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Red Sox have themselves to blame for how far they've fallen

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff  August 22, 2012 10:29 AM

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Five years ago this fall, the Red Sox won their second World Series in four seasons. Four years ago, they reached Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Now the Red Sox are a laughingstock, a virtual clown car of calamity, which speaks to just how far the mighty have fallen.

Red Sox owners, executives and players can blame whoever they want for all of this - from the fan base to the media -- but here's the truth, folks: the Sox did this to themselves. They got so big so fast that they started to believe the praise people were heaping upon them. Once that happens, in any walk of life, failure almost inevitably follows because that is just how any game works.

Let's further illustrate this point.

In 2002, when John Henry and his partners took ownership of the Red Sox, they spoke of Boston's dilapidated farm system, of a player development operation that was in need of major repair. Beginning that season and over the next few years, the Sox completed a succession of trades that brought them Cliff Floyd, Alan Embree, Scott Williamson, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, to name just a few, and all of those deals were effectively made with minor leaguers acquired under the previous regime.

When asked how the Sox were able to make so many trades with a farm system that was allegedly barren, one (very) high-ranking member of the organization offered the following response.

We made those trades in spite of the farm system.

Shouldn't we all be so blessed as to go through life with that kind of no-lose proposition? First the Sox told us they were hamstrung. Then they told us that worked magic just the same. So why should we believe them now when they tell us they are hamstrung?

Ten years later, quite simply, the people who run the Red Sox simply cannot hide anymore, and this is not any attempt to expose them as frauds or phonies or nitwits. Nobody ever has said that current Sox officials are; at times, we just suggested they weren't as smart as they think they are. Red Sox officials now have a major league roster assembled with their players, a farm system comprised of their draft picks and prospects. And the Sox are now going on four years without a playoff victory, a rather extraordinary achievement considering the $650-$700 million the Sox have spent on player payroll during that period of time.

So whose fault is it now? They built this organization and they (mis)managed it. None of us on the outside care whether the revenue streams have remained consistent. For fans and media, baseball teams are judged on wins and losses, and the Red Sox are now stumbling toward the neighborhood of the 1992 New York Mets, a similarly expensive, talent-laden and dysfunctional crew that become forever known as The Worst Team Money Could Buy.

Do then owners and administrators of the Red Sox even see? They helped bring this franchise to its first world title in 86 years in 2004, then repeated the trick in 2007. And they have since brought the Red Sox right back into the late `80s and early `90s, dysfunctional years when the Sox spent lavishly on free agents like Matt Young and Jack Clark before dissolving into a sea of dysfunction.

Subsequent Sox clubs had Butch Hobson. This one has Bobby Valentine. Both will go down in Red Sox history as managerial disasters.

Here's what Sox officials need to do: stop telling us that things on the inside are not nearly as chaotic as they appear to be from the outside. We know far, far too much now. Kelly Shoppach left here and spoke of a "disconnect" that existed throughout the (dis)organization. Coaches and the manager have openly acknowledged that they were, at times, not speaking with one another. Players were openly eating and drinking in the clubhouse during a historic September collapse, and Red Sox officials continued to sweep matters under the rug by blaming on the manager (Terry Francona) and the former strength and conditioning coach (Dave Page).

Of course, when you identify scapegoats and the problems do not go away, the changes are proven to have been cosmetic. Attention then turns to the issues of neglect and detachment, both of which Red Sox officials are guilty.

Uh, guys? PLEASE STOP TELLING US THAT WE'RE EXAGGERATING. It only further destroys your credibility. Your team has real problems and real issues, and it needs real solutions.

If you are looking for some good news in all of this, maybe this is where it rests: the Red Sox might actually be starting to see the light. Sox officials always have been keen on marketing, and one recent study conducted revealed that an astonishingly low 4 percent of people polled feel the Red Sox are better off now than they were four years ago. (Who exactly are those four percent - embedded Yankees fans?) Approval ratings for Sox officials have plummeted well beneath the floor, and we all know that Sox officials are very concerned about their image.

Two days ago, albeit far too late into the season, the Sox fired pitching coach Bob McClure. What this means for the future of the team or Valentine is unclear, but it is at least a start. The dismissal of McClure means the Sox have at least acknowledged that a problem existed, something they have been unwilling to do for the better part of the last year despite protestations from fans a media.

Ten years ago, when Henry and Company came to town, the Sox conducted a series of informational, meet-and-greet interviews with members of the media. Shortly thereafter, Henry expressed concern about the perception that Sox owners were carpetbaggers, that they were merely corporate sharks here to turn a profit. Henry asked some members of the media how the Sox might be able to overcome that perception, and he was given a relatively simple answer.

You stay, John.

And you invest emotionally as much as financially, bridging the chasms that now exist between your team and its following instead of widening them.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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