If you want a reason why Tom Werner was nothing more than a cardboard-cutout candidate for commissioner, forget the more famous and infamous flaws on his baseball resume: gutting the ’93 Padres, Roseanne’s itchy anthem, NESN’s Comedy All-Stars, all of that.
Just remember this: The 2010 Red Sox had Adrian Beltre in their midst. And let him go in part because Werner thought the team needed to be more entertaining.
We learned this in one of the more devastating passages from “Francona: The Red Sox Years,” a collaboration between former manager Terry Francona and Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy.
According to the anecdote shared by Theo Epstein, after the 2010 season, the Red Sox paid $100,000 to outside consultants in a quest to find ways to make the team more marketable.
“They told us we didn’t have any marketable players,” former general manager Theo Epstein recalled. “We need some sexy guys. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. We’d become too big. It was the farthest thing removed from what we set out to be.”
At the same time, Werner, troubled by NESN’s dip in ratings, lamented to Francona that the team needed to win in a more exciting fashion. He later said he wasn’t serious. But the franchise’s actions suggest he was.
NESN needed “stars” to promote. So they allowed Beltre, a joy to watch who hit a mere .321/.365/.553 with 28 homers and a league-best 49 doubles while playing breathtaking defense at third base, to depart after one season. But hey, Carl Crawford. And for the bargain price of $142,000,000.00, too.
Before I concede that one element of this gripe is probably unfair, reconsider the absurdity of that for a second. Adrian Beltre, whose hilarious quirks and consistent excellence make him the epitome of a baseball comedy all-star, wasn’t a big enough name or marketable enough player for the Red Sox heading into the 2011 season.
So they gave Carl Crawford at least $46 million more than Beltre eventually got in free-agency from the Rangers. (Beltre’s deal is for six years and $96 million if his ’16 option is picked up.)
Now, about that unfair thing: It should be acknowledged that keeping Beltre in Boston would have required foresight by Red Sox management. There was some just cause baseball-wise for letting him leave.
They had Kevin Youkilis, who had finished in the top six in MVP balloting the previous two years, at first base. The plan, as executed, was to move Youk back to third and acquire slugging 27-year-old first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres.
It didn’t work. Youkilis’s body broke down, and while Gonzalez was phenomenal at the beginning of the 2011 season, he was revealed as a self-appointed clubhouse lawyer and team meeting coordinator who didn’t hit for the expected power. He wasn’t necessarily a salary-dump on the Dodgers — he had to be included to get Crawford and Josh Beckett out of here. But there’s never been a single lament that he left.
With hindsight that matches Ted Williams’s vision, we could suggest that the Sox should have anticipated Youk’s injuries or that Gonzalez might be a better fit in a mellower market.
But the truth is, as much as Beltre impressed us during his solo season here, it looked like a winning plan at the time.
There was even some skepticism that Beltre, who took a pillow contract in Boston after a frustrating five-season run in Seattle, wouldn’t match the production once he had security again.
That, of course, has been proved absurd. He has been insanely consistent since that season in Boston …
… to the point that he’s building a fascinating Hall of Fame case, one that with another season or two like his past five should ensure him of enshrinement. He’s already got my hypothetical vote.
My beef with Werner and the Red Sox is not so much that they let Beltre go.
It’s that they didn’t know what they had.
Now, I’m no television programming guru. I recognize “Breaking Bad” as the greatest television program of all-time — but I haven’t seen “The Wire.” I watch sports, “Seinfeld” re-runs, and Bixby-era “Incredible Hulk” episodes with my kids, who are well on their way to fulfilling Lester Bangs’s definition of uncool all because of me. (I have no remorse. I just wish Netflix would add “CHiPs” and the “Six-Million Dollar Man” at some point before my kids catch on.)
But you’d think someone who produced the “Cosby Show,” someone who plays a decisive role in NESN’s programming, could recognize something so obvious that even I recognized it:
There is no better long-running show in baseball than watching Adrian Beltre. It’s not just because of baseball, either, the homers walloped with one knee in the dirt, the all-around joy that comes from his unique approach to playing the game.
