The devil is in the details, and in this case, they prove what we long-suspected about Red Sox ownership.
After everything we learned from Terry Francona’s new book, how can any Red Sox fan feel anything but embarrassed about the stewards in charge? Tom Werner is bringing sexy back. Larry Lucchino is a ludicrous control freak. And John “separate” Henry attempts to laud soccer training methods onto the manager that delivered him a pair of World Series wins.
What a complete disaster.
“Francona: The Red Sox Years,” hit store shelves, iPads, and Kindles everywhere this week, and while Francona seems a bit subdued for the most part, seemingly unwilling to fittingly attack his former employers, it’s a job he leaves for the most part to Theo Epstein, the former general manager who unapologetically had a thing or two to get off his chest. After all, Epstein grew up one of us, a fan, and he had to sit and watch first-hand as the Red Sox became a diabolical marketing machine, the “Monster” that merely turned into a piece of a growing portfolio amidst a swirling drain of greed and incompetence that has impacted the team dramatically to this day.
I mean, think about it. Focus groups. Freaking focus groups impacted how the Red Sox made free agent decisions.
That’s your Red Sox, a team consumed by image and ratings enough to have to dilute the product for the alternative hat crowd. They told you that Carl Crawford was a baseball decision not related to marketing. Lie. They preach that inane sellout streak. Lie. They told you that Liverpool, NASCAR, and LeBron James would have no impact on how the Red Sox do business. Lie. They insisted that rumors of the team being for sale were unfounded and untrue.
It is a franchise that has lost its way in no small part thanks to its precious branding and quest to dominate the headlines. Everything is about image, with winning baseball games being a secondary avenue to success. It wasn’t always like that. When he bought the team in 2002, Henry was as jubilant an owner as New England has seen this side of Bob Kraft. He genuinely wanted the Red Sox to deliver a championship product, and was a breath of fresh air in the Yawkey Way offices, where the intensity of the Dan Duquette-John Harrington regime of paranoia had run its course. Werner brought a TV pedigree that was thought to enhance NESN, until we realized that meant schlock like “Sox Appeal” and sideline reporters sampling hot dogs at stadiums across the nation. Lucchino came in as an abrasive personality, but seemed to stay out of the way for the most part, as Epstein helped piecemeal a team that would go down as the most memorable in Red Sox history.
In many ways, that success has delivered the cheese we put up with today. But it has reached the point where everything the team does is laughable. Case in point; yesterday’s team caravan featuring David Ross, Ryan Kalish, Jonny Gomes, and Daniel Nava isn’t anything out of the ordinary, but the fact that it came just a day after Francona’s book was released reeks of a transparent PR move. This is, after all, what they do. It is what they are.
It will be fascinating to see if any of the trio lifts his radio silence about the contents of the book, which depicts each owner in his own, bumbling, clueless, and in some cases, duplicitous manners, but the guess here is that Henry, Werner, and Lucchino will allow the noise to pass until spring training, at which point they can preach about “moving forward,” “burying hatchets,” and the new bricks in store for 2013. The wrinkle in all this, of course, is that the club may not be all that bad. If the last two years taught us anything, it’s that the entitled nature that sparked the 2011 collapse may have been somewhat dismantled. Gone is off-day Josh Beckett, the laissez-faire attitude of Adrian Gonzalez, and the utter buffoonery of the worst decision for hiring a Boston manager in a generation. Yes, even worse than Dave Lewis, and that stain will forever be on Lucchino. If John Farrell can fix Jon Lester, get into the head of John Lackey, and find something in Ryan Dempster, this is indeed a club with emerging players suited for the long-term in Boston. On the flip side, Mike Napoli could be a disaster – an inexpensive disaster as it turns out, but one all the same – Jacoby Ellsbury could be gone by July 31, and…they really gave $9 million to Stephen Drew?
But still, the controversies and falsehoods raised in the Francona tome will hover over this franchise like the Hood blimp. NESN will of course ignore the entire thing, and the Red Sox will deliver you their sanitized, controlled product. On May 23, Francona comes to Fenway with the Cleveland Indians, an evening that should be as uncomfortable for the regime as any other this season. So you just know they’re going to pull out all the marketing stops to downplay his arrival. Maybe LeBron will finally throw out the first pitch if he isn’t playing that night.
The Red Sox have been described as tone-deaf, but maybe it’s finally time someone there opened his eyes to how they are increasingly perceived. If Francona’s book does anything, that alone is worth the price of the paper it’s written on.
Spring training begins in less than a month. Sexy time.