train wreck that has been Epstein’s history of major free agent signings, from J.D. Drew to Julio Lugo to Edgar Renteria to John Lackey. How do you explain that, Theo? Are the Sox relying more on data analysis with pro free agents than they are with amateur players, with whom they have generally been successful? Is ownership intervening because the Sox want TV stars? Or has there been a complete disregard for intangibles like heart and guts, the attributes which the 2011 team so glaringly lacked?
Fact: these Red Sox haven’t won a World Series without Manny Ramirez, the lineup centerpiece whom they inherited. For that matter, guys like Johnny Damon, Jason Varitek and Pedro Martinez were inherited, too. The deal for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell was made during Epstein’s temporary resignation in 2005, and there would have been no 2007 title without either. All of this only supports the theory that it takes a great deal to win a championship, from teamwork to luck.
And so, with regard to all of the non-uninformed personnel who have had a hand in the deterioration of the Red Sox over the last few years, here’s a sincere tip: stop thinking you’re that much smarter than everyone else. When you get right down to it, none of us knows a darned thing about anything. To some degree, we’re all flying by the seats of our pants. The people in uniform aren’t the only ones who have grown a little too fat.
Indeed, as for the majority of players who wore the Red Sox uniform this season, let us say this in no uncertain terms so that there is equal and fair distribution of accountability: you, my friends, are a disgrace. Your apathy and ineptitude got your manager fired. You have become the worst of all things – a pathetic waste of talent – and grossly overpaid ones at that. To a man, you would all be advised to remember that the people you represent are not the ones flying to London for soccer games but rather the ones driving to Boston to fill Fenway Park, and your selfishness this year insulted an entire city and region. In 2011, you were the worst kind of team. You were high-priced losers who didn’t care about anyone but your individual selves, complaining and whining about everything from the travel schedule to National League rules to injuries to the media.
I, I, I. Me, me, me. In that vein – an I for an I - you should know that here is what every true Red Sox fan is saying about you this winter:
I think you should be ashamed of yourself. I think you have lost your way. I think you have forgotten what it means to be part of a team, to be responsible and accountable to others, to be a member of the Red Sox. I think you got lazy. I think you took your talent for granted. I think you have become entitled and downright gluttonous, and I think you have an entire winter to reflect on the shameful, disgraceful and embarrassing display that was September 2011.
And I think, without any reservation, that you need to decide if you are prepared to acknowledge this and give us all so much more.
And I think, if you are not, that you should know we do not want you here.
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