It’s also about the head-rubs. And his charming-lunatic reaction to them.
I bring this up now because … actually, I don’t think a reason to pay written appreciation to Beltre is necessary. But I do have one.
Beltre’s delightfully insane reaction to those head-rubs — and his peers increasing desire to set him off — is the comedy gift that keeps on giving. And we saw it with the Red Sox. Maybe Werner didn’t, but we did.
Victor Martinez and Marco Scutaro in particular were such prolific tormentors — this collection of GIFs is a hilarious greatest hits album of their work — that it’s a wonder they escaped revenge.
Come to think of it, has anyone seen Scutaro lately?
I’m not sure of the origins of Beltre’s strange superstition. I suspect it began long before he got to Boston. This much we know: It has never ceased since. Just this week, Beltre encountered some familiar antagonists:
Antagonist No. 1: Robinson Cano, second baseman, Seattle Mariners:
OK, that’s not the best example, just a timely one.
So let’s go to Antagonist No. 2: Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus.
Now, it must be noted that Andrus isn’t just a novice Beltre antagonist. He’s a recurring tormenter, the Tom to his Jerry or Tweety to his Sylvester or whatever outdated cartoon analogy you prefer.
Andrus and Beltre are a brilliant comedy team.
The problem is that only one of them acts like he wants to be part of this team. Which is how you end up with ridiculousness like this:
Man, Beltre’s blind spike attempt makes me laugh every time. You can almost hear the dialogue:
Beltre:“Don’t touch my head, Elvis Andrus! DON’T TOUCH MY HEAD!”
[Andrus touches his head]
Beltre “YOU TOUCHED MY HEAD YOU .268-HITTING —-!
[Karate chops at Andrus, who is already retreating and heaving with laughter]
[Beltre heaves glove]
Beltre: “DO IT AGAIN AND I WILL KILL YOU RIGHT THERE IN THAT SPOT WHERE CAPTAIN DEREK JETER NEVER REACHES THE BALL! NO, THE OTHER ONE! NO, NO, OTHER ONE. NOPE, OTHER. OVER THERE MORE. A LITTLE MORE. NO, TO THE RIGHT OF THAT! I KNOW HE CAN’T REACH IT THERE OR THERE OR THERE, ELVIS ANDRUS, BUT THAT’S NOT WHERE I MEAN! RIGHT, THERE! THAT’S THE SPOT! IN THE HOLE! THAT’S WHERE I WILL KILL YOU, ELVIS ANDRUS!”
[Marco Scutaro jumps out of the stands, rubs Beltre’s noggin, chortles, disappears back into the crowd.]
[Rangers pitcher gives up a three-run homer]
It’s not just about the head games. Beltre and Andrus are great friends in reality, but they have been known to have — well, let’s call them boundary issues — on the field.
Like a little brother who knows how to push his big brother’s buttons while always managing to escape consequences, Andrus loves treading on Beltre’s turf. Especially when there’s a popup to be had and the third baseman believes it is on his radar screen:
This week, it even led to an actual line being drawn in the sand:
This may seem like faint praise, but I mean it: NESN will never — never, never, not even if Vince Gilligan replaced Joseph Maar — come up with a better program than one that would consist of Beltre’s teammates tormenting him for a half-hour once a week.
Beats a new morning show or something like that. Hell, here’s an idea: make Charlie Moore touch his head, then let’s see where it goes. (Spoiler: Moore goes overboard. Best episode yet.)
Just show the same highlights and GIFs we’ve all seen a million times. Their hilarity is timeless, and thanks to Andrus and friends, we still get new episodes every week.
I’d watch. You know you would. And yet he the Red Sox weren’t entertaining enough when Beltre was here? Go figure.
Almost makes you wonder if Werner accidentally touched Beltre’s head once, doesn’t it?